Game Corner: Rambo: The Video Game (Xbox 360)

Released: 21 February 2014
Developer: Teyon
Also Available For: Arcade, PC, and PlayStation 3

The Background:
In 1972, David Morrell’s First Blood was published; a harrowing tale of the horrors of the Vietnam War, the book was well-received upon release eventually led to a live-action adaptation directed by Ted Kotcheff and starring Sylvester Stallone. A commercial success, First Blood (Kotcheff, 1982) is widely regarded as one of the most enduring and influential movies of its genre and was followed by a series of successful and popular action films that helped make Stallone a household name. John Rambo had featured in a number of videogames, most of which were based on the more action-orientated sequels rather than the more introspective First Blood, before Reef Entertainment acquired the rights to the franchise in 2011. Hoping to capitalise on the recent success of Rambo (Stallone, 2008) and the upcoming The Expendables 2 (West, 2012), Reef opted to use voice clips and dialogue ripped straight from the movies for their rail-shooter rather than record new dialogue with existing actors or soundalikes. This was one of many criticisms levelled against the game upon release; critics were equally unimpressed with the game’s over-reliance upon quick-time events (QTEs), the lacklustre enemy intelligence, and the game’s short length and Rambo: The Video Game was generally regarded as being a disappointing and mediocre use of the license. However, since today marks the anniversary of First Blood’s release, this seems like the perfect time to take a look at this poorly-received shooter and see if it truly deserves its overwhelmingly negative reputation.

The Plot:
Rambo: The Video Game sees players take control of John J. Rambo (and one of his allies, if you have a friend to play alongside) and reenact key events from the first three movies. This sees Rambo enduring horrendous torture in Vietnam, battling bigotry in Hope, Washington, infiltrate the Vietnam jungle to rescue a number of captured soldiers, and finally stand against a Soviet invasion of Afghanistan.

Rambo: The Video Game is a first-person rail shooter that places you into the role of Rambo (or the likes of Colonel Sam Trautman and Co Bao) and has you playing through a number of missions that are either based on key moments from the first three films or directly recreate some of the most iconic moments of Rambo’s film career. Since it’s a rail shooter, your control and movements options are a little limited; Rambo moves as the story dictates and you’re left controlling the aiming reticule with the right stick and holding the left stick to take cover from fire. The Right Trigger will see you fire one of your two main weapons, which can be switched with either Y or the directional pad (D-pad), and you can occasionally use an alternate fire mode with the Left Bumper.

Shoot down your enemies to enter a Wrath state and unleash the full force of Rambo’s rage.

Rambo can reload his weapon with either X or the Right Bumper; this will bring up a small reloading wheel and you’ll need to press the button again to reload faster to grant yourself additional ammo (though your overall supply is unlimited). Press it too soon or too late and your gun will jam, giving you less ammo and slowing down your reload time, thus leaving you vulnerable. LB and the B button also allow you to throw one of your limited supply of grenades, while the Left Trigger provides you with an aiming lock to target specific enemies, and you can also use the D-pad to cycle through different types of arrowheads once they’ve been unlocked. As Rambo kills enemies, scoring headshots or disarming them or blowing them to pieces by shooting explosive barrels, he’ll not only earn points but also fill up his “Wrath” bar. When a segment of this is filled, players can press X to enter “Wrath” mode, which slows down time, highlights enemies using their body heat, and refills Rambo’s health for every kill he performs during this limited burst of rage. Rambo: The Video Game allows you to play missions in three different difficulty settings: Private, Sergeant, and Green Beret; each one tweaks the aggressiveness and competence of the enemies, provides a different number of checkpoints, and makes quick-time events (QTEs) either easier or harder. If you’re playing on the easiest setting, you’ll be blessed with an unlimited number of checkpoints but won’t earn as many points for your playthrough; Sergeant or higher will limited your checkpoints to five and three, respectively, and end your game if you run out, though you can lower the difficulty setting from the death screen if you’re having a hard time. As you gun down enemies, you’ll rack up a score multiplier, which is key to increasing your final ranking at the end of each mission; you’ll also gain extra points for your accuracy, headshots, the difficulty setting, and how many deaths you suffered during the mission, promoting more efficient and calculated playthroughs on higher difficulty levels in order to level Rambo up, gain Skill Points, and upgrade his stats and unlock Perks and increase his combat proficiency.

QTEs, stealth sections, and explosive vehicle gameplay help add some much needed variety.

However, it’s not just about going in all guns blazing; Rambo will also need to take up his bow and arrow or his iconic knife and sneak through the woods, jungle, or under cover of darkness to take out enemies undetected. This means completing a number of QTEs, which award additional points for pressing the onscreen prompt at the last minute or tapping the button as fast as possible; while QTE time is severely reduced on higher difficulties, the onscreen prompts are always the same so you can simply memorise their order and concentrate on your timing. Sometimes these will crop up mid-mission to have you avoid incoming bullets or mortars, and one particular mission offers you the choice between a stealthy route or a more action-orientated path. You’ll also come across “Cautious Enemies”, indicated by a ! prompt, who will one-shot you if they spot you; enemies can also lean over or shoot through your cover and be bolstered by “Commanders”. Gameplay is given a little variety by the few times you take control of a mounted gun or a helicopter to wreak havoc on the immediate area. These sections are timed and involve blasting at the Hope police station, assaulting a Vietnam base from above, destroying mines and boats while sailing down a river, or blasting away at Soviet forces and their vehicles. These moments of intense action are where the game really excels, though the controls are a little slippery and it can be difficult to aim at your targets with the crosshair slipping all over the screen. This crops up again as Rambo is tasked with disarming and wounding Hope’s police officers for extra points; you can kill them as normal, but you get more points for disarming the cops, which is difficult to do without taking a lot of damage so it’s probably best to turn off the aiming assist option for this mission to make things easier. While sneaking through the Soviet base in Afghanistan, you’ll also have to follow onscreen prompts to arm explosives and can shoot at glowing sections of the cavernous environment to crush your enemies under boulders. If you’re playing alone, you can share your ammo with Co Bao in Vietnam by pressing Y at the right time and she’ll help you out with cover fire, and you’ll even have to take out snipers from afar in Afghanistan. Although the game starts of pretty simply, with you blasting at Viet Cong and diving to cover to reload and catch your breath, things quickly ramp up and get very frustrating and unfair as combinations of the game’s most formidable and annoying enemies ambush you, leaving you on the back foot if you’re out of grenades; things are made all the more maddening by some wonky hit detection than can see your point-blank shots miss or enemies hitting you through normally impenetrable cover.

Graphics and Sound:
I’ve played Rambo: The Video Game in the arcades before; there, on a big screen with a real (albeit plastic) gun in your hand, the game looks and plays pretty well for a standard light gun shooter. However, on home consoles, the game is pretty much an embarrassment from top to bottom; while the missions do a decent enough job of bringing to life the dark, dank jungles of Vietnam and recreating the town of Hope and the Soviet cave from the films, there’s a lot of graphical pop up and corners cut here as it’s simply a rail shooter and you’re not really meant to be stopping and taking in the details around you. Similarly, enemy models are decent enough, but ragdoll all over the place at times and you’ll see the same enemy types again and again with very little variation.

While locations are okay, the character models, music, and audio dialogue are all absolutely dreadful.

The actual character models are pretty laughable; Rambo himself looks more like an off-model action figure than the surly Stallone thanks to his ridiculous mane of a haircut. Trautman doesn’t look too bad, but hardly any of the corrupt cops from Hope resemble their onscreen actors. The game’s story is framed as a series of flashbacks at Rambo’s “funeral” as some nameless, unknown military man gives those in attendance a rundown on Rambo’s career and reputation in order to afford him some anonymity for his excursion into Afghanistan. This allows the game to recreate the most memorable moments of the films with the absolute bare minimum of effort; the music is dreadful, repeating in embarrassing loops mid-mission, but it’s the voice acting where the game really falls flat. Stallone and Richard McKenna’s audio are ripped right from the films, making their words distorted and wildly inconsistent and hilariously out of context at times, and only emphasising the cheapness of the title.

Enemies and Bosses:
Rambo will gun down a whole host of nameless, faceless, interchangeable groups of enemies themed after each of the game’s missions: Viet Cong, Hope’s police department, and Soviet forces all try to fill Rambo with holes, popping up from the background, the sides of the screen, and rolling in to take shots at you. Enemies make use of cover to avoid your shots, can have their hats shot off, and some can even be disarmed to render them harmless to you but, for the most part, they are easily offed with just a few shots. Soon enough, you’ll encounter more formidable and annoying enemies, such as grenadiers (who take cover and toss grenades you can shoot out of the air), “Heavy” enemies covered in armour and vulnerable only in their face masks, and “Flamers” who wield flamethrowers and force you to shoot at their flame tank. Commanders will bolster the morale and efficiency of all onscreen enemies, so you should prioritise taking them out, though you must duck behind cover when turrets are rolled out into the field as they’ll shred you pretty quickly. Snipers, armoured enemies, and groups of these foes can whittle your health down in no time at all so it’s best to make use over cover, shoot any nearby explosives, and try to get off some one-shot headshots to off your enemies as quickly as possible.

Some familiar faces and final encounters close out each of Rambo’s explosive adventures.

Each of the game’s missions includes a timed sequence where Rambo must destroy parts of the environment, usually by making use of a large cannon or a helicopter but, in Afghanistan, you’ll also be hounded by helicopters and tanks that you cannot destroy and must either avoid by taking cover or run past by eliminating all onscreen enemies (and objective the game makes frustratingly vague) and completing some QTEs. Each mission culminates in something that can be generously described as a boss battle; after laying waste to the Hope police station, you’ll need to avoid Sheriff Teasle’s gunfire by pressing the onscreen prompts when it’s safe to move around, then desperately shoot at him when he peeks out at you from his elevated position. After laying waste to his base with your explosive arrows, you’ll find Lieutenant Tay far less of a challenge as you simply have to fire an arrow at him to blow him up, but you’ll need to take the controls of a helicopter and frantically fire your bullets and rockets at an enemy chopper to finish Rambo’s redemption in Vietnam. Finally, after a harrowing rescue mission in Afghanistan that sees you struggling past formidable and frustrating groups of various enemies, you’ll take the controls of a tank and get into a ground-to-air firefight with Colonel Alexei Zaysen. Jeeps and soldiers run around distracting you, but your primary concerns are Zaysen’s missiles and the tanks, which can severely reduce your vehicle’s health and destroy it in one shot, respectively. You’re thus forced to frantically fire your main gun and your cannon like a madman, desperately hoping to shoot down the missiles and destroy your targets before they can do too much damage, before finally ending Zaysen’s threat in this surprisingly aggravating final showdown.

