Completely Different yet Equally Awesome!
Much like arguing whether Die Hard is a Christmas movie (here’s categorical proof that it is!) or trying to decipher who shot first between Han or Greedo, deciding the best of the Sylvester Stallone Rambo flicks is one of life’s great debates.
First Blood (1982) is a stripped-down action thriller (with virtually no body count) about an unassuming Vietnam vet coming home to a country that doesn’t want him. The other – Rambo: First Blood Part II – a full-fledged action blockbuster, puts said veteran back in the jungles of Vietnam and multiplies the body count by 75 (literally).
The good news is we don’t have to decide which is best. But the question remains: How can two movies connected only by titular character be completely different yet equally awesome?
First Blood: No Sympathy for the Devil
In First Blood we sympathize with John Rambo almost immediately. Soon after the opening credits, we realize that the friend he was traveling to see has died (something we can all relate to).
In the very next sequence, we see John harassed by local law enforcement simply because he was a drifter passing through town (being a Vietnam vet probably didn’t help). While most of us didn’t serve in Vietnam and experience the backlash of returning home from said war, we certainly know what it’s like to feel unwanted/unwelcome. The amount of disdain one might have for the town sheriff, Teasle, and his main goon, Galt, could never quite be enough.
Add in flashbacks of Rambo’s traumatic experience as a prisoner of war, surviving the elements (including LOTS of rats), and fighting off the entire sheriff’s department (all for wanting to get a hot meal), and it’s no surprise that we spend the entirety of the movie rooting for Rambo.
The Return of Rambo (aka Rambo’s Revenge)
By the second entry of the franchise, Rambo: First Blood Part II, John Rambo needs no introduction and we certainly don’t need any more reasons to root for him. However, for our viewing pleasure, he does need a reason to be released from prison after the mess he made in the first film.
Enter Murdock and his top secret mission to take pictures of U.S. POWs in Vietnamese camps to assist in their eventual “rescue.” While tugging on John’s heart strings, and practically dangling the keys to freedom in his face, Murdock uses John to further his own agenda with no intention of keeping his word (unbeknownst to John of course). I’ll see your Teasle and raise you a Murdock.
Soon after, John is pitted against an entire Vietnamese army (and a few Russians) that he must escape and dispose of, all while unintentionally falling in love, losing said love interest, and rescuing the previously mentioned POWs.
It’s safe to assume that, no matter the conflict (or movie), Rambo will always have our best interest at heart if for no other reason than he’s been through so damn much.
Survival vs. Excessive Force
First Blood showcases Rambo’s training and survival tactics throughout. While he systematically takes out each of Teasle’s deputies, impressively, only one person dies (indirectly) by the hands of Rambo. One can argue that he doesn’t technically kill Galt, but he did cause him to fall out of the helicopter.
Then again, Galt unbuckled his harness that kept him safely inside the helicopter… Either way, only ONE fatality in a movie about an ex Green Beret Vietnam vet being “pushed” beyond his limit is practically a miracle. (P.S. That knife is awesome.)
Part II, on the other hand, is a textbook 80’s action classic with enough bullets, bombs, and bodies to make Andy Sidaris rethink his filmmaking strategy. From the iconic knife to the trademark red bandana to the classic bow and arrow, this is the definitive Rambo flick.
When one thinks of Rambo, the image in their mind comes from Rambo: First Blood Part II. You can also thank this film for creating what we action aficionados call the “gear up” montage.
But Which is More Ultimate?
While it may seem clear which film I prefer, it actually depends on my mood. Both offer something unique in terms of payoff. If you want a good story with character development and lots of excitement (and guns), then First Blood is the one for you.
If you want an action spectacle with lots of guns, explosions, killing, muscles, and 80’s machismo then look no further than Rambo: First Blood Part II.
Note: Rambo ends each film toting an M60 in one arm so there is no wrong answer. Everybody wins.