In many movie studios, intellectual property that can “subvert expectations” is a highly prized commodity. Executives are always on the hunt for a new angle so the recycled blockbuster fodder they release each summer doesn’t feel quite so much like a rehashing of last summer’s top flicks. Of course, that’s not how everybody does business. Some franchises aren’t all that worried about giving you something new, so much as they intend to simply give you exactly what you expect and hope to do it well enough that it still works.
I tend to refer to this as the New England Patriots Offense school of thought for film studios. When you square off against Tom Brady and company, you know he’s going to throw fifty dump passes into the flats to his running backs. Tom Brady knows you know that too. The point, however, is to execute the play well enough that even a defender in the know can’t stop them. As much as it pains me (as a lifelong Bills fan) to say it, the Patriots offense works — not because they’ve got many surprises up their sleeves, but because of their above par execution of exactly what you expect.
The Rambo franchise is among the best examples of the Patriots Offense approach to film making. When you buy a ticket to see John Rambo at your local cinema, you know what you’re in for: explosions, firepower, and often, a simplistic caricature of very real veteran issues. First Blood was as much about PTSD and the anti-veteran prejudice many Vietnam veterans faced as it was an action drama. Even 2008’s Rambo, which took place in Burma, offered a reflection of very real veteran issues regarding returning to a war they’d already left behind — something many vets of the Global War on Terror can relate to following the rise of ISIS in Iraq and continued conflict in Afghanistan.
But with Iraq and Afghanistan bumped from the front page in favor of America’s political civil war, Rambo, like many vets, has turned his attention away from far-flung conflicts steeped in foreign policy and toward the domestic front, where an aging Rambo has to take on an organized criminal element to protect someone he refers to in the trailer as his family.
Like Rambo, many modern veterans are concerned about drugs, gangs, immigration, cartel violence, and of course, the possibility that their family members could be at risk of being killed in a terror attack or mass shooting, and this new Rambo film, appropriately dubbed “Last Blood,” appears to address these looming fears in the same way the titular hero has broached veteran issues in the past: with a whole lot of firepower.
Now, the Rambo movies aren’t meant to be deep explorations of the veteran (or any other) experience and it would be doing these films a disservice to consider them as such. What they are is fan-service in the Patriots mindset. Film execs know Rambo’s demographic would enjoy a few hours of seeing their fears violently destroyed by a hero they can cheer for. Rambo isn’t a real guy, so there are no tweets to dig up or sexual assault accusations from his past to make you feel guilty for rooting for him… there’s just an aging hero willing to sacrifice it all for his family — something many veterans either can or wish to identify with.
This new trailer looks exactly like what I’d expect, and that’s why it looks awesome.