Skip to main content

Don't push it! Don't push it or I'll give you a war you won't believe.

First Blood
(1982)

(SPOILERS) Conventional wisdom seems to have rallied round the first Rambo movie as an earnest, low-key piece about a Nam vet, one that belies the bloated carcasses flying hither and thither in later excursions. That’s not quite the case. First Blood starts out well enough, certainly, mustering a legitimate sense of injustice over Stallone’s persecuted (and smelly) John Rambo. But this is still a picture all about overstatement, and director Ted Kotcheff was definitely not the guy to turn it into something special.


First Blood went through a number of directors and writers after David Morrell’s novel was published and the rights snapped up in 1972 (an estimated 18 versions of the script). Stallone toned it down such that Rambo became more sympathetic, no longer killing his pursuers (only one, the particularly abusive sergeant who ignites it all, dies, and only indirectly due to John’s actions) and no longer buys the farm (fortuitous for franchise purposes). Still, the picture came in over three hours, and Stallone disliked it sufficiently that he had the lead role significantly pared down in order to let others tell the tale; it ended up at half that length.


For all the pumped-up flexing of subsequent instalments, the Rambo of the opening scenes is closer to the humble Stallone who embodies the first Rocky, only more taciturn. Stallone, who attested to doing seven rewrites himself, isn’t a writer known for subtext, or sub-anything; everything he depicts lies on the surface. Brian Dennehy delivers a solid counter to the Vet as Sheriff Teasle, seeing Rambo’s intrusion on his town in much the same way he would a hippy a decade earlier (advising him to have a haircut and take a bath, after escorting him to the town limits). Famously, of course, Rambo doesn’t like being pushed, which brings out the tiger in him.


The abuse he suffers from Teasle’s chief deputy (Jack Starrett) triggers Nam flashbacks (crudely envisioned) in Stallone’s own Bruce Banner, leading to his hulking out in a scene that may have inspired James Cameron’s Terminator police station massacre (less corpses, but Cameron did go on to script Rambo; First Blood Part II so it had surely made some impact). Once he’s headed off into the woods on a motorbike, Rambo is refashioned as the archetype of the anti-authoritarian, misunderstood survivalist. Except he’s a morally palatable one who, not unlike like The A-Team, doesn’t terminate with extreme prejudice (he only stabs and impale victims, including David Caruso and Chris Mulkey).


While there’s a canny takes on weekend warrior National Guardsmen, playing at soldiers until the going gets tough (“Come on, I’ve got to be back at the drugstore tomorrow”), much of the survival sequence is surprisingly lacklustre; only the initial pursuit by Teasle’s men, in which Rambo effectively dispenses with them, makes the grade. John spends significant time trapped down a mine, rattled by rats, before escaping to bring Teasle to heel in a conveniently deserted town.


The biggest chortle in this comes from Richard Crenna’s mentor and Dr Frankenstein (“God didn’t make Rambo, I did”), issuing a compendium of ridiculously portentous lines in the service of bulking up Rambo’s prowess (“I came here to rescue you from him” he warns Teasle, who will need “a good supply of body bags” if he sends 200 men against John, and then there’s the clichéd dialogue; “I was there with you, knee-deep in blood and guts”).


Rambo’s breakdown scene is reasonable in its way; Sly’s giving it all he’s got, which may be unintentionally funny, but still has a certain something,  as Rambo invokes a friend who was blown apart while grasping for comfort from the superior who lacks the emotional facility to respond. Everything else is so expressly over the top, however, that the picture merits little
consideration as a serious analysis as a depiction of PTSD.


It’s interesting that audiences responded so affirmatively to First Blood, as it’s mostly unremarkable, not even really keeping a tight grip on Rambo’s righteous retaliation (The Second Film Year Book commented that Vietnam and some liberal soft talk were presented as “enough to justify the enjoyment of violence for its own sake”, which is probably true, but credits he film with more expert manipulation than it actually displays). It did, of course, become infamous for a time due to an entirely unproven connection with the Hungerford Massacre (one of many examples of media attempting to demonise movies rather than people doing the deeds themselves – or society as a whole, man). First Blood, while not being a fairly unremarkable picture, remains noteworthy as the last Stallone role before he became an action movie icon, while simultaneously being the seed that germinated said status.


Agree? Disagree? Mildly or vehemently? Let me know in the comments below.

Comments

Popular posts from this blog

He’s probably paranoid, high-strung, doesn’t like daylight. You know, has a lot of crumbs in his beard, if he has a beard.

Godzilla vs. Kong (2021) (SPOILERS) I’d like to report I had a blast with Godzilla vs. Kong . It’s lighter on its oversized, city-stomping feet than its slog of a MonsterVerse predecessor, Godzilla: King of the Monsters , and there are flashes of visual inspiration along with several engaging core ideas (which, to be fair, the series had already laid the seeds for). But this sequel still stumbles in its chief task: assembling an engaging, lively story that successfully integrates both tiny humans and towering titans.

Roswell was a smokescreen, we've had a half a dozen better salvage operations.

The X-Files 1.24: The Erlenmeyer Flask The Erlenmeyer Flask makes for a fast-paced, tense and eventful ride, but does it make any sense? That less than mattered at the time, but revisiting the mythology arc (for probably the fourth or fifth time) reveals increasingly tenuous internal coherence as the various conspiracy elements begin to pile up and the situations become ever-more convoluted. This will become the Chris Carter’s signature: don’t examine the details too closely, go with the flow. Trust Chris implicitly.

