Rambo: First Blood Part II (1985) — Back to ‘Nam for war and games

“Sir, do we get to win this time?”

Justin’s rating: War! It’s fantastic!

Justin’s review: From my admittedly foggy memories of the 1980s, Rambomania didn’t really take off until the second movie came out. First Blood was a surprise hit and all, but the awkwardly named Rambo: First Blood Part II shot the series and lead character into the pop culture stratosphere.

Overnight, Rambo became the poster child for action-war movie heroes, with a huge following from kids as well as adults. Looking back, it’s kind of disturbing how everyone was just hunky-dory marketing Rambo to children (there even was a cartoon in ’86, believe it or not). But that’s also part of why ’80s pop culture was so unique.

Following the misadventures of a special forces vet in the Pacific Northwest, John Rambo starts the movie in a heavy labor prison. When the government gives him a chance to get out by doing a special recon mission deep into Vietnam to confirm the existence of P.O.W.s, Rambo agrees — but he’s unsettled that all the spooks want to do is take pictures instead of rescue anyone. It’s almost like he knows he’s going to get betrayed before he even leaves on the mission — but he goes anyway because it needs to get done.

Despite being as quiet as a church mouse, Rambo is brimming with that same quiet and competent rage that you know is going to be channeled toward some extracurricular activities before too long. These include deep jungle navigating, native liasons, torture endurance, and scorched earth rampages.

Everything goes to pot very quickly, but our hero doesn’t give up or stay on the script that everyone expects. Without most of his gear or support from his commanding officers, it’s bad enough, but when Rambo discovers that there are Soviets involved, then he’s got two wars to fight for the price of one. At least he gets a partner in the form of Co Bao (Julia Nickson), a Vietnamese intelligence officer who becomes his guide and only friend.

Rambo may seem like a bucket of action movie tropes when you look back on it from the modern age, but understand that it helped define and cement so many of these clichés that have since been referenced and parodied. It’s cheesy summer blockbuster fare, to be sure, but it’s also better than you’d think from the hackneyed copycats that came after.

And while Stallone’s grunted prose isn’t going to make you weep in wonder, his physical performance here — from cold stares to agile jungle parkour — is actually pretty captivating to watch. Despite the reputation that the character has, John Rambo’s never been the guy who leaps to violent homicide as a first option… only when he’s cornered and has no other options. So we kind of want to see what happens when he’s pushed into that corner, because down that path lies rocket launchers and exploding helicopters and punch-the-air moments of victory.

It’s been a long time since I last saw Rambo, and I was quite glad to discover that while it’s steeped in an older action movie mindset over a war and ensuing situation that has largely receded into history, it’s still heaps of mindless fun.

Didja notice?

  • Prison makes you sweaty
  • 59 confirmed kills before this movie. About 2,500 by the end credits.
  • It’s John Kreese from Karate Kid! He’s trying to start a Cobra Dojo chapter in ‘Nam!
  • The getting ready montage!
  • Snake grabbin’
  • His knife is good for wire cutting
  • Rambo’s silent killing spree
  • Yeah! Rocket launcher vs boat!
  • That pool cannot be sanitary
  • Electric torture never looks fun
  • “Murdock.” Lightning flash. “I’m coming to get you!”
  • Where do I get arrows that explode entire villages?
  • That helicopter has unlimited ammunition
  • Frank Stallone should never be allowed to sing for a movie ever again

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