Rambo is a fictional former Green Beret created by David Morrell in his novel First Blood. Morrell's character and ideas were used in the 1980s and 2000s as the basis for a series of popular action films starring Sylvester Stallone.
The films featuring the character are: First Blood (1982), Rambo: First Blood Part II (1985), Rambo III (1988), and Rambo (2008). The films focus on a troubled Vietnam War veteran and Green Beret, John James Rambo, who is skilled in many aspects of survival, weaponry, hand-to-hand combat and guerrilla warfare.
Morrell says that in choosing the name Rambo he was inspired by "the sound of force" in the name of rambo apples which he encountered in Pennsylvania, and he felt that its pronunciation was similar to the surname of Arthur Rimbaud, the title of whose most famous work A Season in Hell, seemed to him "an apt metaphor for the prisoner-of-war experiences that I imagined Rambo suffering." It is also the Japanese word for "violence.
In popular culture, the name has become an eponym for a tactic of military aggression or, alternatively, a person demonstrating great heroism through extreme violence and skill, especially when outnumbered. However, the term can also be used somewhat derogatorily to describe someone who thoughtlessly charges into a fight with no regard for personal safety or careful planning. This term is referred to as "Going Rambo" or "doing it Rambo style." The name is also used in a more figurative sense to describe any action or approach which is deemed to be aggressive.
Upon his return to the U.S., Rambo discovered that many American civilians hated the returning soldiers, and he himself was subject to humiliation and embarrassment by having anti-war "hippies" throw garbage at him and calling him "baby killer". His experiences in Vietnam and back home resulted in an extreme case of post-traumatic stress disorder. At the same time, inner questions of self identity and reflectiveness cause Rambo to lash out at society rather than handling difficult situations in a "civilized" manner.
Per dialogue in Rambo: First Blood Part II, during his Vietnam era service, Rambo was awarded:
In a deleted scene from Rambo III, Rambo's "Class A" uniform can clearly be seen with the following 13 ribbons:
In a measure of discontinuity within the storyline, Rambo's Silver Stars and Distinguished Service Cross were missing from his ribbon rack as well as the National Defense Medal and the Good Conduct Medal, both of which he would have been awarded.
Various special duty badges can also be seen on Rambo's "Class A" uniform, including:
Additionally, in this same scene, Rambo's Social Security Number is revealed: 936-01-1758. However, the Social Security Administration does not issue a SSN with the prefix 936. Citizens in Arizona, Rambo's home state, are issued SSNs with the prefixes 526-527, 600-601, and 764-765. This was probably done to avoid the chances that Rambo's fictional SSN would match that of a real living person.
The film was promoted with the slogan:
Upon returning to the United States, Rambo has difficulty adjusting to civilian life (presumably after losing a job in valet parking for unsatisfactory performance) and wanders the country as a drifter. In December 1982, Rambo travels to fictional town of Hope, Washington, in search of an army buddy of his, named Delmore Barry, from the Special Forces, only to find upon arrival to Delmore's supposed residence a little girl who is his daughter and Delmore's depressed widow who tells Rambo that her husband had died from cancer the previous summer due to exposure to Agent Orange, and besides losing her man she must seek out a living as a cleaning lady and on Delmore's Servicemember's Group Life Insurance. Rambo, attempting some cold comfort, gives Mrs. Barry the photograph of Delmore's unit. He is left with a mild sense of survivor's guilt as he is now the last man still living of his once-proud unit. He then travels to Hope in the attempt to find a diner and maybe a temporary job. Unfortunately, however, the town sheriff, Will Teasle (Brian Dennehy), does not welcome Rambo, judging the military hero negatively because of his long hair and scruffy look. Rambo disobeys the sheriff's order to stay away from Hope, as he has done nothing wrong to the community and he believes such banishment to be a violation of his freedom of movement, and is promptly charged for vagrancy and subject to harassment from the deputies.
The harassment triggers flashbacks of Rambo's traumatic memories of his torture at the hands of the North Vietnamese when he was a prisoner of war, and his mind regresses into thinking he is once again fighting in combat. Rambo fights his way out of the sheriff's department with his bare hands and makes his way into the wilderness. A manhunt ensues. The sheriff and his deputies cannot win against Rambo in the forest, and indeed, all are badly wounded as a result of trying to defeat him. Rambo deals with them efficiently and although capable of doing so, he doesn't want to kill any of them. However, he accidentally kills a police officer in self-defence by throwing a rock at a helicopter, causing the pilot to lose control and an officer to fall out. The officer shooting at Rambo from the helicopter loses his footing and falls to the bottom of a rocky cliff. The Washington State Patrol and about 200 members of the Washington National Guard are called in to assist.
