We Want Action Double Feature: Rambo (1985) & Predator (1987)

rambo first blood part 2 poster

For the past seven or eight years — pretty much since I got out of college — I’ve been focusing on absorbing as much new entertainment as possible, not necessarily brand new, but new to me. In that time, and going back to my days in high school and college, I’ve also been building up a collection of books, trades, movies and albums that I’ve deemed good enough to keep (or cheap enough to check out). In the past few weeks, though, I’ve been more in the mood to revisit the films and trades I love and own instead of looking for new things to devour. I’m not sure if this is a function of getting older or maybe the result of having my fill of goofy, bad movies seen on Netflix (for the time being).

Whatever the case, when Lu went down for her nap yesterday, I didn’t have the desire to flip through my ridiculously long Netflix Instant queue. Instead, I wanted to watch Rambo: First Blood II. I got a great deal on the Rambo Blu-ray set a while ago which reintroduced me to the fantastic original film, but also the whole franchise which I realized I have a lot of fond memories of.

As I noted after watching First Blood, the Rambo I really remember from my childhood — the shirtless guy with black pants, a headband and a bazooka — actually came from this sequel.  The film finds Rambo’s one time commanding officer Col. Samuel Trautman (Richard Crenna) approaching the imprisoned one man army corps (Sylvester Stallone, of course) with a special offer: help us with a mission in the jungles of Vietnam and get a Get Out Of Jail Free Card. Rambo takes the deal and nearly completes the mission before getting burned by the guy who’s really in charge, Marshall Murdock (Charlies Napier). With that, Rambo gets captured and tortured, but thankfully has a friend on the outside in Co (Julia Nickson) who helps him escape, a move that unleashes Rambo’s mighty vengeance on his captors and, eventually, his  betrayers.

The film includes all the bigtime action you’d expect with explosions, arrows through bad guys and even the perfect synergy of both: exploding arrows. But, what struck me once again about a Rambo movie is the fact that Stallone portrays this character with a depth and sadness that my younger self couldn’t understand. This is a guy who was trained to kill and he’s great at it. Now he’s in the real world and he can’t catch a break. A sheriff thinks he doesn’t look right and tries kicking him out of town. A shady military guy dangles freedom in front of him and leaves him high and dry. For him, the war is never over and he’ll probably never get to win, this time or any other. Sure, you can watch this movie and enjoy the aforementioned explosions, but there’s more going on which I can appreciate these days.

predator poster One layer of Rambo I noticed that was completely unintended, though, is its similarity to Predator. Rather, since the latter came out two years after the former, Predator‘s similarity to Rambo. Both movies feature an incredibly well-trained person going into a jungle to do a job, getting betrayed or lied to and going up against an unforeseen challenge that takes all their skills to defeat. For Rambo it’s an army of Vietnamese baddies, for Arnold Schwarzenegger’s Dutch, it’s an alien hunter with crazy weapons. Both movies also include a strong female character who plays an important part in the proceedings, a general lack of shirts in the end, super cool “preparing for battle” montages (a favorite genre trope of mine) and even similar dudes-holding-guns posters.

But, I’m far less interested in talking about the similarities between these two flicks than I am about how much I love them both(though someone should definitely do a mash-up). In the case of Predator — a favorite of mine going back to the Family Video rental days on into my Wizard internship when I scored the ass-kicking nickname Dutch after watching the first two Predator movies in a weekend — the film greatly benefits from its extended cast. We’re not just seeing Schwarzenegger in the jungle, but his whole crew, a gang consisting of Dillon (Carl Weathers), Mac (Bill Duke), Blain (Jesse Ventura, before we knew how crazy he is), Billy (Sonny Landham), Poncho (Richard Chaves) and Hawkins (screenwriter and Iron Man 3 director Shane Black). It’s important to have such a beefy group of dudes because they offer the Predator something to fight.

And fight they do! From the scene where everyone just desperately blasts into the jungle hoping to hit what took their friend to Billy making a last ditch effort to try and stop their pursuer, this movie is jam packed with iconic action set pieces all of which lead up to the king-daddy of them all as a mud-covered Dutch does his damndest to kill this thing with a series of cunning booby traps. I have no idea if it was intended or not, but there’s a real “natural versus technological” theme in that last fight in which the one with fewer pieces of tech winds up winning the day over the more “advanced” species.

Anyway, Predator doesn’t have the depth that Rambo does and that’s fine by me. If I felt for every single action hero the way I do for John Rambo, these things would be a lot less fun, but every now and then it’s good to actually feel something in addition to explosion-fueled excitement.

I mentioned many of the similarities between these two movies above but there’s one more that I think it worth noting: both have had fantastic sequels in the past five years. After mounting a comeback in 2006 with Rocky Balboa, Stallone decided to revisit one of his other famous characters in the wildly intense Rambo from 2008. Meanwhile, the Predator franchise, which has been Dutch-less since the initial outing, came back swinging with Predators in 2010, a film I really enjoyed and want to revisit soon. Heck Stallone even said at one point that he’d like to see Rambo face off against a Predator, but I think he was half joking. In fact, after doing a little research, it turns out Stallone was interested in adapting a book called Hunter which would, essentially, do just that. I fully support this decision!

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