Kids can’t become Robocop, but kids can become John Rambo. What the hell is he saying, kids can become a war veteran with a severe PTSD? That’s pretty much what I’m saying, yes.
Robocop was easy to understand why and how it became a cartoon few times around and why it never reached that R-18 status again. For the Rambo franchise, it dibbled into the cartoon region and then never returned, becoming a hard R again with John Rambo, giving the franchise a satisfactory end. The cartoon on the other hand just went nowhere. But let’s start from the point why they even made Rambo: The Force of Freedom.
In 1982 First Blood became a box office hit, and despite it got a mixed reception from the reviewers, its success could not be underestimated. First Blood wasn’t exactly fresh on its material, as post-Vietnam War America and the treatment of soldiers had become somewhat overused theme in war movies. It was nevertheless an intelligent action movie, especially in its changes and with the new ending, which deviated from the original novel’s ending. It didn’t force the viewer to think itself too seriously, but it’s events required some thought.
Rambo: First Blood Part II hit the theatres in 1985, and used the Vietnam War POW/MIA issue as its backdrop. As an action movie, it’s a classic and without a doubt one of the best and is the most iconic film in the franchise. It’s been parodied and ripped off more than one can count, and hell, even the cartoon’s first episode replicates some of its scenes pace by pace, just with less violence. While the critical reception was less than favourable, First Blood Part II was an international box office success.
Meanwhile, Hasbro had renewed their G.I. Joe toyline with the help of Marvel. Before the televised series in 1985, G.I. Joe saw mini-series that were essentially just vehicles for toy advertisement, much like what pretty much all multimedia franchises’ televised parts would be named as. Rather than going deep into G.I. Joe’s history, I recommend you to check first part of SF Debris’ Transformers History, because the two are linked to a large degree.
G.I. Joe was big in the 1980’s and changed popular culture much like how the two first Rambo movie had. Despite Vietnam War had made war toys a big no-no, but 1980’s was pretty much the opposite. Hasbro didn’t just learn from G.I. Joe’s success when creating Transformers and their other franchises, like My Little Pony and Jem and the Holograms. Say what you will, Jem and the Holograms was fucking awesome with good music and I hate the fact that I only see bits and pieces of it when I was a kid.
It wasn’t just Hasbro that learned from the success, as the competing companies saw potential in replicating Hasbro’s multimedia franchise hit. Despite Rambo being an adult only movie series at that point with plenty of violence and themes that kid’s don’t really get, somebody thought he would make a great lead for a fighting force themed series.
I get the logic, I really do. Especially in the context of the cartoon. Rambo III suffered from the perception that Rambo had become a soldier who would be summoned to do operations for the military, as he was the only man who could do it. The usual super soldier trope you have in Escape from New York and Metal Gear series. The cartoon dropped all the hard issues First Blood had brought up and essentially made no references to PTSD or Vietnam War issues. The cartoon Rambo was character at its stereotypical, a one-man army.
It ran 65-episodes and was essentially made for syndication. It’s one of those rare shows that allowed to have realistic weaponry and vehicles, thou to push toys some of the vehicles were very cartoony. Outside that, it’s a very non-descriptive piece, not very high in entertainment value. It feels and reeks like a G.I. Joe clone, and that’s what it is, with the exception that the character cast was smaller. Some of the plots were stupid as hell too, like General Warhawk raising the battle ship Yamato from the bottom of the ocean to conquer a fictional country of Tierra Libre.
In the cartoon, Rambo could be something Robocop never could; a sort of role model or something to aspire kids to become; a hero to fight evil forces in the name your own country and whatever ideology it upholds. It’s not a bad one either, just very damn generic one.
Generic is also the term you could give all the villains in the series, as their dime in the dozen designs would fit any and all fighting force cartoon from the era, and some even fitting in with the likes of Hokuto no Ken. The music on the other hand was licensed from the two first Rambo movies, and they give the series far more oomph than what it should have.
Rambo III hit the theatres in 1988. A this point people were more or less tired of the character and overall everything of like it. It’s overbearing anti-Soviet themes and lacklustre plot has given it the spot of being worst movie in the franchise. For whatever reason, I remember this movie being the one kids would see the most often see after it came out. It lacks any and all finesse First Blood had, and replaced all that with even more action and death.
Rambo III suffered from mediocre acting and bad script, but at least it wasn’t forced to be kid friendly. Even with all the blood and violence the movie had in it, it was mostly a harmless, slightly backwards movie for the time.
(John) Rambo was an independent release in 2008, closing the franchise. Unlike the third movie, Stallone’s performance here is excellent and he didn’t shy away from the core roots of the character. There was no overly political connotations thrown around or pampering around issues. The character of Rambo has grown old, and is more in-tone with the original novel, and the movie mirrors this. The character also is given a solid closure.
Both Rambo and Robocop were at their weakest when they made compromises to make either franchises more family friendly. Both franchises had cartoons that had the original points removed and tailored them for general consumption. It can work, like with G.I. Joe, but a tool should always be used for its intended purpose.