40 years of Rambo, the hero Sylvester Stallone should have let die – 10/26/2022

When “Rambo: Programmed to Kill” hit theaters four decades ago, Sylvester Stallone couldn’t have dreamed of being an “action movie hero.”

His career, after a series of cameos in a dozen films since 1969, finally took off with “Rocky the Wrestler” in 1976. “Taberna do Inferno” and “Hawks of the Night”, in addition to the sequel “Rocky II: The Revenge” .

When “Rambo” arrived in 1982, it was a serious movie based on a serious book. David Morrell had published “First Blood” a decade earlier, with the Vietnam War still haunting the collective American unconscious.

The book was a portrait of a sick country, unable to deal with its own mistakes. This feeling was reflected in veteran John Rambo, who after fighting in the Vietnamese jungle as a Green Beret, an elite American soldier, returned home to find not gratitude but only contempt.

Rambo (Stallone) is harassed by the sheriff played by Brian Dennehy - Disclosure / IMDb - Disclosure / IMDb

Rambo (Stallone) is harassed by the sheriff played by Brian Dennehy

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Jobless and wandering the country like a nomad, Rambo arrives in a town in Kentucky, is harassed by the local police and, traumatized by his war experiences, responds with violence. The result is a steep climb that results in a pile of bodies – including that of the protagonist, killed with a shotgun blast to the head.

Stallone saw in Rambo the perfect character to pursue his artistic evolution. The text, after all, not only addressed an important issue in an America struggling to recover from its involvement in Vietnam, but also opened up the opportunity for physical performance, in which the good form acquired in “Rocky” could be highlighted. to good use.

By then, the project had passed through many directors and stars in Hollywood, including Al Pacino, Clint Eastwood and Nick Nolte. Stallone’s arrival, with two Oscar nominations in hand (his “Rocky” screenplay lost to the “Network” screenplay), finally pulled “Rambo” out of the drawer.

The star quickly tried to make some changes to the original text. During “First Blood”, Rambo kills several police officers pursuing him, in a dark spiral that Stallone found intense beyond measure. In the final scenario, the only death at the scene, that of a police officer obsessed with erasing the veteran, is accidental, when he falls from a helicopter.

The dark mood came to a head when Rambo, tired of finding a home in a country that had clearly left him behind, commits suicide by forcing Colonel Sam Trautman (Richard Creena) to shoot him in the chest. The scene was filmed (it’s easy to find on YouTube), but Sly and director Ted Kotcheff opted for an alternate ending, in which Rambo is overpowered and imprisoned.

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‘Rambo II: The Mission’ is all about Stallone muscle

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It would have been, even with a less pessimistic conclusion, a worthy ending for a remarkable character in an intense and impressive film. But Stallone couldn’t put John Rambo aside. There was something iconic about the character that he felt, along with a keen sense of smell, was worth exploring.

Of course, Sly wasn’t just looking for the artistic merits of the tragic hero. “Rambo: Programmed to Kill” was the fifth highest grossing worldwide in 1982 and his first success outside of the “Rocky” series, then with three films. On the other hand, his dramatic angle, that of the man rejected by his country, seemed exhausted.

“Rambo II: The Mission” hit theaters in 1985 with a totally different proposition. Rather than once again addressing the loneliness of veterans in a battered America, the new screenplay, co-written by James Cameron, has taken on its action movie DNA. A change not necessarily for the better.

Sylvester Stallone graced the poster of the pumped up new “Rambo”, shirtless and with a rocket launcher in hand. The plot, a fantasy about American prisoners of war still in captivity in the Vietnamese jungles, was an excuse for Rambo to use an arsenal and, then, dispatch dozens of enemies – including Russian military, then big bad guys from the yankee cinema.

The success went far beyond expectations. Besides having his poster plastered on the walls of gymnasiums across the planet, and being all-out for the combat arms fetish gang, “Rambo II” was politically embraced by America’s far-right, then led by President Ronald Reagan. The film brought the “right way” to fight the enemy.

The numbers confirmed the success. In 1985, “Rambo II: The Mission” was second only to the “Back to the Future” phenomenon at the box office. Stallone’s other fight against the Russian villains, “Rocky IV,” took third place. As money moves the world, muscles have quickly taken the lead in pop culture.

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‘Rambo III’ put the character on the big screen for decades

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In the years since, a handful of other stars have drank from the “bulging muscles + brainless action” fountain promoted by “Rambo II.” Arnold Schwarzenegger released “Commander” the same year, just as Chuck Norris breathed new life into his career by following that same philosophy in films produced by the legendary Cannon.

Stallone himself seemed to abandon his quest for artistic integrity. After “Rambo II”, he let his muscles speak louder in films so different, at the same time so similar, such as “Snake”, “Falcon – The Champion of Champions” and “Brutal Damnation”, in addition to the unmissable “Rambo III”.

“One Man’s Army” became a subgenre that shaped an entire generation of moviegoers – a group that still resonates in films like the recent “Black Adam.” The 1990s saw this movement deflate, even as Stallone and Schwarzenegger remained survivors.

Not that it makes a difference to Rambo, the character. His imprint on pop culture went far beyond movies starring Sylvester Stallone. It came to life outside of movie theaters.

To squeeze the hero to the core, the rights holders have turned it into a profitable brand. He made comic book covers, starred in a children’s cartoon (“Rambo and the Force of Freedom”) and had half a dozen video games under his belt. He recently resurfaced as a fighter in “Mortal Kombat 11”, voiced by Stallone himself.

The marketing of Rambo as a commodity over 40 years has emasculated the character, robbing him of what made him so special in the first place. Watching “Rambo: Programmed to Kill” today can be a frustrating experience for anyone who associates his name with the kind of unbridled action the media itself has in store for him.

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Stallone brought the character’s last breath in ‘Rambo: Till the End’

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Stallone himself tried to save Rambo in essence, resignifying the character to the movies. It didn’t go very well. 2008’s “Rambo IV” returned to the wild in a boring spin-off adventure. 2019’s “Rambo: Until the End,” on the other hand, was a failed attempt to recapture the atmosphere of the first film. In both cases, violence overflows with violence.

John Rambo would perhaps be remembered with more affection and dignity if, in 1982, the cinema had let him follow his course and fully fulfill his dramatic role in “Programmed To Kill”. But it wasn’t meant to be – and at this point, that doesn’t matter either.

Even with the trivialization of the ideas carried by David Morrell in “First Blood”, “Rambo: Programmed to kill” remains, 40 years later, as an essential film for understanding the United States of the early 1980s. A visceral counterpoint to the cinema that showed, in family dramas, the shattered “American dream”. A film that finally proved that Sylvester Stallone could be the right star at the right time.

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