Power-Ups and Bonuses:
Aside from your Wrath state, there aren’t any in-game power-ups to make use of beyond being tossed a grenade or making use of explosive barrels or other environmental hazards. You don’t need to worry about picking up ammo and health is restored in Wrath mode, so your primary focus should be on staying alive, killing as many enemies as possible, and keeping your multiplier chain and accuracy high. This will net you the Skill Points you need to level-up and improve your efficiency; these can be spent upgrading your resistance to damage, your grenade inventory, the power of both light and heavy weapons, and extending the duration of your Wrath bar. When you level-up high enough, and complete certain requirements (known as “Trautman Challenges”), you’ll unlock additional weapons to take with you into each mission, which can definitely turn the tide in your favour in the game’s tougher stages. You’ll also unlock up to three Perk points and a variety of Perks that allow you to perform perfect QTEs or gain increased health and ammo while reloading or killing enemies in Wrath, for example.

Additional Features:
There are twenty-seven Achievements on offer in Rambo: The Video Game; the vast majority of these are tied to you getting at least a two-star rank on every mission, which will require you to beat the game in at least Sergeant mode, while others include maintaining a high chain multiplier, using every weapon in the game, completing it on Green Beret mode, and killing a total of 3000 enemies. Sadly, none of this is easily accomplished and meeting these criteria quickly becomes a very laborious and needlessly frustrating process as achieving even a two-star rank can be more trouble than it’s worth at times. The game can also be played in two-player co-op, which is very much appreciated and probably makes some of the tougher sections a bit easier, but there’s no head-to-head multiplayer mode and Trautman’s “challenges” amount to fulfilling certain objectives (which you can’t review in-mission) to unlock new weapons. If you simply must have more Rambo, there was some downloadable content released for the game that included some additional missions and Achievements, but I can safely say that I won’t be checking this out any time soon given how infuriating this game can be at times.  

The Summary:
I’d heard nothing but bad things about Rambo: The Video Game; however, even after my last few attempts to play the arcade version resulted in my coins being eaten by the machine, I maintained that it would be an inoffensive enough rail gun shooter to blast through and rack up some easy Achievements. Instead, what I got was an absolute slog of a gaming experience; bland environments which, while somewhat faithful to the movies, are way too dark, unimpressive and frustrating enemies, and a lack of variety really bring down the otherwise enjoyable enough gameplay. The stealth and QTE sections are okay, if painfully simple, and the parts where you’re in control of heavy ordinance and vehicles can be a lot of fun, but the presentation is just so cheap and rushed. The muted dialogue ripped right from the movies is the most glaring offense, of course, but the lack of gameplay options, the stringent criteria for unlocking stuff, and the odd little glitches and annoyances peppered through the game definitely don’t make it worth investing your time and money in when there are far better first-person shooters out there. It’s a shame as there’s definitely a lot of potential here, but the execution screams “cheap cash grab” and you really won’t be missing out on all that much if you skip this title, which I’d argue even die-hard Rambo fans would struggle to find enjoyable.

My Rating:

Rating: 1 out of 5.


Have you ever played Rambo: The Video Game? If so, did you enjoy it or were you as disappointed by it as I and many others were? What did you think to the Wrath system and the recreation of the film’s moments? Were you also disturbed by the poor quality character models and audio clips? Which Rambo videogame, or videogame appearance, is your favourite? Which of the Rambo films is your favourite? Whatever your thoughts on Rambo, drop them below or leave a comment on my social media.

Talking Movies [Rambo Month]: Rambo

Difficult as it may be believe, I never actually grew up watching or as a fan of the Rambo films (Various, 1982 to 2019) and my exposure to the works of Sylvester Stallone was comparatively now compared to that of Arnold Schwarzenegger. However, having recently watched the entire series from start to finish, I’ve been attempted to rectify that this month by dedicating the last few Fridays to celebrating the fact that First Blood (Kotcheff, 1982) was released on this day back in 1982.

Talking Movies

Released: 25 January 2008
Director: Sylvester Stallone
Distributor: Lionsgate and the Weinstein Company
Budget: $50 million
Stars: Sylvester Stallone, Julie Benz, Paul Schulze, Graham McTavish, and Maung Maung Khin

The Plot:
Twenty years after the events of the third film. Vietnam War veteran John J. Rambo (Stallone) has retired from the civilised world and is working as a snake catcher and boat driver in Thailand. However, when missionaries who hired Rambo’s services are taken hostage by the sadistic forces of Major Pa Tee Tint (Khin), Rambo reluctantly tags along with a group of mercenaries on a desperate rescue mission.

The Background:
After Rambo III (MacDonald, 1988) underperformed at the box office, the Rambo franchise lay dormant for the better part of two decades as star and creative force Stallone struggled to find a good excuse to revisit the character. After being inspired by the atrocities in Burma, Stallone was initially reluctant to direct the film himself but became excited when he decided to direct it from Rambo’s skewed perspective. The confusingly-titled movie’s unimpressive $113.2 million box office was accompanied by mixed reviews that criticised the excessive violence while praising the long-awaited return of the beloved character. Undeterred, Stallone began work on a follow-up soon after Rambo’s release that, after numerous revisions and alterations, was pretty much universally lambasted by even the character’s original creator when it eventually released.

The Review:
One of the complaints I had about Rambo III was that it really didn’t spent much time at all exploring Rambo’s newfound life away from war; we got the briefest glimpse at his time in Thailand but we never got to see in any real detail how he had adjusted to this life or what his mindset was. Rambo, to its credit, does not make the same mistake; when we re-join Rambo, now much older and more stoic and jaded than ever, he’s still in Thailand but now working as a snake catcher and offering boat trips. We follow him throughout a typical day, witnessing him applying his unique survival skills in a far more practical way as he catches fish with his trademark bow and rounds up snakes with an experienced efficiency.

Rambo has turned his back on the outside world and has no interest in reconnecting to society.

In Rambo III, Colonel Samuel Sam Trautman (Richard Crenna, sadly missing from this film due to his untimely death) all but accused Rambo of hiding and denying himself in Thailand and, while that may have been true, it’s far more prevalent here. When missionary Michael Burnett (Schulze) attempts to hire Rambo’s boat, Rambo vehemently and aggressively turns him down; fully aware of the atrocities occurring in Burma, he bluntly recommends that the missionaries avoid the area entirely and return home unless they plan to bring weapons and it’s pretty clear from his dismissive “Fuck the world” that he’s largely turned his back on the outside world.

The missionaries grossly underestimate the cruelty of Tint and his army.

Full of optimism and blind faith, the missionaries attempt to bring medical aid, religion, and serenity to the troubled villagers but grossly underestimate the cruelty and violence of Burma, especially Tint and his army. When the Burmese attack the village with mortars and gunfire, villagers are literally blown to shreds by the explosions, kids are shot, and limbs are hacked off mercilessly and the missionaries, woefully unequipped and overwhelmed by the violence, are summarily taken captive. It’s a brutal, unrelenting show of force and viciousness and far beyond anything seen in the previous films; indeed, it’s as though Rambo’s version of the world has come to life before our eyes and the missionaries are left petrified prisoners of war at the limited mercy of Tint and his army.

Tint is easily the cruellest and most sadistic of all of the franchise’s villains.

The cruelty of Tint and the Burmese junta army is a significant part of the film and is, literally, the first thing we see; Tint has his soldiers force villagers to cross a swamp-like river filled with mines and guns down any that survive the trip purely for his own amusement. Similarly, he orders his men to pillage the villages, taking their sons and forcing them into joining his army, taking their women to be sex slaves, and threatening to destroy the villages if they try to retaliate or aid the Karen rebels. Of all the villains and villainous forces seen in the Rambo films, Tint and the Burmese are easily the worst and most despicable since we not only see the aftermath of their actions but actually see them exercising their sadistic will in full force not just on the innocent villages but also on the missionaries.

In the end, Rambo can’t fight what’s in his blood and gears up to join the rescue mission.

Still haunted by his life experiences, Rambo has returned to his belief that “nothing ever changes” but, despite his bitter and cynical attitude, he is talked into helping the missionaries by Michael’s fiancée, Sarah Miller (Benz), and even refuses to accept any payment based entirely on her plea to the dim recesses of his humanity. Later, after dropping the missionaries off, we see that Rambo is still tormented by nightmares of his experiences and the events of the previous films, and Trautman’s words regarding his true nature and coming “full circle”. Unlike the previous films, Rambo isn’t alone this time around; although he disapproves of the idea of mercenaries, he’s unable to deny that “war is in [his] blood” and agrees to not only ferry them on a rescue mission but also to tag along despite the objections of Lewis (McTavish).

Only a couple of the mercenaries get a chance to stand out but they’re all fully capable soldiers.

Of all the mercenaries, it’s Lewis who is the most outspoken and aggressive; frustrated at the idealism of the missionaries and taking an instant dislike to the country and Rambo, Lewis is a tough, overly-macho, and outspoken asshole who’s only really in it for the money. He’s the most prominent of the group, though School Boy (Matthew Marsden) attempts to keep the peace and acts as the group’s sniper, Reese/Tombstone (Jake La Botz) acts as the explosive expert, and En-Joo (Tim Kang) also manage to stand out amongst the volatile group. For all their equipment and vigour, they are left stunned by Rambo’s prowess at killing and guerrilla tactics; having drastically underestimated him as merely the “boat man”, they are suitably convinced to allow him to tag along after seeing his proficiency with a bow.

The Nitty-Gritty:
Rambo is like an amalgamation of the previous three movies as it is dominated by the bleak cruelty of the first film, features a similar gritty approach to its violence as the second film, and concludes with an over the top bloodbath that surpasses even the ludicrous third film. Like its predecessors, Rambo builds towards its action and violence over time but does a much better job of exploring Rambo’s psyche than the last two films; older, world-weary, and bitter, Rambo is a blunt, pragmatic, and realistic instrument who hasn’t lost any of his skill and efficiency over the years. Well versed in the harsh nature of the world, especially Burma, he isn’t afraid to gun down pirates when negotiations fail and his knowledge of guerrilla warfare and the area gives him the edge over the younger mercenaries.

Rambo impresses with his unquenchable aggression and proficiency with a bow.

The presence of a diverse team of combatants allows for much more variety in the film’s action sequences, though guerrilla tactics are still very much the order of the day thanks to Tint’s superior forces. No doubt due to Stallone’s advancing age and sharing double duties as director and star, sharing the action amongst his younger companions also allows the film to stand out from its predecessors, which were largely focused on one man waging war against insurmountable odds. Rambo’s experience and unique set of skills are still able to shine through, though, since he uses both (in co-ordination with his knowledge of the country) to lead a successful rescue of the missionaries under cover of darkness using little more than stealth, grit, and determination.

With the mercenaries held by Tint, Rambo leaps into action using a huge machine gun.

Interestingly, the added numbers also end up being a hindrance for Rambo as, while they offer backup and cover fire and play their part in the rescue, many of them are summarily captured by Tint’s soldiers. While Rambo was captured in the previous films, he largely only had to worry about getting himself out of danger but, this time, he has to consider the lives of many people and, as a result, is somewhat handicapped in a way he might not have been had in gone in to rescue the missionaries alone. Indeed, Rambo proves the advantages of his age and experience as he completely avoids capture this time around and is able to take on Tint’s entire army with only Sarah, School Boy, and a massive machine gun at his disposal!

