Ted Kotcheff, George P. Cosmatos, Peter McDonald
II: Incarcerated for his previous war party in First Blood, John Rambo is sprung out of jail by his old Colonel and mentor (Crenna) for a special covert mission in Vietnam. His task: search for missing American POWs and if found, take pictures. He must not engage the enemy at any cost. YEAH, RIGHT! POWs are found and with his sharpened hunting knife, his bow and explosive arrows, Rambo mows down most of the country solo. Rambo! Rambo! Rambo!
III: When Rambo’s long time friend and mentor Colonel Trautman (Crenna) is kidnapped by some big bad Russians in Afghanistan, Rambo leaves the peaceful monastery in which he’s been dwelling and dives into action once again to save his dear buddy. In the process he kicks all kinds of Commie bootie, blows lots of stuff up and fights alongside the Afghanies. Take out the muscle oil, load the M-60, it's Rambo time!
When Vietnam vets returned from the War, they were treated like trash by their fellow countrymen and most suffered from post traumatic stress due to the horror they went through. First Blood addresses that theme and uses it as a driving force to deliver one hell of an entertaining picture. Through exciting physical action, First Blood communicates the anger, the sadness, the frustration and the psychological scars of one vet that fought for his country and was then rejected by it upon his return. John Rambo (Stallone) relives the war on U.S. soil through being captured, tortured and his eventual escape. But this time this soldier is determined to win. I had a rollicking good time watching John Rambo use his personal vendetta against the town as a catharsis for his haunting Vietnam experience.
Acting-wise, Brian Dennehy is incredibly efficient as the cruel Sheriff and Richard Crenna (who replaced Kirk Douglas at the last minute) also comes through as Rambo’s old Colonel and present father figure. Both actors bring ambiguity to their parts, making them feel human as opposed to one-dimensional. As for Sylvester Stallone, he not only proves that he’s one of the top physical actors on the block (he did most of his own stunts) but he also manages to transcend every emotion his character is feeling through calculated movements and powerful stares. Eventually, John Rambo does blow up verbally and his emotional baggage pours out in a poignant 8-minute monologue. It never fails to clench my heart every time I watch the film. Taut action set pieces (note the rat cave sequence or that daring cliff jumping), effective exterior locations, strong performances all around, a beautiful score by Jerry Goldsmith and hard-hitting drama make this one a keeper and in my action log...one hell of an underrated classic.
RAMBO 2 (* * * * *): Rambo: "Do we get to win this time?" Trautman: "This time it’s up to you."
The aim for relative realism that First Blood adopted is dropped for this wham-bang sequel. Here, John Rambo is turned into a bigger than life, classic mythological type figure. You know the elements: the hero is muscled beyond belief, is always shirtless, lives in a man’s world where any woman that enters doesn’t last very long, knows no fear, no equal and is defined by his actions as opposed to his words. Where John Rambo was a wounded soul defending himself and dealing with his issues through his personal war in First Blood, here he becomes an avenging angel, a tool of redemption for all that was wrong with the Vietnam War. Rambo says it best when asked what he wants. He retorts: "For our Country to love us, as much as we love it…that’s what I want".
On a technical standpoint, Rambo 2 took action set pieces, violence and explosions to the next level upon its initial release. The more the movie moves forward, the more ambitious the mayhem becomes. This film showcases astounding jungle scenery, military carnage galore, a gripping montage of Rambo killing all kinds of soldiers in novel ways, an astounding helicopter Western-esque standoff, M-60 party favors up the wazoo…basically the freaking works all played out to Jerry Goldsmith’s incredible score. Rambo 2 spawned countless imitators ("Missing in Action", anyone?) and was the most successful of the Rambo films. When Ronald Reagan (the U.S. President at the time) starts quoting a movie character, you know that the cultural impact is immense. The flick is loud, brash, and improbable but fun as hell. DIRTY HARRY was the iconic male figure in the 70’s and Rambo 2 made this character the staple of the 80’s, for which he will always remain a symbol.
RAMBO 3 (* * *): "I’m your worst nightmare"- Rambo
The winning ingredients of the two previous entries are all in the house but here, our lone hero loses some of his steam. John Rambo is dragged into battle once again but this time to save his mentor: Colonel Trautman. On the upside, I appreciated the turnaround in regards to Trautman’s and Rambo’s relationship. In the previous two films, Trautman was the one coming in to save Rambo, here it’s the opposite. Unfortunately, that new spin on their relationship brought with it useless comic bantering that felt totally out of place. Rambo actually spits out funny one-liners here and Trautman’s “Rambo” rhetoric’s are upped bragging wise. He no longer refers to his best soldier as the ultimate warrior but as a god-like figure (“God would have pity, he won’t”).
