John Rambo rides again.
Sly Stallone is saddling up — literally — for a coda to the Rambo movie franchise that will now span 37 years.
According to Variety, Rambo: Last Blood (get it?)…
“…centers on Sylvester Stallone’s John Rambo crossing into Mexico and taking on a violent cartel when the daughter of one of his friends is kidnapped. ‘Rambo: Last Blood’ also stars Paz Vega, Sergio Peris-Mencheta and Yvette Monreal. Adrian Goldberg is directing from a screenplay by Stallone and Matthew Cirulnick. Stallone, who was 36 when the first film premiered, will be 73 at ‘Last Blood’s’ release.”
The movie is slated for a September 2019 release.
The original movie First Blood came out in 1982 when I was in high school. I’d already read the 1972 novel by David Morrell; it was one of the first reads that gave me a strong contemporary sense of the continuity and persistence of frontier skills, traits and values. It’s even set in Kentucky, where my 18th century frontier hero Simon Kenton roamed.
First Blood was written very deliberately in the tradition of Geoffrey Household’s 1939 classic Rogue Male, and it is a fine man-on-the-run tale. SPOLIER ALERT. In the novel, John Rambo dies. The movie transferred the action to the Pacific Northwest. Rambo is talked into turning himself in at the end, and he survives — which enabled him to become a $758 million movie franchise. The change posed a challenge for Morrell in writing the novelizations for subsequent films. In the Author’s Note to a new e-book edition of Rambo II, he recounts that the problem was paralyzing. He didn’t want to come up with some contrived Col. Trautman faked Rambo’s death scenario…
Pulp writer Max Allan Collins offered him the simple solution: Just break the fourth wall and acknowledge the change. Morrell’s original Author’s Note said simply:
“In my novel First Blood, Rambo dies. In the films, he lives.”
Fair enough. Can’t blame the guy for sacrificing the “purity” of his creation — that’s a career-making, got-the-kids’s-college-education-covered payday.
From intel provided by Captain McNamee of the Frontier Partisans New England Ranging Company, Morrell has been shut out from any input at all on the screenplay for this ’un. That doesn’t necessarily bode ill, but it’s pretty fucking rude — as Hollywood is.
The original movie packed a punch and Rambo’s muscular, bandana-wearing renegade combat style became one of several iconic ’80s “looks.”
The movie also created a craze for hollow-handled, saw-backed “survival knives.” I never bought one, but I’d be lying if I said I never wanted one.
Subsequent Rambo movies became more and more outlandish — as did the featured blades — until they were mere fantasy weapons in cartoonish movies.
Rambo II was one of several mid-’80s films that tried to refight the Vietnam War (“Sir, do we get to win this time?”). Rambo figured in my university honors thesis, which focused on Simon Kenton and explored the continuity & persistence theme, using Rambo as a cultural touchstone for the continuing attractiveness of the frontier warrior operating “on his own hook.”
I’ll admit that I get a kick out of the affirmation of my college thesis in the portrayal of an old John Rambo working on an Arizona ranch and saddling up for one last mission. I’d like to think that Stallone will hearken back to the original film and eschew the cartoonishness of II and III. I never saw the fourth (2008) movie, which Morrell actually said was closer in tone to his novel than any of the others. Maybe I’ll fire that up some evening.
In the long-ago, I read a few of Morrell’s other books. The Last Reveille is set during Pershing’s 1916 Punitive Expedition against Pancho Villa:
Influenced by Sam Peckinpah’s The Wild Bunch, Rambo-creator David Morrell dramatizes this epic era in American history through the eyes of a civilian scout old enough to have been in the Civil War, the Indian wars, Cuba, and the Philippines. Knowing that his ways are finished, he teaches a young recruit about the past, at a cost he never expected to pay.
And he wrote another man-on-the-run thriller titled Testament:
This is my most disturbing novel. That’s not hype. Some readers said it gave them nightmares. A journalist and his family are stalked by a right-wing paramilitary group after the journalist writes an incriminating article about them. The first chapter is a shocker, beginning with “It was the last morning the four of them would ever be together.” The shocks keep increasing after that. The conclusion is very controversial. Look for numerous allusions to classic American novels. To research the book’s outdoor scenes, I took a wilderness-survival course from the National Outdoor Leadership School and lived for five weeks in the Wind River Mountains of Wyoming, often above timberline.
Morrell worked a great deal in his prolific career in the territory of the Frontier Partisans. I hope his most iconic character gets a decent ride into the sunset.