Tint meets a fittingly gruesome end at Rambo’s hands.

While Tint is a reprehensible antagonist, he doesn’t actually pose a physical threat to Rambo or the mercs; instead, Tint’s threat comes from the fact that he has an entire army of loyal, equally sadistic soldiers at his beck and call and, protected by these numbers, he feels free to exercise his will and indulge his every desire, however despicable and cruel those may be. His preference to watch or to mercilessly beat his captives means that, rather than facing off with Rambo in hand-to-hand combat, Tint directs his forces to do his fighting for him, leading to countless Burmese soldiers being cut to ribbons by Rambo (who has mounted a massive machine gun) and his allies. When the Karen rebels also join the fight, Tint sees defeat at hand and decides to save his own hide and, for his cowardice, is summarily disembowelled by Rambo, putting an end to his reign of tyranny.

Contrary to the usual anti-war sentiment, Rambo‘s message is that violence is always the answer!

Of course, one of the most notable things about Rambo is its depiction of absolutely brutal and gratuitous violence and gore. Rather than being slowed by age, Rambo appears to be more dangerous and lethal than ever as he is now able to rip a man’s throat out with his bare hands and the film is littered with similarly gruesome imagery: heads and limbs are blown and cut off, kids are shown with their legs missing, Tint’s pigs feast on human flesh, Lewis ends up with his leg shredded into little more than meat and bone by an errant mine (but loses none of his aggressive defiance despite the agonising pain), and Rambo detonates a dormant bomb with the impact of a small nuclear explosion! This all culminates in the finale, where Rambo literally guns down hundreds of men with his machine gun, reducing them to dismembered corpses. Even Michael, pushed to his very limits by the violence he has seen and abuse he has suffered, ends up going against his morals and beats a man to death with a rock and, in the end, the message seems to be that uncompromising, brutal violence truly does solve the world’s problems rather than messages of peace and blind optimism.

The Summary:
Rambo is an uncompromisingly brutal and bleak piece of cinema with a rather grim and ghastly message; the previous Rambo films basically came down to the simple and enduring premise that war is Hell but, in Rambo, war is the solution rather than the problem. While the missionaries wish the spread a message of peace, their mission would have ended with death and rape had Rambo not been on hand to execute the pirates and, were it not for the intervention of Rambo and the mercenaries, all of the missionaries would doubtless have ended up tortured and beheaded. The violent excess in Rambo compared to even Rambo III is impressive in its gratuity and yet, while Rambo’s methods and perspective on the world turn out to be true and the only productive solution to the conflict, there’s a definite sense that such violence is wholly abhorrent and only necessary because of the way the world is at times. I like the concept of Rambo being this lone wolf who gets sucked into greater conflicts and brings his unique skills and point of view to different scenarios, and the finale of him finally returning home to his father (which, I feel, is a far more fitting end than the shit-storm of the fifth movie), but I feel the decidedly anti-war message that was prevalent in the first film and felt throughout its sequels has been lost somewhat in the indulgence of excess though, if you look hard enough, traces of it are still there behind all the gratuitous and entertaining violence.

My Rating:

Rating: 3 out of 5.

Pretty Good

What did you think to Rambo? How do you feel it holds up, especially compared to the previous films? Were you as confused by the film’s title as I was or did you appreciate the simplicity of it? What did you think to Rambo’s characterisation in the film and his motivation for helping the missionaries? Were you a fan of the gratuitous violence on display in the film and what was your interpretation of it all, in the end? Do you think that this works better as a finale for the character or were you excited to see more from Rambo? Which Rambo film is your favourite? Whatever your thoughts, drop a comment below, click here for my review of the fifth film, and thanks for being a part of Rambo Month.

Talking Movies [Rambo Month]: Rambo III

Difficult as it may be believe, I never actually grew up watching or as a fan of the Rambo films (Various, 1982 to 2019) and my exposure to the works of Sylvester Stallone was comparatively now compared to that of Arnold Schwarzenegger. However, having recently watched the entire series from start to finish, I’ve been attempting to rectify that by dedicating Fridays to celebrating the fact that First Blood (Kotcheff, 1982) was released on the 22nd of October, 1982.

Talking Movies

Released: 25 May 1988
Director: Peter MacDonald
Distributor: TriStar Pictures
Budget: $58 to 63 million
Stars: Sylvester Stallone, Richard Crenna, Kurtwood Smith, Marc de Jonge, and Spiros Focas

The Plot:
Three years after the previous film, events in Vietnam, former United States Army Special Forces soldier John J. Rambo (Stallone) has settled in a Thai monastery. Finally content, he refuses to assist his former commander, Colonel Sam Trautman (Crenna), in assisting Mujahideen tribes in Afghanistan against Soviet forces. However, after Trautman is captured, Rambo immediately agrees to undertake a solo rescue on the condition that he will be disavowed in the event of capture or death.

The Background:
The impressive box office success of First Blood (Kotcheff, 1982) led to the even more financially successful Rambo: First Blood Part II (Cosmatos, 1985), which transformed the character from a tormented Vietnam veteran and into an explosive, one-man army of an action star. This time around, Stallone was even more hands-on with the production of the film as he not only helped write the script but also hired Russell Mulcahy as the direct…and then promptly dismissed him after creative differences. Sadly, this time around, Rambo III was a box office disappointment after grossing just $89 million (which, while slightly more than First Blood, was a massive drop compared to the sequel). Although Rambo III was also met with mixed reviews, it was the most violent action film ever made at the time and its ludicrous body count was only surpassed by its eventual follow-up.

The Review:
Having witnessed first-hand the treatment and abuse he receives in his home country, and having extracted a measure of revenge upon Vietnam for his experiences during the war, Rambo is, understandably, quite disillusioned and reluctant to be a part of “normal” society and has, instead, retreated to Thailand. Here, he desperately attempts to reconcile his two sides (the side that wants peace and the side that craves conflict) by helping to reconstruct and repair a Thai monastery and earning money for the monks by participating in brutal underground fights.

Despite seeing how badly war affected Rambo, Trautman encourages him back into the fight.

Tired of war and content with his newfound life, Rambo is dismissive and uninterested when Trautman and United States field officer Robert Griggs (Smith) arrive with a new mission for him. This is in stark contrast to the previous film, where Rambo signed up to Trautman’s mission (though somewhat begrudgingly) in order to rescue prisoners of war from the same torture he endured and face his demons in familiar surroundings. It’s also a far cry from Rambo’s emotional breakdown at the end of First Blood, where he defiantly declared that “Nothing is over!”; now, he declares that his war is over and that he’s finally at peace. Trautman, however, sees through his claims and believes that Rambo is hiding and denying his true self; it’s an interesting exchange based on their experiences in the previous films, where Trautman was sympathetic towards Rambo’s plight and claimed to have “made” him. Now, his argument is that Rambo was always this way and he (as in Trautman) simply pointed him in the direction of the enemy and, rather than trying to talk Rambo out of fighting, he actively encourages him to “come full circle” and be the soldier that has brought him so much pain and suffering.

Trautman is captured and tortured by Soviet terrorists.

However, Rambo refuses and, honestly, after everything we’ve seen from him, I can’t say that I blame him. But, without Rambo by his side, Trautman is captured by Soviet forces. When Griggs informs Rambo of this, Rambo immediately volunteers to go in, alone and off the books; this time around, at least, Rambo is told upfront that the government will deny any official knowledge of the mission and leave him to be tortured and killed so there’s no subterfuge or deception regarding this mission. Rambo’s motivation for volunteering is based purely out of the loyalty and respect he still feels for Trautman and his mission takes him to Afghanistan and in conflict with the Soviet forces, led by Colonel Alexei Zaysen (Marc de Jonge) and Sergeant Kourov (Randy Raney).

Zaysen and Kourov have different approaches that make them a significant threat.

Zaysen is largely similar to Lieutenant Colonel Sergei T. Podovsky (Steven Berkoff) from the last film; enigmatic and threatening, he attempts to intimidate Trautman with his eloquence. Trautman, however, is defiant and contemptuous towards Zaysen and his unwinnable war against the rebellious Mujahideen even while enduring ruthless torture at the hands of Zaysen and Kourov. Zaysen is very much the cool, calculating commander who only gets involved with the dirty work when his prisoners are held at his (or Kourov’s) mercy but grows increasingly frustrated by Rambo’s interference and disruption while Kourov is the more sadistic and brutal of the two and acts as Zaysen’s muscle.

Rambo’s greatest allies are, again, his grit, adaptability, and unmatched skills in warfare .

Thanks to the presence of the Mujahideen, Rambo is, again, not entirely alone in his campaign but, intimidated by the Soviet’s power and numbers, the tribe are reluctant to help Rambo beyond informing him of the general layout of the Soviet base. Indeed, for his initial assault on the base, Rambo is joined only by his guide, Masoud (Focas), and a young Mujahideen boy, Hamid (Doudi Shoua); the two join him against his wishes and it is through their inexperience that we get so see how cagey Rambo is, as he spots traps they don’t. Once again, Rambo’s greatest advantage for most of the film is his stealth, which allows him to enter the base undetected (by hiding up in the rafters and clinging on the bottom of a tank!), acquire weapons, and plant a number of explosive charges throughout the base to deal significant damage.

The Nitty-Gritty:
Similar to the second film, Rambo III wastes little time in reacquainting viewers with Rambo and his newfound life but, again, builds towards its more explosive and action-packed moments. A great deal of time is spent dwelling in the Mujahideen village and watching as Rambo learns their ways and customs; apparently, Rambo has the time to waste talking with Masoud and Hamid and participating in the tribe’s odd (and, if we’re honest, quite cruel) idea of sport rather than formulating a reasonable plan of attack and, as a result, it’s no surprise when the village is suddenly attacked and destroyed by the Soviet’s attack helicopters. As a means to further add to Rambo’s motivation, this isn’t quite as effective as the brief romance from the last film; he’s gained a greater appreciation for the simple life and the ways of the innocent, for sure, but this attack mainly exists to explicitly show how persecuted the Mujahideen are and as an excuse to add to the film’s incredibly-high body count.

Rambo has transformed into a full-blown, mindless action hero for his third outing.

Once the killing starts in earnest, Rambo III almost descends into a parody of the high-octane action films of the time; casting aside all attempts at stealth and subterfuge, explosions and gunfire fill the screen as Rambo wages his largely one-man war and the Soviet forces being blown all over the place and running head-first into a hail of bullets while Rambo stands completely still and out in the open. The firefights actually remind me a lot of Commando (Lester, 1985) in that way and you can’t tell me that the ridiculous conclusion of that film, where musclebound hero John Matrix (Arnold Schwarzenegger) literally mows down hundreds of miscellaneous bad guys in very much the same way, wasn’t an influence on Rambo III’s absurd action scenes.

When teamed up with Trautman, Rambo is suddenly dropping quips and one-liners!

