A little past the middle of a recent screening of Rambo: Last Blood, after Rambo casually dropped a severed head from his pickup truck window, author David Morrell shook his head and laughed to himself — but not because he found it funny.
"In my novel, Rambo is a man bitter about what he learned about himself in war," says the Santa Fe writer of the iconic character he created in 1972's First Blood. "That's not dramatized at all in the new movie. Anyone 40 years or younger won't have the faintest idea what's troubling him."
The man on the screen, he says, isn't his Rambo, a disenfranchised, angry Vietnam War vet coming to terms with the killing he did for a nation he no longer understood — and which no longer understood him.
Fast forward through three sequels, and Rambo (73-year-old Sylvester Stallone) is training horses in Arizona when a Mexican crime cartel kidnaps his niece. Rambo crosses the border to get her back, and then members of the cartel come looking for him. Carnage ensues — and it's a brutal, ugly ride. Characters are raped, drugged, beat up, slashed, shot, and bombed to death. One character has his heart cut out onscreen while he's still breathing.
Though Rambo experiences a flashback or two that hint at trauma in Vietnam, Last Blood's Rambo is so removed from David Morrell's creation that he may just as well have been called John Smith, Morrell says.
"My feeling about the character is that he usually reflects something happening in the culture of the time. If this film is a representation of what's going on in our country, we're doomed."
Yup, you read that right. Sylvester Stallone is back as John fucking Rambo, and he's here to beat, stab, and shoot bad guys full of holes and pepper them with arrows in Rambo5: Last Blood — and in the process, remind us just how far removed the franchise is from the original film, First Blood.
The 1982 action blockbuster First Blood is a tragic (albeit Hollywoodized) story of a decorated Vietnam veteran who struggled to cope with post-traumatic stress and a loss of identity after his service. Home from war, John Rambo travels to a small rural town in search of an old friend, only to find that he passed away. The townsfolk are apathetic and distant, and the town sheriff is outright hostile. To them, Rambo is little more than a weapon of war — a tool that doesn't belong in civilized society. The film ends with an acknowledgement that war sometimes stays with the warrior when Stallone delivers the iconic line: "Nothing is over."