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."

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I watch a lot of television, movies, trailers, and trailer breakdowns for work, but here's the thing: I can't tell you or anyone else what makes a genuinely good military movie or show, especially if I haven't seen it yet. And I wouldn't call myself a "critic" in the classic sense. Then again what do they know; they said The Hurt Locker was a masterpiece.

What I do know, is that I get excited about stories that make an honest effort to achieve some measure of authenticity, whether it's a full blown dramatic reenactment of some major conflict, or seeing characters interact (even briefly) in a way you recognize, because you've had those conversations on base, overseas, or while you were drunk at one in the morning in the barracks.

At their best, military movies and shows focus on a character's service as more than a lazy plot device to explain why they're good with guns, have a high and tight, or shout out bits of military lingo at random moments; at their very worst, they may trot out the broken vet trope to add a little drama. And of course, there's the laziest of them where everyone's an operator — even lawyers, apparently.

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Sylvester Stallone is back as John Rambo. Why? Because nothing is (ever) over with this guy.

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