Nowhere is this more explicit than in Rambo’s brutal fist-fight with Kourov; a mute mountain of a man, Kourov poses a significant physical challenge for Rambo and results in the most visceral and brutal fight scene of the film as Rambo manages to not only knock Kourov down a pit with an impressive spinning kick but also breaks his neck and blows him up with a grenade! To top this elaborate death, Rambo III ends with an explosive and ludicrous showdown with Zaysen; with Zaysen piloting a gunship and Rambo at the controls of a tank, Rambo III ends with one of the more unique vehicular firefights I can recall and yet, as a massive fan of Commando and mindless action, I’m okay with this. Seeing Rambo completely unhinged and gunning down or blowing up countless bad guys is very thrilling and it’s even more exhilarating to see him and Trautman finally in the thick of it together. Previously, Trautman was little more than Rambo’s friend and publicist and, while he said that he had been in the midst of all the horrors of Vietnam in First Blood, we only saw Rambo’s time as a victim or torture or out in the field so it’s nice (well…not “nice” but refreshing, maybe?) to see Trautman getting his hands dirty rather than being safely out of harm’s way. Even more surprising is the banter between the two when they’re out in the field; Rambo had a few little quips here and there in the second film but he’s full of little snarky comments this time around which, while amusing and help to cement the unique bond between these two, do feel a little out of character for the normally tormented and focused Rambo.

The Summary:
In a lot of ways, Rambo III is very similar to Rambo: First Blood Part II but lacking even the small amount of nuance and subtext that film had compared to the first. Everything has been dialled up to eleven this time around, transforming Rambo from a haunted, persecuted veteran and into another snarky action hero. With more explosions, more bullets, and a far greater body count that the previous film, Rambo III is almost a parody of the second film and it definitely feels as though Stallone was trying to compete against other over the top action films of the time. As a fan of the genre, I’m okay with this as mindless, explosive action and gun fights are always fun but it can’t be denied that something has been lost in emphasising these aspects. Although Trautman accuses Rambo of denying his true self by hiding in Thailand, it’s pretty obvious that Rambo is much more at peace at the start of the film and perfectly happy to have left behind his war and put his skills to use in building, rather than destroying, while indulging his more animalistic sides in stick fighting. In a lot of ways, it makes very little sense for Trautman to even want to deny Rambo the peace he’s found and I can’t help but feel like the film might have landed a little better if Trautman had never visited Rambo to ask for his help and we’d spent a little more time getting an idea of Rambo’s mentality so it meant a little more when he found out that his friend was in trouble.

My Rating:

Rating: 3 out of 5.

Pretty Good

Are you a fan of Rambo III? How do you feel it holds up today, especially compared to the first two films and the sequels? Were you disappointed that the film emphasised violence and action more than its predecessors or were you a fan of its glorious excess and action tropes? What did you think to Trautman’s extended role? Would you have liked to see more of Rambo’s new life to make his decision to return to war more meaningful? Which Rambo film is your favourite? Whatever you think, feel free to leave a comment below and be sure to check back in next Friday for the final part of Rambo Month.

Talking Movies [Rambo Month]: Rambo: First Blood Part II

Difficult as it may be to believe, I never actually grew up watching or as a fan of the Rambo films (Various, 1982 to 2019) and my exposure to the works of Sylvester Stallone was comparatively now compared to that of Arnold Schwarzenegger. However, having recently watched the entire series from start to finish, I’m attempting to rectify that by dedicating the next few Fridays to celebrating the fact that First Blood (Kotcheff, 1982) was released on the 22nd of October, 1982.

Talking Movies

Released: 22 May 1985
Director: George P. Cosmatos
Distributor: TriStar Pictures
Budget: $25.5 million
Stars: Sylvester Stallone, Charles Napier, Julia Nickson, Steven Berkoff, and Richard Crenna

The Plot:
Three years after the events of the first film, in Hope, Washington, former United States Army Green Beret John J. Rambo (Stallone) is released from a federal prison by his old commander, Colonel Sam Trautman (Crenna). Rambo is assigned the task of confirming reports of U.S. prisoners of war (P.O.W.s) in Vietnam in exchange for a pardon but is quickly forced to once again rely on his extensive combat training after being betrayed by corrupt governmental bureaucratic Marshall Murdock (Napier).

The Background:
After the spectacular box office performance of First Blood (Kotcheff, 1982), a sequel was all-but-inevitable. Initial ideas for the sequel revolved around partnering Rambo up with a sidekick, rumoured to have been played by John Travolta, and legendary movie director James Cameron even came on board to write the film’s script. However, while Cameron was able to capture the more action-orientated focus of the sequel, which plastered Rambo’s name front and centre, Stallone once again stepped in to handle to more meaningful, political subtext of the film. Similar to the first film, Rambo: First Blood Part II was met with mixed reviews; critics were unimpressed with the film’s violence and excess, its lack of poignant commentary and subtlety compared to the first film, and for being a step back for portrayals of foreign threats. And, yet, Rambo: First Blood Part II absolutely smashed it at the box office, making over $300 million (thus making it the most profitable of all the Rambo movies) and propelling the character into mainstream pop culture the very definition of a “breakout sequel”.

The Review:
When we re-join Rambo in Rambo: First Blood Part II, he’s toiling away breaking rocks in a prison labour camp; having accepted his lot, and his punishment, he feels safe and secure inside of the prison. However, when Trautman offers him a highly dangerous reconnaissance mission with the potential promise of a Presidential pardon, he accepts the proposal in the hopes of actually being able to “win this time”. In Thailand, he meets with Murdock, who summarises Rambo’s storied and decorated career and even sympathises with him since he’s a former soldier himself; Murdock debriefs on the specifics of the mission, which is to go into Vietnam, completely alone, to find evidence of P.O.W.s.

Murdock turns out to be a corrupt bureaucrat who cares nothing for those stuck in ‘Nam.

Rambo is ordered not to engage the enemy as a follow-up strike team will handle the extraction and is afforded a great deal of equipment and technological backup…all of which is rendered completely mute when he’s forced to separate himself from all of his equipment to avoid being torn apart during his drop into the jungle. Although Murdock comments on Rambo’s stoic demeanour, Trautman continues to have the utmost faith in Rambo even though Rambo remains unconvinced that Vietnam has changed since he was last there and spots a flaw in Murdock’s backstory. Ultimately, Rambo’s suspicions about Murdock are quickly shown to be true as he’s incredulous to the ill-advised Vietnam war, is determined to pull out after the thirty-six-hour mission time is up, and sabotages Trautman’s attempt to rescue Rambo. A corrupt bureaucrat, Murdock merely wished to sweep all the rumours of P.O.W.s under the rug with a convenient patsy and is perhaps the most significant threat due to his betrayal that leaves Rambo at the mercy of the film’s more sadistic villains.

Rambo is betrayed and left captive at the combined forces of the Soviets and the Vietnamese.

It turns out that the Vietnamese forces, led by Captain Vinh (William Ghent) and Lieutenant Tay (George Kee Cheung), are in league with the Soviets, led by Lieutenant Colonel Sergei T. Podovsky (Berkoff) and his right-hand man, the stoic and barbaric Sergeant Yushin (Voyo Goric). When Rambo is captured during his botched extraction, he finds himself at Podovsky’s mercy and once again enduring unspeakable trauma. However, fuelled by his anger at Murdock’s betrayal, Rambo is able to not only endure this torture but also escape from his captors in dramatic fashion before waging a veritable one-man war against the combined forces of the Vietnamese and the Soviets.

Through Co, Rambo’s humanity is explored in greater depth…but it’s not to last.

Since he had to ditch his equipment during the drop, Rambo is immediately left with little more than hits wits and his trademark hunting knife to see him through. This time around, however, he’s joined on the ground by Co Bao (Nickson), a Vietnamese freedom fighter who arranges safe passage for him up the river. While Trautman continues to talk up Rambo’s unparalleled skills and fortitude, interactions between Rambo and Co explore his humanity and mentality; weary of conflict and the world, the world nevertheless only makes sense to Rambo out in the field and he begrudgingly prefers to be back in the fray if only to be able to recognise his enemy. Although Co fights for similar reasons as Rambo (out of duty and loyalty), she is far more idealistic and naïve than he but still a very capable warrior in her own right and even saves Rambo after he is captured by Podovsky.

Rambo’s skills are made all the more impressive through his adaptability and deadliness.

In First Blood, we saw how adaptable and capable Rambo was and his ability to survive in the wild and subdue his opponents through non-lethal methods; this time around, these aspects are downplayed greatly but are still evident in decidedly different ways. Rambo favours a bow and arrow, for example, in order to make less noise and adopts a sneaky, stealthy approach to his rescue effort and fighting skills to pick off the Vietnamese and Podovsky’s men. However, given that he’s now in the midst of a war zone, all pretence is dropped and we get to see just how skilled of a soldier he is; Rambo shoots arrows through guys’ heads, blasts them to bloody chunks with a shotgun, and brutally stabs them to death with his big ol’ knife, proving to be every bit the remorseless and fierce killer Trautman sold him as in the first movie.

The Nitty-Gritty:
Right from the start, Rambo: First Blood Part II is a very different film to First Blood; there’s very little time wasted in the early going and Rambo is dropped into Vietnam within the first fifteen minutes. However, despite being a much more action-orientated film, Rambo: First Blood Part II’s pace is largely similar to that of the first film and, while the body count is much higher, the action escalates over time and continues to primarily focus on Rambo’s guerrilla tactics rather than just being a nonstop, action-packed extravaganza.

The first chance he gets, Rambo disregards his mission to save the P.O.W.s.

This isn’t entirely surprising and is telegraphed during Rambo’s meeting with Murdock; Rambo is appalled at his orders not to attempt a rescue and, whether due to his own previous experiences as a P.O.W. or because of his suspicions about Murdock, he immediately disregards the reconnaissance mission to rescue one of the P.O.W.s, Banks (Andy Wood), and it’s pretty obvious the Rambo always planned on rescuing the P.O.W.s just as much as he relished the idea of getting a measure of revenge against the Vietnamese forces.

Rambo unleashes all of his pent-up aggression to wage a one-man war against his enemies.

Rambo’s mission is much more personal this time around thanks, firstly to him being betrayed by his own government and, secondly to Tay’s killing of Co right as the two began to explore their mutual attraction. Already fuelled by his traumatic experiences in the Vietnam War, these betrayals and losses and being surrounded by enemies on all sides only drive Rambo to fight harder and more aggressively. He cakes himself in mud, fires explosive arrows at enemy encampments from afar (and makes Tay pay for his actions with a similar arrow), and eventually commandeers a Soviet attack helicopter (after a particularly brutal fight with the indomitable Yushin) to rain unrelenting fire down upon his enemies.

Rambo makes an emphatic statement for all soldiers and P.O.W.s by threatening Murdock.

In the end, Rambo: First Blood Part II delivers an exciting and explosive finale as Podovsky and Rambo engage in a helicopter chase and firefight; Rambo, again displaying how smart and cagey he is, feigns defeat and death to fool Podovsky into hovering in range of a fatal rocket strike and he’s able to carry all the remaining P.O.W.s to safety, leaving Vietnam little more than a smouldering mess. Returning to the base, Rambo then confronts Murdock, destroying his office in an iconic hail of gunfire and demanding that he find and rescue the remaining P.O.W.s held in Vietnam before delivering a sobering monologue and walking off the an uncertain future.

