JOHN RAMBO OR ROCKY BALBOA

Creed just came out in Ghanaian theaters and I loved it, but loved Stallone in it more. Stallone picked up some awards and ton of nominations for his compelling showing here partially because he is indeed very good but also because he carries the weight of nostalgia. His performance carries an aura of a swansong and in truth, given Sly’s track record, he should retire after this. He won’t though. That infamous ego won’t be put to bed by his probable Oscar win in a few weeks. Hell, the Oscar may just inflate his ego for the last stretch of his life.

Stallone is pushing 70 and I don’t think anyone can argue against his status as an icon of cinema – good or bad. He went from the next Marlon Brando to actually Marlon Brando when you think about it. I have been reflecting on Stallone and his role in cinema on a personal level actually and I feel like he was one of my first film experiences. I remember when I first encountered him on Movie Magic’s Stallone month in July 1996, almost two decades ago. I saw First Blood and its two sequels and from that moment, the action icon became known to me as Rambo.

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Don’t  push it, don’t or I’ll give you a war you’ll never believe

He was the film star for me and the ultimate action hero *insert Richard Crenna monologue from First Blood*. Biceps – check. Spinning jump kick – check. Gun play – check. Archery – check. Sweet Knife – Check. Moments of true grit – Check. He had it all except for the one liners but then again, Rambo, code named Raven, was a reticent character. I obviously loved the last two films because Rambo racked up massive body count but the more solemn First Blood, I perceived to be dull. He kills no one and there was no explosive archery. That however changed as I grew older.

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My dad always loved First Blood. It is undoubtedly one of his all-time favorite films. I never understood why and I guess that’s why it slowly started to engage me more. The sequels to First Blood were fairly simple. It was Rambo vs the Vietcong in Rambo II (First Blood II, Rambo) and Rambo vs the Soviets in Rambo III. As a teenager, I started to sense something absorbing in First Blood partially because I started to tread the cynical reticent path myself. I learnt more about the Vietnam War and Rambo’s solitude and ostracization began to make sense and his character became more compelling.

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First Blood is ostensibly about loss – loss of innocence, loss of friends and loss of country. The film establishes that early on with his solitary figure walking away on highway from the news stripping him of what little hope he had. It features one Stallone’s best performances in a very visceral and thoughtful film (albeit of its time) but somehow the character of Rambo evolved, much like John Mclean, from relatable agency to the prototypical impossible white man. He was gripping protagonist but the average film fan will hold up Rambo for his wicked body count and the latter three films I reckon.

As 23 year old film buff now, when I think about Rambo, I thing about the destitute veteran on the long lonely highway however when I think about the man Stallone now, does Rambo really come to mind? Not really. The progression of associating Stallone with a particular character form Rambo II/III to the Stallone in First Blood continued to when I finally saw Rocky. As I sit here, Rocky Balboa comes to mind when I see Stallone. Of course it wasn’t an immediate thing. It took about a decade of going over the Rocky back catalogue especially the first and sixth entry which represent proper markers of Stallone’s contribution to cinema.

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The Rocky franchise, including Creed now, spans five decades with its iconic music and training montages and I suspect it stands a greater chance of standing the test of time than the Rambo series. Rocky is such a totem of pop culture and every other year, there is some comic homage to Stallone’s break out character. Rocky, much like the Rambo series opens with a truly compelling story but evolves into something borderline caricature till 2006’s Rocky Balboa.

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The franchise lost most its heart after the first film and transitioned to blockbuster status with the exception of Rocky V which was plain bad. We have at the core of Rocky an underdog story and a quasi-morality tale that is easy to relate to then there’s Rocky’s awkward yet genuine relationship with Adrian which stands a proper standard for cinematic romance. Rocky holds simple qualities at its core but possesses the ability to overwhelm with these understated moments. Big ups to Ryan Coogler for furthering the Rocky legacy with his warm homage.

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It’s funny how the yung’uns of today haven’t really seen Rambo which was unheard of when I was younger. They now have the Marvel/DC blockbuster explosion to contend with. I reckon the only thing that may draw some millennials to Rambo is remake/reboot with focus on an Afghan war vet (patent pending). The only truly transcendent Rambo film is First Blood, it’s the one I can recommend confidently to any willing individual. The Rocky films are however more recommendable – at least four of them are – and they will be for time to come.

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Here’s a question for you: Who do you think of when you see Sly Stallone; Rocky Baloa or John Rambo?

By: Delali Adogla-Bessa/delalibessa@yahoo.com/Ghana

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