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Review: Rambo: First Blood Part II (1985)

Rambo: First Blood Part II (1985)

Directed by: George P. Cosmatos

Premise: A sequel to 1982’s First Blood. Decorated Vietnam veteran John Rambo (Sylvester Stallone) is sent on a covert operation to confirm the existence of American POWs in a Vietnamese prison camp. When Rambo finds them, an American bureaucrat abandons Rambo behind enemy lines, forcing Rambo to fight his way out of the jungle. 

What Works: Rambo: First Blood Part II is one of the essential films of the 1980s and of the Reagan era. This is a big, loud, action extravaganza that set the standard for action films of its era and beyond, and the style of First Blood Part II can be seen in later action films such as Bad Boys and 300 and even Academy Award winning films such as Braveheart. Understood and appreciated for what it is, First Blood Part II still impresses in its action scenes, which hold up with most anything more recent in the genre. The climactic helicopter flight is by now a classic action set-piece and among the lone-action-hero pictures from this period staring Stallone, Arnold Schwarzenegger, and Chuck Norris, First Blood Part II is the most impressive and influential. Although the original First Blood introduced the Rambo character and is in many ways the superior film, it is Part II that elevated Rambo from an action hero to a cultural icon of the 1980s. Rambo’s adventures in this film turn him into a surrogate for post-Vietnam America as he wins the day and rewrites the history of the Vietnam War with superior firepower.

What Doesn’t: First Blood Part II does get ridiculous in places, especially in some of the chases and shootouts, but the exaggerated quality of the film is part of its design. Rambo’s heroics and iconic muscled out figure are part of a film that is not intended to be taken literally. Just as Sex and the City appeals to consumerist wish-fulfillment for upper and middle class women, First Blood Part II is a fantasy of white male empowerment and the recovery of masculinity. That said, whether that wish is worth fulfilling in the first place is worth critiquing; the film’s attempt to amend the guilt and humiliation of military defeat in Vietnam through this super soldier surrogate is embarrassing and even childish in retrospect. That quality has made First Blood Part II an object of parody in films such as Hot Shots Part Deux, UHF, and Gremlins 2, to name a few.

DVD Extras: The Lions Gate DVD release has a commentary track by George P. Cosmatos and other extras embedded in the film as a type of Easter Egg.

Bottom Line: Rambo: First Blood Part II is an important film of its time both for its politics and for its influence on the action genre. Although it was clearly providing some sort of catharsis for its audience at the time of its release, the film also chooses a troubling outlet for that catharsis, as it does not confront viewers with the hard lessons learned from the Vietnam War.

Episode: #290 (May 30, 2010)