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

Why would I turn into a filing cabinet?

Captain Marvel (2019)
(SPOILERS) All superhero movies are formulaic to a greater or lesser degree. Mostly greater. The key to an actually great one – or just a pretty good one – is making that a virtue, rather than something you’re conscious of limiting the whole exercise. The irony of the last two stand-alone MCU pictures is that, while attempting to bring somewhat down-the-line progressive cachet to the series, they’ve delivered rather pedestrian results. Of course, that didn’t dim Black Panther’s cultural cachet (and what do I know, swathes of people also profess to loving it), and Captain Marvel has hit half a billion in its first few days – it seems that, unless you’re poor unloved Ant-Man, an easy $1bn is the new $700m for the MCU – but neither’s protagonist really made that all-important iconic impact.

She writes Twilight fan fiction.

Vampire Academy (2014)
My willingness to give writer Daniel Waters some slack on the grounds of early glories sometimes pays off (Sex and Death 101) and sometimes, as with this messy and indistinct Young Adult adaptation, it doesn’t. If Vampire Academy plods along as a less than innovative smart-mouthed Buffy rip-off that might be because, if you added vampires to Heathers, you would probably get something not so far from the world of Joss Whedon. Unfortunately inspiration is a low ebb throughout, not helped any by tepid direction from Daniel’s sometimes-reliable brother Mark and a couple of hopelessly plankish leads who do their best to dampen down any wit that occasionally attempts to surface.

I can only presume there’s a never-ending pile of Young Adult fiction poised for big screen failure, all of it comprising multi-novel storylines just begging for a moment in the Sun. Every time an adaptation crashes and burns (and the odds are that they will) another one rises, hydra-like, hoping…

Can you float through the air when you smell a delicious pie?

Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse (2018)
(SPOILERS) Ironically, given the source material, think I probably fell into the category of many who weren't overly disposed to give this big screen Spider-Man a go on the grounds that it was an animation. After all, if it wasn’t "good enough" for live-action, why should I give it my time? Not even Phil Lord and Christopher Miller's pedigree wholly persuaded me; they'd had their stumble of late, although admittedly in that live-action arena. As such, it was only the near-unanimous critics' approval that swayed me, suggesting I'd have been missing out. They – not always the most reliable arbiters of such populist fare, which made the vote of confidence all the more notable – were right. Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse is not only a first-rate Spider-Man movie, it's a fresh, playful and (perhaps) surprisingly heartfelt origins story.

Trouble’s part of the circus. They said Barnum was in trouble when he lost Tom Thumb.

The Greatest Show on Earth (1952)
(SPOILERS) Anyone of a mind that it’s a recent development for the Oscars to cynically crown underserving recipients should take a good look at this Best Picture winner from the 25thAcademy Awards. In this case, it’s generally reckoned that the Academy felt it was about time to honour Hollywood behemoth Cecil B DeMille, by that point into his seventies and unlikely to be jostling for garlands much longer, before it was too late. Of course, he then only went and made a bona fide best picture contender, The Ten Commandments, and only then pegged it. Because no, The Greatest Show on Earth really isn’t very good.

I don’t think you will see President Pierce again.

The Ballad of Buster Scruggs (2018)
(SPOILERS) The Ballad of Buster Scruggs and other tall tales of the American frontier is the title of "the book" from which the Coen brothers' latest derives, and so announces itself as fiction up front as heavily as Fargo purported to be based on a true story. In the world of the portmanteau western – has there even been one before? – theme and content aren't really all that distinct from the more familiar horror collection, and as such, these six tales rely on sudden twists or reveals, most of them revolving around death. And inevitably with the anthology, some tall tales are stronger than other tall tales, the former dutifully taking up the slack.

Sorry I’m late. I was taking a crap.

