My first review is (fittingly) on the 1982 Sylvester Stallone film ‘First Blood’, where we get our first appearance of John Rambo. If I could fit the word ‘first’ into that last sentence any more, you better believe I would have.
First Blood is the story of a Vietnam veteran with no friends. The End.
But not really. Well, it is, but there’s more to it than that. Rambo is a Green Beret who has returned from Vietnam and finds himself unable to cope with a normal civilian life after witnessing the horrors of the War. The film begins with him trying to visit his last surviving army buddy only to learn that he too has died, leaving Rambo alone in the world. He then tries going into a small town in northern Washington state for a bite to eat when a cantankerous sheriff (played by Brian Dennehy) picks him, drives him to the town limits and tells him that their town don’t want no grouchy vets who could start trouble. Rambo decides he’s not going to put up with the sheriff’s tomfoolery and go back into town.
This wasn’t the best choice Rambo could have made.
What follows is Rambo being arrested, escaping into the words and surviving on his own while laying traps for the pursuing police department (which seems pretty large for a town this size). It should be noted that Rambo only wounds the policemen and is careful to not actually kill any.
When the police have had enough of Rambo’s tomfoolery in turn, they call in the National Guard who are accompanied by Rambo’s old commanding officer who repeatedly lets the police know they’re all lucky to be alive (and he says it with such a joyful voice, you’d think he was in on some private joke).
After a few chases, one needless yet totally needed car-exploding-on-impact (easily my favourite action trope) and a few more explosions and fights, Rambo hunkers down in the police station. After wounding the sheriff, his old commanding officer steps in and talks Rambo down before he’s killed by the National Guard who by now have surrounded the station. What follows is easily early-Stallone’s best acting effort, and possibly career-best. He delivers a monologue on how he has never been able to leave the war behind. The CO embraces Rambo and leads him outside to be arrested.
Overall, First Blood is a pretty decent film. Underneath the sometimes-but-never-sickeningly brutal violence, there is a serious message about the condition of some veterans. Rambo clearly has Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, and while his actions are over-the-top, his mental anguish and the treatment he received from others are not. At the time of it’s production, it polarized audiences who remembered the Vietnam War and were exposed to real cases of troubled veterans. Were it to be released now, I do believe it would be given a higher rating than what it received at the time.
That being said, this is not the type of movie I would suggest watching when wanting to be entertained by over-the-top action, witty one-liners, ridiculous violence and fun tropes. If you are looking for an action movie to watch in a group for everyone to laugh at, smile through and quote years later at completely unrelated times, you won’t find it here. First Blood’s tone is serious throughout, with very little (if any) happy moments to be found (except for the aforementioned car-exploding-on-impact-with-another-car scene).
Overall, First Blood gets a 4/5 rating as a film. You should see it if you haven’t, if for no other reason than to see how the Rambo series began.
However as a ridiculous action film (the kind which I hope for this blog to highlight) it gets a 2/5.