Rambo: First Blood Part II (1985)
Release Date: May 22nd, 1985 MPAA Rating: R
Director: George P. Cosmatos Actors: Sylvester Stallone, Richard Crenna, Charles Napier, Steven Berkoff, Julia Nickson, Martin Kove
hough it sacrifices the original “First Blood’s” brooding style and moral complexities for nonstop action, this second chapter manages to remain surprisingly entertaining. It is, however, an entirely different exercise in adventure. Stallone and Crenna return, this time taking the battle back to ‘Nam (the tagline states: “What most people call hell, he calls home”) for a daring rescue mission where allegiances and motives shift as carelessly as the seriousness of the film.
The picture opens with John Rambo (Sylvester Stallone) in a high security prison. A surprise visit by Colonel Samuel Trautman (Richard Crenna) reveals that a rescue mission to Vietnam to free POWs has been approved. And the caged, embittered war hero is the best candidate for the job. Upon reaching the military base, Rambo discovers that the corrupt commander, Marshall Murdock (Charles Napier), has tricked him into a reconnaissance errand. Playing along with the assignment, he heads into the heart of the Vietnam jungle and begins a one-man-army rescue operation that will test his elite training to the very core. That, and his ability to blow stuff up.
Subtler in underlying social commentary than its predecessor, “Rambo: First Blood Part II” still reflects on the catastrophic effects of war on the human psyche, as well as the controversial events from Indochina. But until Rambo’s closing speech, that review is heavily buried beneath gunfire and explosions. Far more situated in the nonstop action category, Rambo continually contends with the Vietnamese, the Russians, and even leeches. Complete with vicious stealth kills, sadistic torture, and brutal revenge, the focus on violent action, which the series is known for, never lets up.
Other than the closing song, there’s virtually no humor throughout the film, but at least a love interest is introduced in the form of Co Bao (Julia Nickson), who splits her time between charming and annoying moments – the latter most notably found in her forcibly broken English. Normally, this female element would have been an interesting addition that could have ventured in various directions, but Bao’s appearance instead feels more like an afterthought than a carefully calculated inclusion. Any impact the character creates is short-lived and merely a buffer for others’ reactions. That’s not to say the idea wasn’t a respectable attempt, but with a screenplay co-written by James Cameron, higher expectations aren’t unreasonable.
Opting out of one solid antagonist, this sequel utilizes the action movie cliché of several primary villains and a slew of secondary henchmen, whose sole purposes are to create recognizable and more cathartically impactful death sequences. And while this substitution results in far less plot substance, it adequately fulfills its goal every time one of these malicious villains receives a well-placed rocket shot to the head or a violently shocking electrocution. One can’t help but smile with satisfaction at a dispatching well done. The drawback, however, is that while viewers will want these antagonists to die, they won’t really care what they do while they’re alive.
“Rambo: First Blood Part II” begins with a bang, closes with one, and doesn’t hold back throughout the middle. The inherent problem with this approach is that there’s little room for a story, and though most viewers no longer associate Rambo with an intricate yarn, the character’s potential is so much more. A better film would have juggled both components with greater finesse. Ultimately, this second installment in the franchise requires audiences to check their brains at the door and sit back mindlessly to enjoy the visceral rush of fiery explosions. And rest assured, when Rambo asks Trautman before accepting his suicidal mission, “Do we get to win this time?” the answer will be, “Yes, Rambo, you always get to win.”
– The Massie Twins