The Sting (1973)
(SPOILERS) In any given list of the best things – not just movies – ever, Mark Kermode would include The Exorcist, so it wasn’t a surprise when William Friedkin’s film made an appearance in his Nine films that should have won Best Picture at the Oscars list last month. Of the nominees that year, I suspect he’s correct in his assessment (I don’t think I’ve seen A Touch of Class, so it would be unfair of me to dismiss it outright; if we’re simply talking best film of that year, though, The Exorcist isn’t even 1973’s best horror, that would be Don’t Look Now). He’s certainly not wrong that The Exorcistremains a superior work” to The Sting; the latter’s one of those films, like The Return of the King and The Departed, where the Academy rewarded the cast and crew too late. Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid is the masterpiece from George Roy Hill, Paul Newman and Robert Redford, not this flaccid trifle.

You had to grab every single dollar you could get your hands on, didn't you?

Triple Frontier (2019)
(SPOILERS) Triple Frontier must have seemed like a no-brainer for Netflix, even by their standards of indiscriminately greenlighting projects whenever anyone who can’t get a job at a proper studio asks. It had, after all, been a hot property – nearly a decade ago now – with Kathryn Bigelow attached as director (she retains a producing credit) and subsequently JC Chandor, who has seen it through to completion. Netflix may not have attracted quite the same level of prospective stars – Johnny Depp, Tom Hanks, Will Smith, Tom Hardy and Channing Tatum were all involved at various points – but as ever, they haven’t stinted on the production. To what end, though? Well, Bigelow’s involvement is a reliable indicator; this is a movie about very male men doing very masculine things and suffering stoically for it.

What lit the fire that set off our Mr Reaper?

Death Wish (2018)
(SPOILERS) I haven’t seen the original Death Wish, the odd clip aside, and I don’t especially plan to remedy that, owing to an aversion to Charles Bronson when he isn’t in Once Upon a Time in the West and an aversion to Michael Winner when he wasn’t making ‘60s comedies or Peter Ustinov Hercule Poirots. I also have an aversion to Eli Roth, though (this is the first of his oeuvre I’ve seen, again the odd clip aside, as I have a general distaste for his oeuvre), and mildly to Bruce when he’s on autopilot (most of the last twenty years), so really, I probably shouldn’t have checked this one out. It was duly slated as a fascistic, right-wing rallying cry, even though the same slaters consider such behaviour mostly okay if the protagonist is super-powered and wearing a mask when taking justice into his (or her) own hands, but the truth is this remake is a quite serviceable, occasionally amusing little revenger, one that even has sufficient courage in its skewed convictions …

Our "Bullshit!" team has unearthed spectacular new evidence, which suggests, that Jack the Ripper was, in fact, the Loch Ness Monster.

Amazon Women on the Moon (1987)
Cheeseburger Film Sandwich. Apparently, that’s what the French call Amazon Women on the Moon. Except that it probably sounds a little more elegant, since they’d be saying it in French (I hope so, anyway). Given the title, it should be no surprise that it is regarded as a sequel to Kentucky Fried Movie. Which, in some respects, it is. John Landis originally planned to direct the whole of Amazon Women himself, but brought in other directors due to scheduling issues. The finished film is as much of a mess as Kentucky Fried Movie, arrayed with more miss sketches than hit ones, although it’s decidedly less crude and haphazard than the earlier picture. Some have attempted to reclaim Amazon Women as a dazzling satire on TV’s takeover of our lives, but that’s stretching it. There is a fair bit of satire in there, but the filmmakers were just trying to be funny; there’s no polemic or express commentary. But even on such moderate terms, it only sporadically fulfils…

I honestly think you ought to sit down calmly, take a stress pill, and think things over.

2001: A Space Odyssey (1968)
(SPOILERS) There isn’t, of course, anything left to say about 2001: A Space Odyssey, although the devoted still try, confident in their belief that it’s eternally obliging in offering unfathomable mystery. And it does seem ever responsive to whatever depths one wishes to plumb in analysing it for themes, messages or clues either about what is really going on out there some around Jupiter, or in its director’s head. Albeit, it’s lately become difficult to ascertain which has the more productive cottage industry, 2001 or The Shining, in the latter regard. With Eyes Wide Shut as the curtain call, a final acknowledgement to the devout that, yes, something really emphatic was going under Stanley Kubrick’s hood and it’s there, waiting to be exhumed, if you only look with the right kind of eyes.