A Rambo prequel that follows a young version of Sylvester Stallone’s veteran hero would lack all the elements that made the character an icon. Rocky star Sylvester Stallone has been one of the most prominent Hollywood action stars for more than four decades. If the Creed and The Expendables movies are anything to go by, age hasn’t been an obstacle for him. But even though Stallone has kept the Rocky franchise alive with Rocky Balboa as a mentor figure, revisiting John Rambo after the release of 2019’s Rambo: Last Blood presents a challenge.
First Blood, the first installment in the Rambo franchise, introduced John Rambo as a Vietnam veteran who struggles with PTSD. Although he’s still at the height of his physique and combat skills, war is not something he actively pursues. Rambo’s brutal killing rampage in the first movie is the result of the trauma he experienced while being a soldier and the looming hopelessness that awaited him. However, the massive success of First Blood gave way to several sequels, which changed John Rambo into a more relentless action hero in order to satisfy the audience’s wish for high-octane action.
Having followed an aging John Rambo across four increasingly violent sequels, and having transformed John Rambo into an untouchable killing machine, there’s little Sylvester Stallone can do to raise the stakes. Hence, Stallone believes Rambo’s future lies in streaming, as a prequel. While this would be a fresh angle for Rambo’s story, it would likely strip the hero of his essence. What makes Rambo such a captivating character is not his invincibility, but his reaction to the horrors of war or at least that’s how his story began in First Blood, before he got completely desensitized to violence.
Rambo is unstoppable because of his Vietnam war backstory, not what came before.A prequel set during Rambo’s formative years has little material to work with, as the pre-war John Rambo hasn’t gone through the events that shaped his character. And if the prequel takes place during the war, it could ruin everything that comes afterward. Stallone’s Rambo movies show that war transforms good people into murderers against their will, so the prequel would have to tone down on the franchise’s signature action or risk saying that Rambo’s ruthlessness has always been par for the course. With the emotional draw of First Blood gone, the idea of a younger actor replacing Stallone as Rambo would finish removing the prequel from anything that resembles the previous movies.
This is not the first time a proposed prequel strayed away from the core of a movie in the way the Rambo movie prequel would. In 2015, Fox announced a prequel to Die Hard, called McClane, which would have followed a young John McClane long before he entered Nakatomi Plaza. The movie was canceled, but the project lived on as a comic called Die Hard: Year One. The problem with this prequel, however, is the same that the Rambo prequel would likely have. Before the events of Die Hard, Bruce Willis’s John McClane is just a regular cop, and changing that completely alters the everyman aspect that made the first movie so special.
Prequels work best when the original movies suggest a bigger untold story, and this directly goes against the Rambo series and its setup. Franchises like Star Wars, Harry Potter, or the Marvel Cinematic Universe are big enough to allow prequels to constantly expand their respective stories. On the contrary, classic action franchises tend to start with the characters’ most significant incident, which makes potential prequels pointless. Just like a Terminator prequel following Sarah Connor as a diner waitress, or a Rocky prequel following Rocky Balboa as a loan collector, the Rambo prequel would have to get very creative in order to make the project worth it.