No journey into classic action films would be complete without venturing into 1982’s Rambo: First Blood, starring Sylvester Stallone. I’m not a big fan of Sly, but his now-iconic performance as the eponymous John Rambo is what cemented his reputation amongst fellow action heavyweights Arnold Schwarzenegger and Bruce Willis.
First Blood follows the classic concept of an abused man who has to use his wits to survive in an unforgiving environment. However, Rambo’s violent and antisocial behaviour as a veteran makes us question his innocence and/or likability, which is what separates it from other films that follow this formula. While the first 70 minutes of First Blood are really good and unpredictable, the story sadly suffers from Third Act Syndrome; the carnage committed by Rambo becomes too over-the-top, the cat-and-mouse game between Rambo and Teasle quickly becomes tiresome, and his PTSD-triggered breakdown is weakly directed.
Although First Blood is not explicitly a Vietnam war movie, it is nonetheless a good history lesson on what life for veterans was like after the war. It delves into the impacts of Agent Orange (a toxic herbicide used to wipe out the Viet Cong), the dubious nature of military training and combat, and the manifestation of PTSD amongst returning soldiers.
I should also mention that about three quarters of the film is set in the forests and mountains of British Colombia, reminding us that the wild can sometimes be a more intriguing and practical environment that the urban setting. The narrative goes through the four natural elements (water, earth, wind and fire) in a subtle and non-pretentious way, and frames both the landscape and the movements of Rambo in an objective fashion.
In regards to performances, Stallone more than suffices, especially as he silently prowls through the environment. Although his final monologue about the horrors of war is indistinguishable, you can’t really blame his speech impediment (which resulted from a birth accident). His opponent, Sheriff Will Teasle, is masterfully played by Brian Dennehy, who evidently takes his role as a hot-headed and hubristic police captain very seriously. Dennehy is one of the main reasons why First Blood is still a classic, suspenseful and unapologetically fun movie that is a pleasure to watch no matter the time or place.
Rating - ☆ ☆ ☆ ☆