At this point, Colonel Samuel Trautman (played by Richard Crenna), the former commanding officer of Rambo's old Special Forces unit, arrives in Hope. Trautman warns that continuing the manhunt is dangerous to the authorities, as Rambo is too experienced to be captured easily in the wilderness where he thrives. Instead, Trautman recommends giving Rambo time to return to his senses by allowing him to be by himself in the Pacific Northwest back country, after which he could presumably settle down after some time and be arrested without incident. However, the authorities reject Trautman's recommendation and continue the manhunt, and Rambo's subsequent rampage culminates in the destruction of the sheriff's office and most of the town's main street. Rambo stands poised to eliminate the sheriff, but Trautman finally confronts Rambo face-to-face, and ultimately convinces his former soldier to surrender to the authorities.
In the afterstory of the timeline between the first and second films, Rambo is convicted at a court-martial and remanded to a military prison where heavy duty labor is the norm. Despite being a convict, the rigid routine and discipline of prison life provides Rambo with some measure of much-needed stability, as it reminds him of his past in the military and its own rigid hierarchy.
The film was promoted with the slogan:
In the second installment of the series in 1985, Rambo is tasked by Col. Trautman to return to Vietnam to search for American POWs remaining in Vietnamese captivity. Marshall Murdock (Charles Napier), the official in charge of the mission, is portrayed as a corrupt military figure who does not want to expose the truth. Rambo is ordered to take photographs of a Vietnamese military base to prove to the American public there are no more POWs in Vietnam, although Murdock knows that there are.
Rambo is sent to a part of the jungle where Murdock receives confirmation that no POWs were being held at the time. Rambo works with a Vietnamese woman known as Co, who is an anti-communist Vietnamese rebel serving as an intelligence agent for Rambo. However, Rambo discovers that there is a POW camp where he was dropped. The POWs are rotated from location to location, and coincidentally are in the same area as Rambo when he was dropped. Rambo breaks one POW out of the camp and attempts to escape, only to be refused access to the base by Murdock and to have himself and the POW recaptured by the Vietnamese soldiers. Rambo is immobilized in a pit of sewage and leeches, then tortured by Soviet soldiers, who are allied with the Vietnamese and training Vietnamese soldiers. Co enters the base under the guise of a prostitute for hire, where she aids Rambo in escaping. After Rambo expresses his deepest gratitude for his rescue, the two share a kiss, after Co implores him to take her back to America with him. However, as they prepared to move on, Co is shot down by surprise gunfire.
Enraged, Rambo then acts on his own initiative and starts a one-man rescue mission, stealing a Soviet helicopter and breaking all the POWs out of captivity. After returning to the US base in Thailand with all the POWs, Rambo becomes enraged at how the United States government has ignored the existence of surviving soldiers being held captive. Rambo then threatens Murdock and tells him to be forthright with the American public regarding the truth of the POWs and to spare no expense in rescuing them all, else he will return for Murdock's hide. When Trautman says Rambo will be honored once again, he declines, saying the POWs deserve medals and accolades more than him as they were regular soldiers who endured torture and extraordinary hardships. For his actions in Vietnam, Rambo is granted a presidential pardon and remains in Thailand to reside.
In the afterstory between the second and third films, Rambo takes up residence near a monastery where he engages in frequent meditation to find a sense of inner peace. Although Rambo believes his soldiering days are apparently over, he does not become a complete pacifist, as he often participates in violent stickfighting matches and donates the purse of his winnings to the monks to help renovate the monastery.
The film was promoted with the slogan:
The film opens with Colonel Samuel Trautman (Richard Crenna) returning to Thailand (where the second film took place) to once again enlist the help of Vietnam veteran John Rambo (Sylvester Stallone). After witnessing Rambo's victory in a stickfighting match, Trautman visits the construction site of the temple Rambo is helping to build and asks Rambo to join him on a mission to Afghanistan. The mission is meant to supply weapons, including Stinger missiles, to Afghan freedom fighters, the Mujahideen, who are fighting the Soviets. Despite showing him photos of civilians suffering under the Soviet rule, Rambo refuses and Trautman chooses to go on his own.
While in Afghanistan, Trautman's troops are ambushed by Soviet troops while passing through the mountains at night. Trautman is imprisoned in a Soviet base and tortured for information by commanding officer Zaysen (Marc de Jonge) and his henchman Kourov (Randy Raney). Rambo learns of the incident from embassy field officer Robert Griggs (Kurtwood Smith) and immediately flies to Pakistan where he meets up with Mousa (Sasson Gabai), a weapons supplier who agrees to take him to a village deep in the Afghan desert, close to the Soviet base where Trautman is kept.The Mujahideen in the village are already hesitant to help Rambo in the first place, but are defenitely convinced not to help him when their village is attacked by Soviet helicopters after one of Mousa's shop assistants had informed the Russians of Rambo's presence. Aided only by Mousa and a young boy named Hamid (Doudi Shoua), Rambo makes his way to the Soviet base and starts his attempts to free Trautman. The first attempt is unsuccessful and results not only in Hamid getting shot in the leg, but also in Rambo himself getting shot in the stomach. After escaping from the base, Rambo tends to Hamid's wounds and sends him and Mousa away to safety.