The movie itself also follows in that same vein, portraying John Rambo as an over-the-top God-like entity. The action set pieces are still solid though and some of them quite enthralling. But the middle section of the film lags at times and some snipping here and there would’ve been nice. Now don’t get me wrong, this sequel is far from boring. It gives you enough bang for your buck with Jerry Goldsmith’s dead-on score accompanying the happenings once again. But you feel like something is missing and the whole of the film just isn’t as tight as its two predecessors. In true Rambo fashion, the picture does address the situation in Afghanistan along with delivering the pow-wow and I appreciated that. But when a hardcore action franchise decides to slap in a rambunctious kid as a sidekick, funny one-liners and a so ludicrous end confrontation that it feels like a GI-Joe cartoon…you know the edge is gone.
Drawing First Blood (21 minutes): This fascinating report on how First Blood came about had me hooked. Any fan of the movie will love this feature. Sylvester Stallone comes in to share his thoughts on the war, on the character, and on the film’s message. Author David Morell gives us some insight as to what led him to write the book on which the movie is based. Director Ted Kotcheff shares with us the journey he had to go through to get First Blood to the screen. We also get two cents from the producers, info on the script changes that were done, the casting of Kirk Douglas as Trautman and why he dropped out of the picture, how Richard Crenna got the part, the hardships of the locations, how Stallone broke his rib doing stunts and of course, the public reaction to the film, once it was released. Being a huge fan of First Blood, this feature slapped a huge smile on my face. We also get a Commentary with writer David Morel, a very groovy Teaser Trailer, a kool Trailer, Production Notes and the usual Cast and Crew option.
RAMBO 2 DVD EXTRAS
We get to win this time (20 minutes): This featurette is very satisfying with the producers coming in to talk about the progress of the script (Travolta was almost going to co-star to make it a buddy picture), George P. Cosmatos give us his two cents on his perception of the film and what he wanted to accomplish. The supporting cast lets us know how they got their respective parts, Cosmatos and CIE tell us how it was shooting in Mexico and we even get some on-set footage of Stallone giving us insight on the shoot and on his training for the film. This feature is filled with interesting behind-the-scenes stories about the shoot, the action scenes, the storyline…EVERYTHING! Very freaking interesting. We also get a Commentary with director George P. Cosmatos, two slick Trailers, Production Notes and the usual Cast and Crew option.
RAMBO 3 DVD EXTRAS
Afghanistan Land in Crisis (29 minutes): This featurette has the producers and Stallone explaining why they chose Afghanistan as Rambo’s next hunting ground. We are then treated to a lengthy history lesson about Afghanistan and its many wars. We do get some on-set footage (like the game of "catch the sheep") but most of the running time is about politics. Stallone also talks about the backlash Rambo 3 got upon its release (the Russians had just ended the Cold War with the USA) and Richard Crenna pops in briefly to share his thoughts. Although interesting, I would’ve liked the feature to concentrate more on "The Making of" the movie as opposed to a history lesson. It’s ok. We also get a Commentary with director Peter McDonald two slick Trailers, Production Notes and the usual Cast and Crew option.
BONUS DISC #4: RAMBO “SUPPLEMENTAL MATERIALS”
The Real Nan Voices From Within (27 minutes): In this documentary, ex-US Vietnam vets, peace activists and Vietnamese Vietnam Vets talk about the reality of the war. Gripping and depressing.
Guts 'n Glory (26 minutes): This features explores the cultural impact of Rambo on the world. We also get an in-depth look at the symbolism behind Rambo and his meaning through the Ronald Reagan era. Fascinating.
The forging of heroes: America’s Green Beret (5 minutes): Testimonies and insight on the training that some men have to go through to become Green Berets. A decent and informative watch.
Rambo-nomics (3 minutes): Some dude with on-screen animated graphics explains the amount of money the Rambo movies to us. Light and fun.
Suiting up (9 minutes): This very slickly edited montage shows us clips from all 3 films while pausing at every weapon used to give us a description about it in a hi-tech computer fashion. This is a very kool feature. Man, Rambo’s knife got bigger and bigger as the movies progressed.
Selling a hero (5 minutes): This funny feature shows us most of the Rambo toys that were ever made while giving us a description of the toys in question and their price at the time. We also get to see the toys in action. Cute.
First Blood: A Look Back (4 minutes): A well edited montage of scenes from First Blood with engaging music in the background. Slick.
Rambo 3 Full circle (6 minutes): A montage of scenes from Rambo 3 taking us through all the plot points with groovy music in the background. Useful when you want to watch all the good parts of the film without having to sit through the boring parts.
An American hero’s Journey: The Rambo Trilogy (26 minutes): A look at the evolution of the character of John Rambo through all three movies. This feature is very detailed and takes an in-depth look at the character. Gnarly!
Trivia Game: A Rambo trivia game...is it me or is the writing too small? Maybe I need glasses or somebody needs a new game designer.
Sneak Peeks: We get trailers for the Reservoir Dogs DVD, Dune DVD and the Van Wilder movie.
The DVD also comes with a Trilogy Booklet filled with Rambo pictures and some thoughts from David Morell. The Animated Menus which introduce the films are also very Rambo kool and had me foaming at the mouth.