Why did it take twenty years to make another Rambo movie? Stallone claims that it was due to a lack of a compelling story. An early idea had Rambo traveling to Mexico to rescue a young girl, but it lacked the Rambo essence of a lost man wandering and trying to find himself.
There was also a thought that Rambo should be living a quiet life with his wife and child when white supremacists kidnap his family. Another idea saw Rambo trying to stop a hostage situation at the United Nations — where he is strangely working as a diplomat — and battling terrorists (including his adopted son, who I’ll assume is Hamid from Rambo III).
Speaking of the United Nations, that’s where Stallone got the idea to set the film in Burma. In fact, lead villain Maung Maung Khin is a former Karen freedom fighter who accepted the role to bring awareness of the Saffron Revolution to the world.
The film is banned by the Burmese government. It is, however, available there in bootleg versions thanks to the opposition youth group Generation Wave. The Karen National Liberation Army has publically stated that the movie gave them a morale boost and have adopted the “Love for nothing or die for something” line as a rallying cry. “That, to me,” said Sylvester Stallone, “is one of the proudest moments I’ve ever had in film.”
When the film’s original director left, Stallone stepped in. He had no vision for the film until he realized, “What if the film was directed by Rambo?” He had another big idea that totally amped up the film, too. Realizing that the film had a low budget and that gore is cheap, he decided to go all in.
I’m here to tell you that this movie is 100% all in.
The ruthless Major Pa Tee Tint leads an army of men who systematically destroy small villages, killing innocents, drafting teenagers and abducting and assaulting the women. A missionary named Michael Burnett hires Rambo — who makes his living as a snake catcher and boat pilot in Thailand — to use his boat on a humanitarian mission to provide medical aid.
Pirates stop the boat and Rambo is forced to kill them to save Sarah Miller (Pittsburgh’s own Julie Benz), the only woman in the group. Everyone is so upset by how violent Rambo is that they send him away. Within hours, they’re attacked by Tint’s soldiers.
Of note, Benz began working for the U.S. Campaign for Burma after this movie was released, saying “I can’t continue my life without trying to help the situation.”
Father Arthur Marsh (Ken Howard, The White Shadow), the pastor of the missionaries’ church, asks Rambo to take five mercenaries upriver on a rescue effort. Our hero offers further help, but their leader refuses. Luckily for him, Rambo sticks around as the soldiers quickly outnumber the mercenaries.
What follows is an absolute massacre, as Rambo graphically dispatches of everyone in his way, sometimes with whole groups being wiped out by weapons fire and other times hand to hand. If you’re squeamish about gore at all, you should avoid this film, which is packed with graphic displays of death and dismemberment. I’m serious: there is an average of 2.59 killings for every minute of screen time and an overall body count of 466 people.
David Morell, the writer of First Blood spoke highly of the film: “I’m happy to report that overall I’m pleased. The level of violence might not be for everyone, but it has a serious intent. This is the first time that the tone of my novel First Blood has been used in any of the movies. It’s spot-on in terms of how I imagined the character — angry, burned-out, and filled with self-disgust because Rambo hates what he is and yet knows it’s the only thing he does well. … I think some elements could have been done better, [but] I think this film deserves a solid three stars.”