Forty years on, here’s a rerelease of the first movie in the Rambo series from 1982: the watchable if entirely preposterous exploitation-action picture in which star and co-writer Sylvester Stallone makes his first appearance as John Rambo, the decorated Green Beret, Vietnam veteran and commando übermensch in a permanent rage at the way he and his fellow soldiers were let down. It climaxes with an entirely bizarre speech from Rambo on the subject of his PTSD, delivered in Stallone’s unintelligible slurred drone: “Igghh sawfff bodyghhh partghhs everyghrhwhere…!"
This was actually the film that came before the one that made Rambo a real movie icon, Rambo: First Blood Part II (1985), where he has to go back to Vietnam for a fantasy replay of the war on the grounds that he is searching for urban-mythic “MIA POWs”. That was the movie that Ronald Reagan watched in the middle of the 1985 Beirut hostage crisis and famously said: “Boy, after seeing Rambo last night, I know what to do next time this happens.”
As the first story begins, John Rambo is back from ’Nam and sort of walking the earth, Caine-style, looking for an old comrade and stunned to hear he has died from cancer due to Agent Orange. The film certainly does not detain its audience with any pinko-liberal whining on the subject of how Agent Orange did a fair bit of damage to Vietnamese civilians, and not just Rambo’s brothers-in-arms. Then a swaggering bully of a local police chief (Brian Dennehy) unjustly picks Rambo up for vagrancy and takes him down to the station-house where he is beaten up. Rambo busts out of there, and is pursued to a remote gorge where this special forces hombre holds out against hundreds of beta-male cops and there’s only one person who can talk him down: Rambo’s old commanding officer, Colonel Trautman, played by Richard Crenna.
Devotees of old-school 80s action will enjoy this all over again, and I like to see the Pointless Action Explosions (Rambo torches an entire gas station here for the hell of it), and of course people getting thrown through stunt sugar-glass windows, which happened all the time in that era. But for me, Rambo never had the wit or the dramatic limberness of Bruce Willis’s John McClane in the Die Hard series.