The next day, Rambo returns to the base once again, just in time to rescue Trautman from being tortured with a blow-torch. After rescuing several other prisoners, Rambo steals a helicopter and escapes from the base. However, the helicopter soon crashes and Rambo and Trautman are forced to continue on foot. After a confrontation in a cave, where Rambo and Trautman kill several Russian soldiers including Kourov, they are confronted by an entire army of Russian tanks, headed by Zaysen. Just as they are about to be overwhelmed by the might of the Soviet Army, the Mujahideen warriors, together with Mousa and Hamid, ride onto the battlefield in an awe-inspiring cavalry charge, overwhelming the enemy despite its overwhelming numerical and technological superiority. In the ensuing battle, in which both Trautman and John are wounded, Rambo manages to kill Zaysen by driving a tank into the helicopter in which Zaysen is flying. At the end of the battle Rambo and Trautman say goodbye to their Mujahideen friends, and leave Afghanistan to go home.
After saving Trautman in Rambo III, Rambo departs from Afghanistan, presumably parts with Col. Trautman and continues to reside in Thailand. This is where the fourth film begins.
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The film opens with newsreels of the crisis in Burma. Burma (also known as Myanmar) is under the iron fist rule of Than Shwe and takes harsher stances against the nation's pro-democracy movement. Rebels are thrown into a mine-infested marsh and then gunned down by a Burmese army unit, while the joint-smoking Burmese military officer Major Pa Tee Tint gazes grimly at the scene.
Former U.S. soldier John Rambo still lives in Thailand and now resides in a village near the Burmese border. He makes a living capturing snakes and selling them in a nearby village. He also transports roamers in his boat. A missionary, Michael Burnett (Paul Schulze), asks Rambo to take him and his associates up the Salween River to Burma on a humanitarian mission. Rambo refuses but is convinced by Sarah Miller (Julie Benz) to take them.
The boat is stopped by pirates who demand Sarah in exchange for passage. After negotiation fails, Rambo kills them all. Although his actions save the missionaries, it greatly disturbs them. Upon arrival, Michael says that they will travel by road and will not need Rambo's help for the return trip. The mission goes well until the army, led by the Major Tint, brutally attacks the village, killing most of the villagers and two missionaries, and kidnapping the rest. When the missionaries fail to come back after ten days, their pastor comes to Rambo to ask for his help in guiding hired mercenaries to the village where the missionaries were last seen.
Troubled by the small platoon (which includes a child), Rambo decides to accompany the soldiers. After seeing the destroyed village filled with mutilated humans and animals, Rambo encourages the platoon to move on. Hijacking a truck, they create a plan to save the hostages at the P.O.W. camp, doing so within fifteen minutes to avoid alerting the army. Rambo helps Sarah and the others to escape. The Myanmar Army (Tatmadaw) unit finds their hostages missing and organizes a massive manhunt. Everyone except for Rambo, Sarah, and "School Boy" is captured. Just as the group is to be executed, Rambo hijacks a truck-mounted .50-caliber machine gun and engages the Burmese army. A group of Karen rebels joins the fight to help Rambo and the mercenaries defeat the Burmese army. Seeing that the battle is lost Major Tint decides to flee, only to run into Rambo's machete, which Rambo then uses to disembowel the Major, killing him.
Encouraged by Sarah's words, Rambo returns to the United States. The last scene shows him walking along a rural highway, past a horse farm and a rusted mailbox with the name "R. Rambo" on it. He makes his way down the gravel driveway as the credits roll.
Lionsgate acquired the rights to the Rambo franchise, and in association with The Weinstein Company, co-produced the 2008 sequel Rambo. Lionsgate will also handle video rights to the latest film, and by virtue of its output deal with StudioCanal, a box set of all the "Rambo" films was released on May 27, 2008.
The music for the first film is harsher and more dissonant than that for the sequels, as is keeping with the tone of the film. As such, it bears more of a resemblance to Goldsmith's output of the 1960s and 1970s than it does most of his work in the 1980s. The first film's score does use electronics but is primarily orchestral while the sequel scores incorporate heavier use of electronics. The second film's score is the most popular, being that it is the most exciting. The music in the third film is an extension of the style used in the second, but with a few new themes. Both sequels feature new themes for Rambo that are based on elements found in the original "It's a Long Road" theme, which is also heard in its original form in each film as well.
Since Goldsmith died in 2004, film composer Brian Tyler (The Fast and the Furious: Tokyo Drift, War, Aliens vs. Predator: Requiem) scored the fourth film. He reassured fans at the time of Goldsmith's death that his score would be based on Goldsmith's cues for the first three First Blood/Rambo pictures.