As Tom Breihan observed, things would’ve been a whole lot different if they’d just let John Rambo die at the end of First Blood. We wouldn’t be talking about the sequel that comes out this week (Rambo: Last Blood), for one.
The “Rambo dies at the end” ending would have been closer to the spirit of the book, who was a psychotic killer and not the hero. Rambo had planned to commit suicide, but Trautman gets to him first and puts a bullet in his head.
For whatever reason, Rambo gets to live at the end of First Blood (oh whoops, SPOILER ALERT). Breihan says this is Stallone’s doing:
Stallone also had good instincts about the storyline, too. It was his idea to keep Rambo as sympathetic as possible, only killing that first cop by accident, when he was trapped up against a wall. And it was Stallone’s idea to let Rambo live at the end of the movie, a decision that allowed one of our stranger, more awesome movie franchises to exist. Other actors had other ideas. In negotiations to play Colonel Trautman, Kirk Douglas reportedly insisted on the idea that Trautman should kill Rambo and that he should walk off with Rambo’s headband as a trophy. Stallone knew better.
Rambo isn’t the All-American super soldier that we know him today. You know, the one who got an 80’s animated series.
I have not watch this cartoon, but I am going to assume that gun fired lasers, and it was only ever used to blow open gates, lower draw bridges, shoot down planes (which enemies has parachuted to safely beforehand), blow up robots… but never murder people are you crazy?
And yet… that sort of makes it close to the Rambo of First Blood… a sympathetic drifter with a body count of … zero. John Rambo will blow up a small town and set booby traps, but murder? It’s not his fault Gault forgot to pack a parachute in that chopper.
Rambo of First Blood is a hunted animal driven by self-preservation (and PTSD). He’s a drifter with no country to come home to, where civilized people want him far away from city limits, and where anyone who could ever relate to any of his experiences have passed away. He might not be a killer, but he’s still a man mentally tortured by a past he can’t escape.
In three movies time, though, Rambo helps the Taliban by blowing up a Soviet chopper with a tank and his reputation as a patriotic superman was set. Be became the kind of action hero that gets parodied by the likes of Weird Al, Charlie Sheen in Hot Shots: Part Deux (the bloodiest movie of all time), and Gizmo from Gremlins 2: The New Batch.