It's Dark Age, by Jupiter!

The Dig (2021) (SPOILERS) An account of the greatest archaeological find Britain would know until Professor Horner opened the barrow at Devil’s End. And should you scoff at such “ fiction ”, that’s nothing on this adaptation of John Preston’s 2007 novel concerning the Sutton Hoo excavations of the late 1930s. The Dig , as is the onus of any compelling fictional account, takes liberties with the source material, but the erring from the straight and narrow in this case is less an issue than the shift in focus from characters and elements successfully established during the first hour.

UFO IN MOSSINGHAM?

A Shaun the Sheep Movie: Farmageddon (2020) (SPOILERS) One might reasonably suggest the recourse of the ailing or desperate franchise is to resort, seemingly out of nowhere, to space aliens. Even Police Academy didn’t go that far (to Moscow, yes, but not to space). Perhaps animators think kids have no skills of discernment and will swallow any old sugar-coated crap. Perhaps they don’t, and they will. Ice Age had been enjoying absurd success until Collision Course sent Scrat spinning into the cosmos and grosses tumbled. Shaun the Sheep has been around for a quarter of a century, but this is only his second movie outing and already he’s pulling an E.T. on us. Of course, this may all be part of the grand scheme, and Nick Park is simply doing his bit to familiarise the tots in time for Project Blue Beam.

You stink, my friend.

Mulan (2020) (SPOILERS) Let that be a lesson to Disney. It’s a fool’s errand to try and beat the Chinese at their own game, no matter how painstakingly respectful – or rather, pandering – you are. Indeed, Mulan ’s abysmal $40m box office take in the country – where it did get a proper release, so no plandemic excuses can be cited – feels like a direct rebuke; don’t try and tell us how to suck eggs. There’s an additional explanation too, of course. That Mulan sucks.

By heaven, I’d thrash the life out of you… if I didn’t have to read the Nine O’Clock News.

The Green Man (1956) (SPOILERS) The Green movie from Launder and Gilliat starring Alastair Sim that isn’t Green for Danger. Which is to say, The Green Man can’t quite scale the heady heights of that decade-earlier murder mystery triumph, but neither is it any slouch. Sim is the antagonist this time – albeit a very affable, Sim-ish one – and his sometime protégée, a young George Cole, the hero. If the plot is entirely absurd, Robert Day’s movie wastes no time probing such insufficiencies, ensuring it is very funny, lively and beautifully performed.

Suspicions of destiny. We all have them. A deep, wordless knowledge that our time has come.

Damien: Omen II (1978) (SPOILERS) There’s an undercurrent of unfulfilled potential with the Omen series, an opportunity to explore the machinations of the Antichrist and his minions largely ignored in favour of Final Destination deaths every twenty minutes or so. Of the exploration there is, however, the better part is found in Damien: Omen II , where we’re privy to the parallel efforts of a twelve or thirteen-year-old Damien at military school and those of Thorn Industries. The natural home of the diabolical is, after all, big business. Consequently, while this sequel is much less slick than the original, it is also more engaging dramatically.

Well, I’ll be damned. It’s the gentleman guppy.

Waterworld (1995) (SPOILERS) The production and budgetary woes of “ Kevin’s Gate ” will forever overshadow the movie’s content (and while it may have been the most expensive movie ever to that point – adjusted for inflation, it seems only Cleopatra came close – it has since turned a profit). However, should you somehow manage to avoid the distraction of those legendary problems, the real qualitative concerns are sure to come sailing over the cognitive horizon eventually; Waterworld is just so damned derivative. It’s a seafaring Mad Max. Peter Rader, who first came up with the idea in 1986, admitted as much. David Twohy, who later came aboard, also cited Mad Max 2 ; that kind of rip-off aspect – Jaws birthing Piranha – makes it unsurprising Waterworld was once under consideration by Roger Corman (he couldn’t cost it cheaply enough). Ultimately, there’s never a sufficient sense the movie has managed to become its own thing. Which is a bummer, because it’s frequently quite good fun.

A subterranean Loch Ness Monster?

Doctor Who The Silurians No, I’m not going to refer to The Silurians as Doctor Who and the Silurians . I’m going to refer to it as Doctor Who and the Eocenes . The Silurians plays a blinder. Because both this and Inferno know the secret of an extended – some might say overlong – story is to keep the plot moving, they barely drag at all and are consequently much fleeter of foot than many a four parter. Unlike Malcolm Hulke’s sequel The Sea Devils , The Silurians has more than enough plot and deals it out judiciously (the plague, when it comes, kicks the story up a gear at the precarious burn-out stage of a typical four-plus parter). What’s most notable, though, is how engaging those first four episodes are, building the story slowly but absorbingly and with persuasive confidence.

Farewell, dear shithead, farewell.

Highlander II: The Quickening (1991) (SPOILERS) I saw Highlander II: The Quickening at the cinema. Yes, I actually paid money to see one of the worst mainstream sequels ever on the big screen. I didn’t bother investigating the Director’s Cut until now, since the movie struck me as entirely unsalvageable. I was sufficiently disenchanted with all things Highlander that I skipped the TV series and slipshod sequels, eventually catching Christopher Lambert’s last appearance as Connor MacLeod in Highlander: End Game by accident rather than design. But Highlander II ’s on YouTube , and the quality is decent, so maybe the Director’s Cut improve matters and is worth a reappraisal? Not really. It’s still a fundamentally, mystifyingly botched retcon enabling the further adventures of MacLeod, just not quite as transparently shredded in the editing room.