The Summary:
At its heart, Rambo: First Blood Part II is the ultimate redemption story, especially for Rambo; in the first film, he was haunted by his memories and experiences in Vietnam and was on the razor’s edge of sanity and humanity. Now, far more jaded and disillusioned, he’s given the chance at serving once again and helping to rescue fellow soldiers from the same situation and, in the process, dropped right back into the meatgrinder. However, as dangerous and cunning as Rambo was on home soil, he’s (as Trautman says) right at home in the thick of it all and, thanks to his incredible skills and volatile nature, is able to extract a measure of revenge for all the atrocities he suffered in Vietnam. While the body count is higher and the action is bigger, the film retains the same visceral, bleak undertones as the first and delves a little deeper into Rambo’s psyche to explore his vulnerability a little bit more. A patriot at heart, he’s perfectly willing to put his life on the line for his country and his fellow man but all he wants in return is a little respect and gratitude. It’s not a massive part of the film’s plot but this is clearly a story about a man confronting his demons and, while Rambo might lament conflict and be tired of all the killing and chaos, he’s still a savage and wily soldier when pushed into action and this is emphasised even more here since he’s actually in a war zone so he doesn’t have to worry about pulling his punches. In the end, it’s maybe lacking a little of the nuance of the first film but I’d say it’s just as good, if not better in some ways because of the brutality and more explosive nature of the action.

My Rating:

Rating: 4 out of 5.

Great Stuff

What did you think to Rambo: First Blood Part II? How do you feel it holds up today, especially compared to the first film and the sequels? Were you disappointed that some of the nuance of the first film was lost in favour of a far higher body count or do you think the sequel compliments the first in providing Rambo the chance at confronting his demons? What did you think to the brief romantic sub-plot and to seeing Rambo’s skills in the field? Which Rambo film is your favourite? Whatever your thoughts, leave a comment below and be sure to check out my review of the third film.

Talking Movies [Rambo Month]: First Blood

Difficult as it may be to believe, I never actually grew up watching or as a fan of the Rambo films (Various, 1982 to 2019) and my exposure to the works of Sylvester Stallone was comparatively now compared to that of Arnold Schwarzenegger. However, having recently watched the entire series from start to finish, I’m attempting to rectify that by dedicating the next four Fridays to celebrating the fact that First Blood (Kotcheff, 1982) was released on the 22nd of October, 1982.

Talking Movies

Released: 22 October 1982
Director: Ted Kotcheff
Distributor: Orion Pictures
Budget: $15 million
Stars: Sylvester Stallone, Brian Dennehy, Jack Starrett, Bill McKinney, and Richard Crenna

The Plot:
After returning to the United States from the Vietnam War, former United States Army Special Forces soldier John J. Rambo (Stallone) faces not adulation, admiration, or a hero’s welcome but, rather, persecution and abuse at the hands of small-town sheriff William Teasle (Dennehy). Driven into the woods and suffering from post-traumatic stress and nightmarish memories of his time as a prisoner of war, Rambo wages a one-man war against his tormentors using only his unparalleled survival skills and finely-tune guerrilla tactics.

The Background:
First Blood is an adaptation of a novel by the same name, which was written by David Morrell and published in 1972. Influenced by Rogue Male (Household, 1939) and horrific stories of the Vietnam War told by his students, Morrell’s book was well-received upon release but the subsequent movie adaptation languished in development hell for ten years. Production began in earnest when Sylvester Stallone signed on to the project; Stallone, who was a proven box office commodity after the success of the first three Rocky films (Various, 1976 to 1982) also wrote around seven different versions of the film’s script but, while an ending was filmed that reflected the bleak conclusion of the novel and Rambo’s death, it was ultimately cut at the agreement of Stallone and Kotcheff. Interestingly, upon release, First Blood was met with mixed reviews, although the actors’ performances were highly praised (with Stallone’s being notably well-received). Regardless, First Blood more than made up for this with its frankly staggering $125.2 million box office and contemporary reviews not only regard the film much more favourably but First Blood is widely regarded as one of the best films of 1982 and one of the most enduring and influential movies of its genre.

The Review:
When we’re first introduced to Rambo, he’s little more than a vagrant wandering across the country in a bid to reunite with an old war buddy. Literally carrying his entire life over his shoulder, he’s a simple man just trying to reconnect with a world that has largely passed him by. Sadly, however, his attempts are largely in vain; his friend, Delmar Barry, has died after exposure to Agent Orange and it’s clear that Rambo is basically a stranger in his own country.

Teasle immediately takes a dislike to Rambo based on his rugged appearance alone.

However, this is made undeniably explicit when Rambo crosses paths with Sheriff Teasle, who immediately pegs him as a troublemaking drifter on sight alone. Teasle’s judgement of Rambo boils down to little more than his own personal bias and animosity, no matter how hard he tries to justify himself. I’m sure the ironically-named town of Hope is a nice, quiet little town and that Teasle is proud of the tight ship he runs but his persecution of Rambo is completely unfounded and unnecessarily aggressive. Of course, things only escalate after Rambo is arrested on paper thin charges of vagrancy and carrying a concealed weapon; while being processed, Rambo runs afoul of Teasle’s equally-despicable Deputy Sergeant Arthur Galt (Starrett) and suffers nightmarish flashbacks to his time as a prisoner of war. And, honestly, who can blame him after the disgraceful treatment he receives at Galt’s hands; Galt wallops Rambo with his nightstick, orders him to be hosed down and holds him in an unorthodox choke with that same nightstick but he goes too far when he attempts to have Rambo shaved with a straight razor.

Rambo carries both the physical and mental scars of his time as a P.O.W.

Triggered into a maniacal rage, Rambo easily takes out Teasle’s men with his bare hands and flees into the nearby woods. Earlier, Galt had described Rambo as a wild animal and his initial outburst and escape through town certainly support that; Rambo is an animalistic force of brute strength and unbridled rage, all brought on by flashbacks to his torture. Covered in scars and clearly still haunted by his experiences in Vietnam, Rambo is a force to be reckoned with and the police department vastly underestimate his capabilities. This comes to a head in their ensuing attempts to hunt him down; Teasle spares no expense in tracking Rambo down, pursuing him deep into the woods (and destroying his patrol car in the process), bringing in the dogs, calling in the helicopter for air support, and even drafting in the National Guard for support (who come packing a rocket launcher, no less!) It’s a monumental effort just to capture one man who, so far, is guilty of very little other than walking into town and being forced to relive the worst experiences of his life. Teasle’s obsession completely blinds him to Rambo’s obvious threat even after he is told of Rambo’s unmatched capabilities by Colonel Sam Trautman (Crenna) and directly leads to the accidental death of Galt after he takes this obsession to another level and ends up falling to his death as a result.

Rambo incapacitates his oppressors and pursuers through strictly non-lethal means.

This is, of course, a significant element of First Blood that separates it from the subsequent sequels. Rambo isn’t some ruthless killing machine here; instead, he’s a tortured, desperate man pushed to the edge by ignorant and abusive bigots but, despite his unbridled rage and brute savagery, Rambo doesn’t directly kill anyone in his debut film. Indeed, Rambo goes to great lengths to ensure that his pursuers are incapacitated non-lethally, setting elaborate traps and falling back on his extensive and peerless survival training. The result is actually far more impressive as it emphasises Rambo’s skill, ability, and restraint and he’s clearly deeply affected by Galt’s death. He just wanted to be left alone and would have harmlessly passed through town without incident but, when backed against the wall, easily disables Teasle’s men, and gives him every opportunity to “let it go” but is just pushed further and further until he has no other option than to wage a one-man war against the entire town…all with non-lethal force.

The Nitty-Gritty:
First Blood is a deeply moving and bleak representation of the animosity and persecution many Vietnam veterans, and other war heroes, faced back then (and, I’m sure, even now); Rambo did absolutely nothing wrong but was set off by Teasle’s victimisation and Galt’s antagonism. Indeed, the only one of Teasle’s men to actually speak out against their treatment and vendetta against Rambo is the young deputy Mitch Rogers (David Caruso), the one voice of reason in Teasle’s department who begrudgingly follows his orders despite realising the very real threat Rambo poses.

Teasle is unimpressed with Trautman’s warnings of Rambo’s incredible skills.

Of course, Rambo’s history and true danger are related to an unimpressed Teasle by Trautman; Trautman, who takes full responsibility for Rambo’s training, regards Rambo as the literal best of the best, a man trained to survive in the wild with very little resources and who actually thrives under such circumstances. He urges, practically pleads with, Teasle to simply let Rambo slip away, fully confidant that he’ll surrender willingly if allowed to pass on (which is seen to be true when Rambo tries, and fails, to surrender following Galt’s death) but Teasle adamantly refuses to believe that one man can outwit his entire show of force even after everything he’s already seen. Sadly, Trautman’s attempts to quell Rambo’s anger also fall on deaf ears as, by the time he is able to contact him, Rambo has fully committed himself to the fight against Teasle and is basically reliving the war out in the woods.

Rambo’s unique survival skills make him a formidable warrior out in the wilds.

Teasle’s obsessive vendetta against Rambo is only fuelled after Gart’s death and he absolutely refuses to be dissuaded from his crusade no matter how many horror stories Trautman tells him. While Teasle’s humanity is practically non-existent, he does exhibit a bit more than just bigotry and hatred after it appears that Rambo has died; feeling cheated out of his victory, he nonetheless attempts to apologise for his abrasive actions to Trautman. However, it turns out that Trautman’s warnings were all based on irrefutable fact and we clearly see how adaptable and skilled Rambo is; he quickly retrieves his knife, acquires a police radio and other weapons from Teasle’s men, and is able to fashion all kinds of traps using just the woods alone never mind when he commandeers and army supply truck and rolls into town for the explosive finale.

In the end, Rambo breaks down in tears at the torture and abuse he has suffered and surrenders.

In the end, Rambo’s downfall comes not from Teasle or the hundreds of guns pointing his way but from his own traumatic experiences; while his time in Vietnam affords him unprecedented survival skills and allows him to live off the land and overcome superior forces with little more than his wits, it also scarred him both literally and figuratively. Everything he experiences in Hope is a reminder of his time in the war: the straight razor reminds him of his torture, he’s basically reliving his time in the jungles of Vietnam out in the woods, and he is basically attacking an enemy encampment when he storms the town in the end. With Teasle at his mercy, Rambo finally breaks down in despair at the loss of his entire team and the horrors he witnessed in Vietnam; the only one who understands him is Trautman, who validates Rambo’s heart-breaking monologue about the trauma and disrespect he has experienced both in and outside of the Untied States and the film concludes with Teasle injured, but alive, and Rambo surrendering himself to his old mentor and overwhelmed by the atrocities he has had to commit and suffer through.

