Last of the Monster Kids

Last of the Monster Kids
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Sunday, August 14, 2016

THE SYLVESTER SEMESTER PART II: Rambo: First Blood Part II (1985)

Sylvester Stallone is a man who, more often then not, gives the people what they want. “First Blood” was a big hit for the star. Rambo, as an emotionally disturbed Vietnam vet, hardly seemed as commercial a character as Rocky Balboa. This didn’t stop Stallone from creating a sequel revolving around him. While the first film was a moody thriller, “Rambo: First Blood Part II” was a crowd pleasing action flick full of massive explosions and shoot-outs. The sequel would be an even bigger hit, overshadowing the original. It would also become one of the most iconic films of the eighties, producing countless rip-offs, parodies, and two further sequels.

Following his rampage in Hope, WA, John Rambo has been imprisoned, currently cracking rocks inside the walls of a penitentiary. That is until Col. Troutman comes to him with a proposition. Rambo has been selected for a secret mission, in exchange for a federal pardon. He’ll be sent back to Vietnam, looking for evidence of POWs still in the country. When he finds those prisoners, a government bureaucrat leaves Rambo behind enemy’s lines. Now the soldier must fight back again, rescue the men, and destroy a crap ton of Vietnamese and Communist forces.

When Troutman asks Rambo to go back to Vietnam, the soldier responses by saying “Do we get to win this time?” This characterizes “Rambo’s” philosophy towards the Vietnam War, a conflicts whose psychic scars were still felt ten years later. “First Blood Part II” essentially has John Rambo going back to Vietnam, killing everyone there, and retroactively wining the war for America. By rescuing the POWs – whose actual existence is largely discredited – Rambo is symbolically bringing home all the soldiers who never returned. In the film’s final minutes, the largely monosyllabic veteran delivers a speech reiterating the first movie’s themes: That this country needs to honor the sacrifices its men made in Vietnam. Like all forms of American populist entertainment, eighties action films were about healing the wounds felt in the real world. “First Blood Part II” takes all the Vietnam War’s baggage and blows it up with a bazooka.

The sequel also re-contextualizes the conflict for the feel good eighties. In “Rambo,” the Vietnam War is no longer a case of a corrupt government sending regular people to die in a foreign country for reasons they do not understand. Yes, Charles Napier’s Murdock is a federal dirt bag who betrays Rambo’s – and, by extension, all the other vet’s – trust. Yet, once Rambo is captured again by the Vietnamese, Soviet soldiers march in. They torture him, showing a clear sadism, the red stars on their uniforms always visible. Once Rambo escapes, you sure as hell know he murders the shit out of these Commie bastards. “First Blood Part II” is a Cold War film, showing the conflict between the U.S.A. and the U.S.S.R. in big bold, comic book strokes. Is there any wonder Ronald Reagan, with his overly aggressive foreign policy, loved this movie?

As a character, John J. Rambo was a far more introspective man last time. “First Blood” grappled more actively with the mental damage the war reaped on Rambo’s mind. In the sequel, meanwhile, he is primarily a heartless killing machine. He doesn’t have very much dialogue throughout. For most of the film, Stallone stares ahead blankly, focused solely on his mission. This is the movie that would cause the public’s perception of Sylvester Stallone to change. Before this film, he was mostly known as Rocky Balboa, a common man with a simple mind and a gentle heart. Afterwards, he would stack up continuously bigger body counts in outrageous action flicks like “Cobra” and “Tango & Cash.” He was no longer an everyman. Now he was an unstoppable juggernaut, the eighties action movie incarnate.

Don’t think I’m giving “Rambo: First Blood Part II” a bad review though. The movie’s politics may be obvious or even reprehensible. However, as an action film, “Rambo” is almost unparalleled. The first film devoted some run time to explaining what a bad ass John Rambo is. While he was insanely tough last time, he was mostly on the run. This time, all of Rambo’s skills as the ultimate solider are on display. He remains unphased throughout brutal torture. Once unleashed, Rambo becomes truly unstoppable. He covers himself in mud, hiding from enemies. He drags victims off-screen, like a horror movie monster, dispatching them with ease. (For that matter, Rambo’s trademark giant knife wouldn’t be out of place in a slasher flick.) One of the film’s most absurd sequences has an enemy solider shooting at Rambo. He stands still, bullets avoiding him, before blowing the man up with an arrow. He’s not quite John Matrix but John Rambo is still one of the most unstoppable heroes to ever grace action cinema.

“Rambo” packs its last act full of big ass explosions. Rambo leaps out of the range of a giant fireball. He commandeers a Russian helicopter, resulting in a mildly tense chopper chase. After tricking the filthy Ruskie pilot, Rambo explodes it with a rocket launcher. He then turns the vehicle’s missiles and machine guns on the Vietnamese base, reducing it to ashes. Even before then, he’s leaping out of boats, narrowly avoiding other explosions. It’s not sophisticated stuff. Yet it undeniably tickles the lizard brain. As a fan of old school action, “First Blood Part II” is obviously a high water mark of the genre.

The film’s ability to entertain so easily with giant action is likely why “Rambo” would prove so irresistible to low budget filmmakers. Faux Rambos would emerge from places as divergent as Italy, South Africa, the Philippines, and Turkey. They would all copy the formula of a lone solider blasting away entire armies worth of enemies, usually in some jungle country. These are lesser flicks but if a rip-off managed to grasp a fraction of "First Blood Part II's" entertainment value, it would be doing great. “Rambo’s” politics made it perfect for eighties America but the rest of the world loved it too. (Well, maybe not Russia…) If you wanna see armies of faceless goons get gunned down, and you can’t get a copy of “Commando” or “Death Wish 3,” rent this one. George P. Cosmatos directed and James Cameron co-wrote the script but this is undeniably a film straight from the psyche of Sylvester Stallone. [8/10]

[X] Frank Stallone or Frank Stallone-esque Inspirational Music
[X] Incapacitates or Kills Someone With His Body
[X] Shows Off Buffness
[X] Social Outcast [Abandoned Soldier]
[X] Sweaty, Veiny Yelling

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