First Blood might be my favorite Stallone film. My wife is a Rocky fan. My writing buddies will wax poetic on the merits of Cobra. But, there is something magical about making this movie at the height of his Rocky powers. This was the film he dropped between Rocky II and Rocky III. It was a passion project that at one point was trying to land Lee Marvin and Kirk Douglas to star alongside Stallone. Yet, it kept making due with losing key parts.
Kirk Douglas hated changing the source novel’s ending. His replacement was Rock Hudson. But, Hudson wasn’t going to be recovered from heart surgery in time for the shoot. That allowed Richard Crenna to take the role that would end up defining his career. From there, we go deep into what makes Stallone into a star. I know that some people will be screaming that Rocky made Stallone into a star. Wrong, it made him Rocky Balboa into an icon. There is a difference.
The character can often times eclipse the actor. After all, how many stellar live-action roles did you see Mark Hamill take after Luke Skywalker? Yet, small children will still flock to see Luke Skywalker slice up bad guys. Rocky is that for Stallone. However, Rambo is where Stallone became an acting star. There were smaller United Artists productions that led Stallone to this point. However, this was the right movie for the right time.
John Rambo has never worked as well as he worked here. There’s something about a Vietnam vet movie arriving a few years after The Deer Hunter, but before the apocalyptic final touches of Full Metal Jacket and Platoon. Rambo is America’s forgotten man and he’s not immediately angry. He just wants to do right by his dead friends and try to find purpose in his homeland.
Having grown accustomed to marching aimlessly, he doesn’t understand why a small town Sheriff would harass him. While the source novel plays the material a lot meaner, the film gets the heart behind it. I know that can easily get lost when Rambo is taking out deputies and hiding in caves. But, the meat of the material is in those moments when Rambo is scared and alone.
Many have stated that this was the first film to reasonable bring PTSD into the mainstream American cinema. While I don’t totally agree with that, it didn’t hurt. Especially with the changed ending for the film. It’s not great to see Rambo going off to prison, but Colonel Trautman was allowed to talk him down. When you’re a kid, it seems like a cop out. But, it ages very well.
Rocky just had to beat people down to win the day. Rambo has to learn what matters to him now. The War is over and First Blood is an arbitrary rule. Rambo doesn’t work unless he’s given a War to fight. In that way, it makes the sequels work and seem like cartoonish lampoons of what is happening here. Seriously, check this one out. The 4K transfer is magnificent. Deep rich colors, real film grain and it looks like it did upon first release. Hell, it might be better. The entire trilogy looks amazing in 4K. I just wish the special features were a little more than ports.