The Summary:
First Blood is an intense and moving experience; essentially a glorified manhunt for the majority of its runtime, it tells the story of a highly trained and skilled soldier pushed to the edge by abusive and cruel cops and forced to both relive, and live with, the horrors and atrocities he faced in combat. Hounded at every turn and judged for his appearance as much as his status as a former soldier, Rambo receives only persecution and abuse rather than admiration or respect and, in the end, his tormentors pay for their mistreatment not with their lives but with their pride. Despite the insurmountable odds against him, Rambo succeeds through sheer grit and determination and is the original one-man army and yet, despite all of this, all he wanted was a little respect and to be left alone. Indeed, so tormented by his experiences is Rambo, and so tired of conflict and killing, that he refuses to kill any of his tormentors even when he has every chance (and right) to do so, making First Blood a haunting action/thriller. A thinking man’s action film, First Blood is a stark reminder of the horrors of war and the foul treatment they received back in the day, as though it was their fault that they were forced to fight and kill for their country; it’s very different to the bombastic and over the top, action-packed sequels that followed it and so might not be for everyone but it remains a sobering and impact film in its own right.

My Rating:

Rating: 4 out of 5.

Great Stuff

Are you a fan of First Blood? Did you watch it back when it was first released and, if so, how did you find it in the context of the time? How do you feel it holds up today, especially compared to the sequels, and were you disappointed that the sequels veered more towards action and death than introspective commentary on the horrors of war? What did you think to Rambo’s survival skills and Teasle’s baseless persecution and obsession with him? Do you think the film should have ended in the same way as the book and with the cut scene of Rambo dying? Which of the Rambo films is your favourite? Whatever you think, comment below and let me know and check out my review of the sequel.

Game Corner [MK Month]: Mortal Kombat 11 Ultimate (Xbox One)

To celebrate the simultaneous worldwide release of Mortal Kombat (Midway, 1992) on home consoles, 13 September 1993 was dubbed “Mortal Monday”. Mortal Kombat’s move to home consoles impacted not only the ongoing “Console War” between SEGA and Nintendo but also videogames forever thanks to its controversial violence. Fittingly, to commemorate this game-changing event, I’ve been dedicating every Monday of September to celebrating the Mortal Kombat franchise.

Released: 17 November 2020
Originally Released: 23 April 2019
Developer: NetherRealm Studios
Also Available For: Nintendo Switch, PC, PlayStation 4, PlayStation 5, Stadia, Xbox Series X

The Background:
Mortal Kombat was a phenomenal success for Midway; thanks to its controversial violence and unique digitised graphics, the game stood out from the likes of Street Fighter II: The World Warrior (Capcom, 1991). While the franchise went from strength to strength during the 2D era of gaming, Mortal Kombat struggled to really stand out amidst a slew of revolutionary 3D fighters and, following the lacklustre release of Mortal Kombat vs. DC Universe (Midway Games, 2008), the series looked to be in serious trouble after Midway went bankrupt in 2010. Thankfully, Warner Bros. Interactive stepped in and the Mortal Kombat team was rebranded as NetherRealm Studios. Their first order of business was to get their violent franchise back on track, which they did with Mortal Kombat (NetherRealm Studios, 2009), a particularly well-received reboot of the surprisingly convoluted lore. This gritty, violent reboot again stirred controversy but sales of the game alone were enough to cover the costs of Midway’s acquisition and work on a follow-up soon began.

After the disappointing Mortal Kombat vs. DC Universe, Mortal Kombat made an impressive comeback.

Mortal Kombat X (ibid, 2015) instantly impressed and out-did its predecessor in every way, being both the most violent entry and having the biggest launch in the franchise’s long history at the time. Mortal Kombat X also scored very well and the success of the game earned it not just a host of additional downloadable content (DLC) but also an expanded version, Mortal Kombat XL, in 2016. Keen to capitalise on the good will they had earned back with these releases, NetherRealm announced the development of Mortal Kombat 11 at the Games Awards 2018, a game that saw the triumphant return of actor Cary-Hiroyuki Tagawa to the role of Shang Tsung and sold over eight million copies by October 2020. Like its predecessors, Mortal Kombat 11 received an expanded addition that included all of its DLC fighters and even additional story mode content and was met with favourable reviews, though some criticised the randomisation of the game’s unlockables and the overreliance on grinding, mechanics that, for me, affected the appeal of Injustice 2 (ibid, 2017).

The Plot:
After the defeat of Shinnok at the conclusion of Mortal Kombat X, Raiden has become corrupted by the Elder God’s amulet and, angered at the Thunder God’s repeatedly meddling in the fabric of space and time, the keeper of time (and Shinnok’s mother), Kronika, plots to rewrite history to erase Raiden from existence. With past versions of classic Mortal Kombat characters showing up all over the place, and Earthrealm’s most dangerous and long-dead enemies forging an alliance to usher in Kronika’s “New Era”, Earthrealm’s Special Forces and allies face a battle against time itself to keep the realms from being torn asunder.

As you might expect by now, Mortal Kombat 11 Ultimate is a 2.5D fighting game in which players can pick from one of thirty-seven characters and battle through the game’s single-player story mode, fight one-on-one against another player or computer-controlled opponent, battle their way though a variety of arcade-style towers, or challenge other players to a variety on online battles. Battles take place in a best-of-three format and against a time limit, though you can alter these settings (and many others, including the difficulty of computer-controlled opponents) from the game’s comprehensive menu to speed up gameplay or make it more accessible.

One of the things I love about Mortal Kombat is that gameplay and combos are generally easy to pick up.

As in the other 3D Mortal Kombat fighters, fights in Mortal Kombat 11 are extremely accessible and easy to master. You can attack your opponent with punches with either X or Y, kicks with A or B, block with RT, throw (again, this is more like a grapple) with LB or X and Y and a directional input, and interact with the game’s environments when indicated with RB. You can also dash towards and away from your opponent, jump in or crouch down to attack or avoid projectiles, and string together combos by pressing the attack buttons and using directional inputs quickly. The game features a comprehensive tutorial mode that teaches you all of the basics and intricacies of the game’s combat, which gets deeper and more complex depending on your skill level and who you play as but is still extremely easy for even novice players to pick up and pull off a few simple combos.

In addition to trademark special moves, characters can also pull off gruesome Fatal Blows.

Each character also boasts a number of special moves, also pulled off by a few simple button and directional inputs (back, forward, X, for example, or forward, down, B); these can be stringed together with combos and augmented with a well-timed press of RB (this will, however, drain a meter at the bottom of the screen but this will quickly refill in time). Unlike in the last two games, though, you can no longer build your meter towards a gruesome X-Ray move; instead, when your health is sufficiently depleted, you’ll have the option of pulling off a “Fatal Blow” once per fight (not per round) to mash your opponent into mush. While these are suitably impressive, violent, and gory, I have to say that I miss being able to build up to and pull off a momentum-changing special move whenever I want rather than when I’m near death. While special moves are pretty easy to perform, you can review them at any time from the pause menu and even “tag” team so they appear onscreen for easy reference, but I would have liked the option to pick and choose which ones are displayed for quick reference.

Fatalities are more visceral and gory than ever and see you dismembering and eviscerating your opponent.

As horrific as the Fatal Blows can be, though, the real star of the show is, once again, the game’s Fatalities, the trademark of the franchise. At the end of the deciding round (usually round two), you’ll be told to “Finish Him!!” (or her…) and given a short period of time to stand in a specific spot and enter another button combination to tear your opponent to pieces, usually resulting in their guts, brains, and eyes bursting from their body or them being shredded and blown apart. Every character has three Fatalities available to them: one that is readily available, one that is locked and must be unlocked in the Krypt (or looked up online…), and one that is assigned to pulling off special Fatalities in certain stages (“Stage Fatalities”, like the classic uppercut into an acid pit) and you can also find (or purchase) “Easy Fatality Tokens” to pull them off more easily and practice them in the Fatality Tutorial.

There’s more than one way to finish your opponent, including a couple of non-lethal options.

Fatalities aren’t the only way to finish your opponent, though; by following a specific set of instructions during a fight (such as not blocking or hitting a certain number of moves and ending the decisive round with a specific attack), you can once again end your foe with a “Brutality” (although, as Factions are no longer included, Faction Kills are also not present this time). You can also pull off a non-lethal “Friendship” if you don’t wish to eviscerate your opponent and even replenish a small portion of their health by showing “Mercy” to allow the fight to continue a little longer. There are benefits to finishing off your opponent, though, as this will award you Hearts, one of four different forms of in-game currency, additional Koins (the primary form on in-game currency), and contribute to your player level and allow you to unlock additional bonuses.

Once again, it’s going to take a lot of grinding to earn enough to unlock everything in the game.

One of the biggest complaints I had about Injustice 2 was the sheer abundance of different in-game currencies and the unfortunate emphasis on grinding for levels and unlockables and the randomness of the game’s loot crates. Sadly, Mortal Kombat 11 carries a lot of this forward; there are numerous customisation options available to you, from backgrounds and icons for your gamer card to individual gear and skins for each character but pretty much all of them are locked behind the game’s time-consuming grinding system. You earn Koins, Soul Fragments, Hearts, and Time Crystals by playing every single one of the game’s modes; while each of these can be spent in the Krypt to unlock chests and release souls (which will net you additional currency, skins, gear, augments, and Konsumables), Time Crystals can be spent in the in-game shop but, as items in the shop at so expensive, you’re encouraged to spend real world money to unlock additional stuff.

Battle through Klassic and online towers to earn rewards, see character endings, and unlock gear.

Unfortunately, while each character has a whole load of gear and skins and customisation options available to them, these are locked behind grinding; you can find many of these in the Krypt but others are unlocked by playing story mode, completing the character tutorials, or besting the game’s many towers. As in the classic 2D games, you can once again pick between three different towers (Novice, Warrior, and Champion); which tower you pick determines the amount of fighters you’ll face and the degree of the rewards you’ll earn from completion. You can also take on the Endless tower to face and endless number of opponents until you quit or are defeated and the Survival tower in which the damage you receive from each fight carries over to the next. Similar to Mortal Kombat X and Injustice 2, you can also challenge a number of different online towers, the “Towers of Time”; these provide you with a variety of challenges but are only available for a set amount of time before they’re replaced with a fresh challenge. However, you even access this mode you first need to clear a number of tutorials first, which seemed a bit redundant, and you will need to pay and also perform certain tasks (such as a certain amount of attacks or specials) to complete each character’s specific tower and unlock more gear and skins for them.

Timelines collide in the story mode, which occassionally asks you to pick between two fighters.

A big part of the game is its story mode; once again, the story is broken down into twelve chapters, with each chapter assigned to at least one character but, every now and then, you’ll be given the option of picking between two characters. It doesn’t really matter which character you pick, though, as you don’t even need to tick off all of these options to 100% the story mode and it hardly affects the narrative at all. Despite the fact that you can’t finish off and kill your opponents, the story mode is a great way to earn Koins and gear and get to grips with each character; the story sees characters from the past return to life as Kronika attempts to rewrite history, which effectively undoes a lot of the development done to the series in Mortal Kombat X but it’s a good excuse to have classic characters return to the series. You can set the difficulty setting for the story mode whenever you like but there are no Achievements tied to beating it or any of the other mode son higher difficulties but you do generally earn better rewards for taking on more difficult challenges.

