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New Escapist Column! “Rambo” and the Re-Staging of the Vietnam War…

I published a new In the Frame piece at Escapist Magazine yesterday, looking at an aspect of American pop history that I find fascinating.

In the seventies and eighties, American pop culture seemed preoccupied with restaging the Vietnam War. While a lot of that was reflected in films like Rambo: First Blood, Part II, which sent elite combat units abroad to enact brutal vengeance and to settle accounts, one of the more interesting trends was the way in which action movies like Star Wars, Predator, Red Dawn and even Die Hard very aggressively reframed their protagonists in the style of the Viet Cong; as insurgents squaring off against tactically and numerically superior foes who were often invaders or occupiers. This dynamic was best expressed in Rambo: First Blood, which found a Vietnam veteran waging a one-man war against a local police department in the forests of Washington.

You can read the piece here, or click the picture below.

 

Non-Review Review: Rambo – Last Blood

There’s something almost disappointingly pedestrian about Rambo: Last Blood.

The sequels to Rambo: First Blood have often struggled to live up to the original film, to capture the aspects of that early eighties action drama that elevated above so many of its contemporaries. Watched today, First Blood is a surprisingly sensitive piece that exists worlds apart from the gleeful revenge fantasies of Rambo: First Blood, Part II or Rambo III. It exists a world apart from superficially similar action movies like Missing in Action or P.O.W.: The Escape, a surprisingly meditative and reflective piece of work.

Parting shots.

It isn’t really a surprise that Last Blood strips out a lot of that meditation and reflection. Even the best of the sequels – the no-nonsense Rambo, from 2008 – was relatively straightforward in its ambitions and its methods. What is disappointing about Last Blood is how mundane its own ambitions and methods really are. The bulk of Last Blood is given over to a story that feels lifted from the most crass of the spiritual descendants of the original Rambo, with the eponymous Vietnam veteran embarking on a mission into the Mexico underworld to recover his surrogate daughter.

That said, Last Blood roars to life in its final act, recapturing some of the thrills that distinguish the series from so many of its imitators and successors. There’s a pulpy absurdist thrill to the film’s final act, which tries awkwardly to combine the wry commentary of the original film with the hyper-violence of the sequels. The result is a film that averages out to somewhere around “just about fine.”

Take a bow.

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