Two’s Days: First Blood & Rambo

A shell shocked Vietnam War vet is harassed by local law enforcement.  That’s the whole plot of First Blood.  Overall, a serviceable action film.  First Blood is metaphor, perhaps cautionary tale, for the maladjustment to civilian life that the Vietnam vets experience.  Thirty years later, this film feels relevant.  Like the Vietnam War, the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan have been extremely unpopular in the U.S. Will the films based on their readjustment be about men figuratively trapped in the jungle?  Will they be as simplistic as this film?  I hope not.

The final scene of the First Blood gets to the substance of Rambo’s lament.  He handled million dollar machinery, but now can’t be trusted to park cars.  Compounded on to that is the treatment he receives.  The cops are pathologically bent on antagonizing him.  They are so simply evil, they come across as straw men.  A clear stand-in for public opinion of the Vietnam War.  His transformation into one man army is a defensive strategy.  A complex situation is dealt with brute force.  The DVD contains an alternate ending where John Rambo commits suicide.  Other than eliminating the mindless sequels that came afterward, that ending would be too pessimistic.

Twenty years later, and many sequels later, Rambo is back.  He lives in Thailand, somewhat at home in the jungle, but still humorless.  He is a thousand yard stare and a man with a dark past, who is reluctantly roped into a rescue mission.  A missionary group has been kidnapped by a Burmese military group.  Only John Rambo, and a team of mercenaries under AARP eligibility age, can save them.

The bad guys are clearly bad guys.  They gun down innocent villagers indiscriminately.  They rape and pillage.  It’s unsettling and over the top, and so is the retaliation.  The violence carries an odd emotional weight.  At the beginning of Rambo news footage of the civil war in Burma is shown.  The events in Rambo feel like a footnote to a violent and incomplete chapter in global politics.  Don’t misunderstand, the setting is of minor consequence.  It’s an invitation to be detached from the carnage on screen.  Again, a serviceable action film.  This is, presumably, the last outing of the character.  At the end of the film, John Rambo goes home.  It’s open-ended because the violence isn’t cathartic.

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