Graphics and Sound:
Mortal Kombat 11 looks fantastic; character faces still look a bit shiny and odd at times (particularly the females) but there’s even less distinction between the in-game graphics and the many cutscenes you’ll see as you play through the story. Every character is full of life and little quirks, such as Liu Kang constantly hopping from foot to foot in true Bruce Lee style, Kano nonchalantly spitting on the floor, and Skarlet cutting herself open. If the winning fighter is too close to their fallen foe when a round ends, they’ll back away with their own unique animation and voice clips and taunts can be heard throughout each fight as you pull of special moves, combos, and gain victories. Unfortunately, as always, the developers continue to render the character’s different endings using a motion comic aesthetic and voice over rather than utilise the full motion CGI cutscenes used to great effect in the game’s story, which continues to be a disappoint for me and I’ve never really understood this choice.

While environmental interactions seem limited, they’re still a great way to deal some damage.

Where Mortal Kombat 11 fails a little bit is in the stages; stages are a big part of any fighting game but especially Mortal Kombat and NetherRealm Studios’ recent efforts since they introduced the concept of interacting with various parts of the environment. This returns again, allowing you to skewer opponents with spears, throw bodies at them, wall run out of harms way, or toss or wield a variety of weapons (such as a chainsaw and a sledgehammer) to deal additional damage. These will often finally utilise the gruesome x-ray feature that was a big part of the last two games (which can also be triggered with certain special moves and augmented specials) but it feels as though there are a lot less opportunities to interact with the background and pull off Stage Fatalities than normal, making environments look and feel very alive but being disappointingly light on interactive elements despite all of the cameos and interesting elements at work in the background.

The game goes to great lengths to recreate iconic environments and locations from the first two games.

One thing I did like, though, was the return of some classic stages from past Mortal Kombat games, such as the courtyard and the dead pool; the best stage for this is, easily, the Retrocade stage, which randomly generates pixel-perfect recreations of classic Mortal Kombat stages complete with music. The game also goes above and beyond to recreate Shang Tsung’s island in immaculate detail in the Krypt; not only does it feature every stage from the first Mortal Kombat but it also recreates scenes and locations from the brilliant Mortal Kombat (Anderson, 1995) and cameos and references to numerous Mortal Kombat characters, which makes it a fantastic area to explore that is sadly let down by how confusing the Krypt’s map system is. Not only that but Cary-Hiroyuki Tagawa lends his voice and likeness to Tsung once again, adding his unmatched gravitas to the character, and you can even buy a skin pack that adds skins for Sonya Blade, Johnny Blaze, and Raiden that adds three more likenesses and voices from the film.

As gruesome and visceral as the Fatalities are, the Fatal Blows are gloriously rendered in macabre detail.

While the game does excel in its many cutscenes and does a great job of telling its story with just the right level of cheese and seriousness, the main draw of the game is in its violence and gore and Mortal Kombat 11 certainly delivers in that respect. Skin is literally peeled from the bones, eyeballs fly in geysers of blood, bodies are dismembered, split into pieces, dissolved, and shredded, and limbs are torn apart in a variety of ghastly ways and it’s always a joy to see the horrifying ways characters are going to mutilate their opponents. The Fatal Blows are sometimes just as good, if not better, as any of the game’s Fatalities, with characters being stabbed, shot, and blasted in ways that would surely kill them only for the characters to hop right back up afterwards. While character’s clothes and accessories don’t rip or tear during the fights, they do seem to get stained by blood at times and skin can be seen baring wounds and scars from battle.

Enemies and Bosses:
As a fighting game, every single character in Mortal Kombat 11 is your enemy and you’ll be forced to do battle with all of them at least once, at some point, as you play through the story mode and arcade towers. Because every character controls and fights a little differently, with some focusing on ranged attacks or brawling while others emphasis slow but hard-hitting attacks, it’s best to sample each for yourself and to get an idea of your favourite character’s different abilities and variations in order to achieve success. Also crucial is mastering a handful of the game’s combos; many are as simple as X, X, Y or X, Y, X but others require directional inputs, longer button presses, and the co-ordinated stringing together of frame-perfect attacks and special moves. Luckily, though, every character usually has one or two simple combos for you to master so it’s simple enough for players of any skill level to pick up and play.

Your attack strategy may have to change depending on who you are fighting or playing as.

Some characters, though, play a little differently to others and this affects not only how you play but also how you fight them. Shang Tsung, for example, can not only steal the soul of his opponent, which not only drains their health but also has him assume their form and moveset for a short period, but can also morph into various masked ninjas from the franchise; Shao Kahn primarily attacks with his massive hammer, which can make his attacks slower; Jax Briggs can charge up his metal arms with punches and other attacks, which allows him to pull off his projectile attacks; and Erron Black can whip out a shotgun, which allows him to fire at and melee attack his opponent but also needs reloading and to be manually put away. Other opponents can be a lot cheaper than others; Noob Saibot, for example, is always a bit of a pain because of his vast array of teleporting attacks and the same applies to Mileena, who’s capable of quickly teleporting about the place and launching sais at you. There are also some returning favourites you’ll have to watch out for, such as Sub-Zero’s ice ball, Scorpion’s kunai spear, and Liu Kang’s lightning quick kicks and fireballs but the new characters have their own tricks to watch out for, too. Geras, for example, loves to spam his little sand pit trap and Certrion will spawn elemental hazards out of thin air to trap and hurt you.

Cyrax and Sektor can only be fought in the story and you’ll face tough boss battles in the Towers.

When playing through the game’s story mode, you’ll also have to fight a couple of familiar faces in the form of Cyrax and Sektor. These cybernetic ninjas sadly don’t make the cut this time around so they essentially fill the role of mini bosses, in a way, despite appearing quite early on in the story mode. In addition, there will also be time sin the story (and in certain towers) where you have to face two opponents in a handicap match very similar to the “Endurance” matches from the first game, which see your opponents automatically tag into battle once their comrade has fallen while you’re forced to continue with whatever health you have left. When taking on the Towers of Time, you’ll get to battle against a character that has been augmented to “boss” status; this means that you can’t use Konsumables and that your opponent will be super tough, requiring multiple players to take on the challenge while its active to help bring them down and earn rewards.

After Kronika is defeated you must choose between facing Fire God Liu Kang or Shang Tsung.

When you play the story mode or battle through one of the other towers, your final opponent will be Kronika, an unplayable boss character who presents a unique challenge compared to the likes of Shinnok and Shao Kahn. The battle against Kronika takes place in one round but is split between three fights against her and three different locations and time periods, with each phase seeing you having to battle a randomly generated opponent. Unlike other characters, Kronika cannot be thrown, staggered, or hit with a Fatal Blow; when you try any of these attacks and certain combos, she’ll take damage but you won’t see the usual animations play out, which can leave you open to one of her devastating attacks. Kronika likes to teleport around the arena and summon energy balls and projectiles but her most lethal attack is a time warp that renders you helpless and drains a massive chunk of your health bar, which basically means that it’s best to reach her final phase with as much health as possible or else you have to replay the entire fight from the beginning. At the conclusion of the Aftermath story mode, you have the choice of facing either Shang Tsung (who has usurped Kronika’s powers) or “Fire God” Liu Kang (a merged form of Liu Kang and Raiden) as your final opponent. Unlike Kronika, though, these are standard battles and subject to all the normal gameplay mechanics, meaning you’re free to hit your Fatal Blows and augmented special moves and combos without fear of being left vulnerable. Indeed, as long as you’re proficient enough with a few combos and special moves, these fights should be noticeably easier than the one against Kronika though be wary as Shang Tsung and Liu Kang are also much more versatile in their attacks than Kronika, who favours bursts of temporal energy over combo strings.

Power-Ups and Bonuses:
Like in Injustice 2, each character has a number of gear that can be equipped but, thankfully, unlike in that game, these do not affect the character’s stats or abilities and are merely cosmetic. As you battle with your character, their gear will level up and unlock up to three augment slots and you can then equip augments to their gear to increase their special attacks, defence, and other attributes to make them more efficient. Similar to Mortal Kombat X, each character has a number of variations available to them but, this time, it’s up to you to equip and assign these variations to each character; these are limited to three slots, which allow you to assign different special moves and abilities to each character to differentiate them (you can have Scorpion, for example, focus on flame or kunai attacks, or mix and match them). You can also assign different intros and outros for each variation (once you unlock these) and tweak their artificial intelligence (A.I.) stats to make them more focused on reversals or brawling, for example, or a more balanced fighter when taking part in A.I. Battles.

Equip Konsumables and augments to give you buffs and power-ups and make Towers a little easier.

To help you clear these modes, you can choose to have the computer battle through each tower on your behalf and also use up to four Konsumables to tip the odds in your favour. These allow you to flick the right analogue stick and call upon assistance from other characters or effects (such as a brief acid rain, missiles, or similar projectiles) and/or earn additional rewards from battle or performing finishers. Other times, especially in the Towers of Time, your opponents will have access to similar Konsumables and augments, which essentially recreates the Test Your Luck feature from Mortal Kombat (2009), and you’ll again have the option of teaming up with others to take on super tough boss battles.Each time you take on a tower, you’ll be asked to take on a number of “Dragon Challenges”; these appear at the bottom of the screen and ask you to do such tasks as switching stance, ducking, jumping, or performing (or not performing) a certain number of actions throughout the fight and the more you complete, the more additional Koins you can earn so I recommend drawing the fight out so that you can pull off as many as possible.

Additional Features:
There are fifty-eight Achievements on offer in Mortal Kombat 11 and, unlike most games, most of these are tied to repetitive actions rather than playing though the story mode. You’ll earn an Achievement for pulling off a certain number of Fatalities and Brutalities, one for performing two Fatalities with every character who isn’t a DLC fighter (which is a good way to test out each fighter), using a certain number of Konsumables, and opening a certain number of chests in the Krypt, for example. You’ll also earn Achievements for clearing the Klassic Tower with first one and then ten characters (why not all of them is beyond me), running five miles in the Krypt, and for taking part in A.I. and online battles and clearing half of (and all) of the main story mode.

All of the DLC is included as standard but, sadly, there are no additional Achievements tied to these.

Sadly, however, the Achievements do not extend to any of the DLC fighters or story content; there are no Achievements to be earned from clearing Aftermath or specifically tied to any of the DLC fighters, which is a real shame when you’ve got RoboCop and the Terminator in your game and when you consider that Mortal Kombat XL had sixty Achievements to earn, with an extra thirteen added with its DLC fighters. On the one hand, this does mean that it’s a lot easier to get Achievements in Mortal Kombat 11 since there are far less devoted to online play but, on the other, I was disappointed that the Achievements didn’t encourage more replayability and variety; instead, it’s all repetitive actions and nonstop grinding and I’d be pretty pissed off to have paid £40-odd for the Aftermath DLC and all those fighter packs only to find that they don’t come with any extra Achievements.

