- George P. Cosmatos
- Sylvester Stallone, Richard Crenna, Charles Napier
- 97 min.
- Release Date
Rambo: First Blood Part II is a big, dumb, 1980s action movie of the silliest degree. When we realize its body count will easily reach upwards of fifty dead, its relentlessness has worn us down so that reality no longer applies. We come to accept John Rambo as a superhero. Bullets bounce off his creepily fatless body, he cuts knives, and the heads of his enemies explode just at the sight of him. Don’t even bother trying to shoot him down with missiles, a rocket launcher, or a helicopter. You’ll miss. But he’ll hit you without a bullet wasted. And not so long ago, just three years prior on First Blood, Rambo (Sylvester Stallone) was an all right guy. Not a single person died by his hands in the original picture, which was a box-office smash. He was a sympathetic hero, a victim abandoned by his country and pushed around by a world that no longer needed him. But why follow precedent? This sequel sends our hero back to Vietnam, where all his psychological troubles began, and clearly, he’s still upset about it.
We open with Rambo in prison, where his dependable superior and friend Colonel Trautman (Richard Crenna) pays him a visit and offers a proposition. Bureaucrat Marshall Murdock (Charles Napier) is running a covert operation in Vietnam to rescue abandoned POWs; it’s a one man reconnaissance mission. Murdock reads over Rambo’s dossier, just as a refresher: “Rambo, John J.; born 7/6/47; Bowie, Arizona; of Indian-German descent. Joined army 8/6/64. Accepted, Special Forces specialization; light weapons, cross-trained as medic. Helicopter and language qualified; 59 confirmed kills; two Silver Stars; four Bronze; four Purple Hearts; Distinguished Service Cross; Congressional Medal of Honor.” They forgot to mention “indestructible physical specimen” and “once pummeled Mr. T in the boxing ring”. Wait. Wrong Stallone franchise.
They want Rambo to sneak in, take some photos of potential POW camps, and get out. But just in case, they arm him with heavy machine guns and a bow with explosive-tip arrows. Meeting his guide Co Bao (Julia Nickson-Soul), he’s taken to the camp where he rescues one of several prisoners—all he has time for, if he’s to meet his extraction deadline. But just as the helicopter is landing to pick up Rambo, Murdock aborts the mission after discovering there were actual POWs out there. That double-crossing bastard was jerking Washington’s chain, appeasing The Powers That Be by looking; he didn’t want to actually find anything.
Rambo finds himself captured by Vietnamese working for the Soviet Red Army, and its crooked leader Lt. Col. Podovsky (Steven Berkoff). When our hero breaks loose, hell bent on getting revenge on that bastard Murdock, he kills every bad guy in his way, more than doubling his number of militarily-confirmed kills in an afternoon. Any semblance of realism is lost after maybe 10 or 15 deaths. When we approach 25, the movie becomes laughable. By the end, when Rambo is taking out whole villages with his explosive arrows, we’ve entered surreal territory best left spoofed by ‘Weird Al’ Yankovic in UHF.
It was Rambo’s inane sense of violence that for President Ronald Reagan personified the United States Army. Reagan praised the action flick icon—I guess for blindly rushing into battle without regard of where his bullets land?—earning himself the nickname “Ronbo”. The film ends on a note arguing we can’t rely on our bureaucratic government (because of bastards like Murdock), and yet, we go on loving our country despite its untrustworthiness. It’s ironic that Reagan would praise a movie that ultimately calls him a back-stabbing official, but that was politics in the 1980s. One suspects Reagan also loved Gremlins 2: The New Batch, with its cute mogwai Gizmo donning Rambo garb to kill green monsters with a paperclip bow.
Rambo: First Blood Part II’s first draft script was completed by writer-director James Cameron (The Terminator, Aliens), who claims little remains of his onscreen “vision”. Stallone took over and wrote in abrasive, obvious political speeches, as the actor controlled most creative decision making. Even director George P. Cosmatos (Tombstone) was forced to turn over his reigns to Stallone. One wonders why the actor didn’t direct himself, as he had done on Rocky II, III, and IV. Looking over his filmography, he seems to insist on frequent script revisions and intermingling directing duties; I suppose that’s the benefit of being a 1980s action star. But whatever modest dignity First Blood contained is blown away in this sequel, leaving nothing but a pile of dead bodies. I might argue that the glorification of violence has never been greater, but as I write that, I realize my review of Rambo III hasn’t been written yet. For shutting off your brain and watching random structures (and people) explode, you could do a lot worse. Rent any Chuck Norris or Jean-Claude Van Damme movie and you’ll see what I mean.