John Rambo is one of those elite characters of the '80s that my friends and I would argue over as kids, shouting on the stoops in front of our apartments. Who would win in a fight? John McClane or Martin Riggs? John Rambo or John Matrix? Indiana Jones or Han Solo? Chuck Norris or Sly Stallone? Ah-Nuld or Michael Dudikoff (in American Ninja mode, of course)? Personally, I was always a McClane guy. In my mind a smart-ass quip can be more powerful than any vein in Sly's neck. But I digress.
Rambo returns to DVD this week. He remains a legendary cinematic figure and has four films to back it up. But how do they rank? Well let's take a look.
1. First Blood
Hands down the best film of the series and, in a way, one of the most violent. It doesn't have the body count of any of the sequels but it feels more violent than the second or third film (notice I didn't include the fourth). This film is also notable in that it took me fifteen years before I was fully able to understand what Stallone was saying in his final scene with Richard Crenna. I don't mean that metaphorically. I mean it literally. Rambo always sounded like he had mashed potatoes in his mouth, but that last scene was ridiculous.
2. Rambo: First Blood Part II
I don't think the sequels get enough credit for making Rambo what he is today in the hearts and minds of his fans. People like to lift their leg over them, but this is disingenuous I think. Yes, the first film is easily the best of the series and he was a great character in First Blood, but he be became a god of war after he went into Vietnam, where he fell in love, watched Co Bao die, wore that green stone around his neck, saved the POWs, killed Soviets, killed Vietcong, returned to base, knocked out the evil Cobra Kai Sensei, shoot up that sniveling snot Murdock's headquarters, gave this speech, and walked into the sunset.
You can imagine my glee as I exited the theater earlier this year and found that the fourth entry in the Rambo series was a pretty darn good one. It's one of those rare time-capsule movies that really does transport you to another era of filmmaking, the kind of mindless action film that I used to eat up as a kid. It doesn't have lofty goals. It just wants to be a worthy Rambo movie and it is. It's also ridiculously simplistic and violent. In fact, this is by far the most violent film in the series. It doesn't have the nostalgia of the second film, but its story is just as timely and black-and-white. There are no grays here. Just black and white. Good and evil. And John Rambo's on the side of righteousness.
4. Rambo III
Rambo III is kind of like the sloth of the series. Not to mix my '80s love around, but the Fratellis were ashamed of Sloth and kept him chained in the basement. Maybe I have a little Fratelli in me because I haven't seen this one in a long time. Maybe there's something to love here. I doubt it. It's pretty deformed, but perhaps ignoring it isn't the answer. It makes me wonder, though, whether or not Rambo indirectly helped the Taliban and bin Laden by helping the Afghans defeat the Soviets. Charlie Wilson's war, my tookus.