Some familiar faces and movie icons feature as guest fighters…and also the Joker, who I could live without.

Speaking of which, Aftermath and all of the DLC fighter packs and skins are included in Mortal Kombat 11 Ultimate (…except for those released after the game) but you should be aware that your previous save data from the base Mortal Kombat 11 is not compatible with Ultimate. This means that you can play Aftermath right away, if you want, and thus complete the actual story since the main story just kind of ends unresolved. The additional fighters include the likes of Spawn, RoboCop, the Terminator, and even John Rambo (with Keith David, Peter Weller, and Sylvester Stallone all lending their voice talents (and likeness, in Rambo’s case) to the game. You can also play as returning characters such as Sindel, Fujin, and one of my favourites, Rain though I question the inclusion of the Joker as I really think Pennywise the Dancing Clown would have fit a lot better. There are also a number of cheeky DC Comics skins and gear to equip that turn Cassie Cage into Harley Quinn, Geras into Darkseid, Kitana into Catwoman, and Baraka into Killer Croc and you can even dress Jacqui Briggs up in Spawn’s costume.

The Krypt is full of Easter Eggs and references to both the 1995 movie and the franchise’s long histor.y

Aside from fighting, much your time is also spent exploring the Krypt and spending all of your hard-earned currency on skins, gear, augments, and the like. The Krypt is the biggest it has ever been, encompassing the entirety of Shang Tsung’s island and is full of treasure chests, death traps, and references to the videogames and movies. Unfortunately, though, as great as the Krypt is for Easter Eggs and such, it’s a bitch to navigate; you can create shortcuts by smashing through walls and pulling levers and such but the map is dreadful and it can be extremely difficult to get to where you need to be as it relies on an awkward coordinate system. It’s also ridiculously expensive to open the chests, which can lead to you spending over 10,000 Koins just for some useless icons and concept art and it’ll cost you 100 Soul Fragments and 250 Hearts every time you want to open one of those chests. There’s a lot to see and do, though, with new areas to stumble across and fun little Easter Eggs to find but, again, no Achievements really tied to this; when I find the statue of Reptile’s reptilian form from the movie or examine Drahmin’s mask or find Goro’s corpse, I’d expect at least a fun little 5G Achievement but…nope.

The Summary:
I knew that we would eventually be getting Mortal Kombat 11 Ultimate and specifically held off from purchasing the base game or Aftermath while waiting for this release, which bundles 99% of the game’s content all onto one disc (well…technically it’s two…) for you to play at your leisure (after the lengthy download and installation process, of course). In many ways, I wasn’t disappointed; Mortal Kombat has never looked better, with blood and guts and gore being rendered in exquisitely visceral detail and the recreation of Shang Tsung’s island for the Krypt is stunning, full of little details and references that really reward my many years of fandom. Equally, the story mode and fights are brought to life fantastically and the scaled back approach to gear and customisation is appreciated since it means I don’t have to worry about my character being underpowered if they look how I want.

Mortal Kombat has arguably never looked better but the emphasis on grinding lets the game down.

Unfortunately, though, there are a few things that let it down. The Fatal Blow system is great but seems catered more to new players and a defensive playstyle; tying so much of the game to online servers results in a lot of dodgy slowdown and loading on the menus at times; locking everything behind the towers and such is fine but forcing players to grind for in-game currency to spend on even challenging those towers is not; the handful of Achievements might be pretty simple to get but there’s not a lot of variety or fun to them; and I question some of the choices made for the roster. First of all…why thirty-seven fighters? Why not go all-in and bring it up to a nice, even forty? Where are Takeda Takahasi and Kung Jin, the actual descendant of the Great Kung Lao? They weren’t exactly my favourite characters from Mortal Kombat X but they were just as important to the “new generation” of fighters as Cassie and Jacqui but they’re missing yet that lumbering oaf Kotal Kahn is still there. In the end, there’s a lot of fun to be had in Mortal Kombat 11 but it’s notably more finite and time-consuming than in the last two Mortal Kombat games; it’s not as bad with the randomness and loot boxes as Injustice 2 but some of the better skins and gear and such is still annoying locked away and will take a lot of time and effort to unlock, which is especially aggravating when the game uses four different types of in-game currency and yet your options for actually purchasing new stuff in-game are severely limited.

My Rating:

Rating: 3 out of 5.

Pretty Good

What are your thoughts on Mortal Kombat 11: Ultimate? Did you wait for this version to come out or did you buy the base game and DLC separate? Either way, do you think there was enough value for your money or, like me, were you disappointed to find the DLC didn’t have any new Achievements to earn? Which fighter in the game (or the franchise) is your favourite and why? What did you think to the story mode and the use of competing timelines to bring back classic characters? Were there any characters or features missing from the game for you? What did you think to the online options and the different towers the game had to offer? Which Mortal Kombat game, movie, comic, or other piece of media is your favourite? Whatever your thoughts on Mortal Kombat 11, or Mortal Kombat in general, leave a comment down below.

Talking Movies: Rambo: Last Blood

Talking Movies

Released: September 2019
Director: Adrian Grunberg
Distributor: Lionsgate
Budget: $50 million
Stars: Sylvester Stallone, Yvette Monreal, Paz Vega, Sergio Peris-Mencheta, and Óscar Jaenada

The Plot:
Eleven years after finally returning to America, Vietnam veteran John Rambo (Stallone) has devoted his life to his adopted daughter, Gabriela (Monreal). However, when Gabriela is kidnapped by human traffickers while in Mexico, Rambo must take up arms once more to bring her home.

The Background:
Unquestionably, Rambo is one of cinema’s all-time iconic action heroes; introduced in First Blood (Kotcheff, 1982) as a psychologically damaged soldier, the character has evolved into a hulking war machine to a disillusioned old man, all while carrying a haunting presence as he struggles to run from, or confront, his inner demons. The poorly-titled Rambo (Stallone, 2008) seemed to tie the franchise up nicely, with Rambo massacring basically the entire Burmese army and then finally returning home after a lifetime of war, drifting, and toiling away from the United States. However, Stallone appears to be in the middle of a kind of renaissance (or, perhaps, undergoing a farewell tour) as he revisits and retires his iconic characters and, as a result, we now have one more chapter in the life of old man Rambo.

The Review:
Going into Rambo: Last Blood, I was expecting something that was more like the (comparative) subtlety of First Blood mixed with the gritty, bloody violence of Rambo and, while that is generally the case, it also feels as though Stallone saw some modern action/thrillers like Taken (Morel, 2008) and the John Wick (Stahelski, 2014 to present) films and said: “What if that…but with Rambo?”

Rambo has found peace with his family…but nothing lasts forever…

As a result, Rambo: Last Blood is, stylistically, a very different film to its predecessors and Rambo is, overall, a very different character. Having bonded with Gabriela and being close to her grandmother, Maria (Adriana Barraza), Rambo is at peace in a way he never has been in the past as he’s finally back with his family and away from conflict. However, Rambo has also filled his time with building an immense network on caves beneath his father’s ranch, which makes for an impressive and bloody finale to the movie, and is swallowing pills of some description to help curb his post-traumatic stress.

Rambo’s mortality is a central theme throughout Last Blood…

However, when Gabriela takes off to Mexico to find her estranged father and doesn’t return, Rambo immediately jumps into his truck and heads down there without a second’s thought to find her and bring her home. Quickly locating the Martinez Brothers, Hugo and Victor (Peris-Mencheta and Jaenada, respectively), Rambo is viciously attacked and has his face scarred by the brothers and their gang of human traffickers. Nursed back to health by journalist Carmen Delgado (Vega), who also has a personal vendetta against the Martinez Brothers, Rambo soon finds himself preparing for war once more, this time to fight for his family first and foremost.

Rambo prepares a series of gruesome traps for his victims…

Rambo: Last Blood is, honestly, a bit of a mish-mash of ideas; it ends with a fantastically brutal sequence where Rambo hunts down his prey one by one and murders them in unique and brutal ways, and there’s some intense scenes of him prowling the streets of Mexico chasing down leads and roughing people up for information, and there’s a heart and a tragedy at its core that are reminiscent of other Rambo movies. Yet, throughout it all, I couldn’t help but ask why this movie was deemed necessary; Rambo’s story was largely concluded in Rambo and this extended epilogue, of sorts, only serves to emphasise that this character will never be free from conflict and never be able to truly lay down his guns, which is a sombre and depressing post-script for a character that has, more so than many other action heroes, earned a rest from war.

The Nitty-Gritty:
So, I mentioned Taken above and this is perhaps the most fitting analogy as this film is basically Taken but with Rambo and with one other crucial, gut-punch of a twist…Rambo’s adopted daughter, Gabriela, succumbs to her wounds and drug intake and dies shortly after being rescued by her uncle. This leaves Rambo obsessed with bloody revenge, which he soon obtains when he brutally decapitates Victor off-screen and lures Hugo (alongside a whole slew of nameless, faceless cannon fodder) to his heavily-booby-trapped ranch in order to blow their fuckin’ heads off and literally pull Hugo’s heart from his chest.

Rambo is still struggling with his inner demons.

This over-the-top action and killing is a delicious coda to the film but, during the conflict, Rambo suffers a few gun shot wounds which threatened to leave him dead but, instead, he simply reflects on his fate in a rocking chair and then (literally) rides off into the sunset. So, at the end of Rambo, it seemed like Rambo was going to finally go home and leave war behind and reconnect with his father. Here, though, his father is nowhere to be seen (and, presumably, long dead) and Rambo suddenly, randomly, has an estranged brother (who’s a complete asshole), a gorgeous young niece/stepdaughter, and a Maria, all of whom help to humanise and settle Rambo’s demons. But, now, with Gabriela dead, Maria gone, and his childhood home decimated, Rambo is left as a drifter once again, riding off into an uncertain future.

Rambo is still a crack shot with a bow and arrow!

Personally, I feel like Gabriela should have survived, perhaps been left in a coma, and Rambo should he satiated this thirst for vengeance but perished in the process, having died fighting for something worthwhile for a change (basically, recreating the end of Logan (Mangold, 2017)…but with Rambo!) Instead, Rambo is left with literally no family to fall back on and no clear end to his story, which may set up for a future instalment later down the line but, in a way, kind of ruins the somewhat-happy ending that Rambo suggested for the character.

The Summary:
Rambo: Last Blood has a few flaws, mainly in trying to justify why it even exists, but it is undeniably a thrill to see the character back onscreen and just as brutal as ever; age may have caused Rambo to become more methodical but it has done nothing to dull his edge or his pit-bull-like fighting spirit, which is as strong as ever. Its just a bit of a shame that he’s been placed in a movie that isn’t really offering the character much more growth or offering anything new to the action/thriller genre, relying more on nostalgia and gruesome violence to prop up its unoriginal narrative.

My Rating:

Rating: 2 out of 5.

Could Be Better