The sequel to Sylvester Stallone’s smash First Blood is here, and it must be noted that the new film is superior to the original, if only because it is even more single-minded and uncluttered than the first orgy of violence.
Rambo: First Blood Part II (I figured they wouldn’t call it Second Blood) continues the adventures of John Rambo, a soul-dead Vietnam vet who is the muscle-bound personification of a fighting machine. He laid waste to most of British Columbia in First Blood.
In Part II, he’s tapped by an Army higher-up (Richard Crenna, repeating his role from the original) to take a secret mission back into Vietnam (the movie was filmed in Mexico). This time, Rambo is to find a prisoner-of-war camp with American GIs, collect photographic proof that they’re still there, and bring the pictures back. That’s all.
Rambo finds the camp. And, being an excitable fellow, he decides he doesn’t like photography. He grabs one of the prisoners and hauls him away to the Army pick-up point.
Then: a double-cross. Turns out the big cheese in charge of the mission (Charles Napier) actually wants the mission to fail, so that the books can be closed once and for all on the POW question. The presence of prisoners distresses him, and he yanks the rescue effort—leaving Rambo at the mercy of the Viet Cong and their Russian allies.
When Rambo finds out he’s been crossed—well, stand back and duck. Stallone shifts into high sneer and the carnage becomes widespread.
It’s hokey and manipulative, and in plot and bam-bam style it’s reminiscent of the recent Chuck Norris Missing in Action quickies. It’s certainly got action, though, and that’s what this kind of movie is all about. The screenplay is credited to Stallone and James Cameron, the man who brought us that quirky hit The Terminator last year. Ultimately, however, Stallone’s collaborators are irrelevant. When he gets involved in a movie, he becomes the whole show, and he rewrote Rambo to suit himself.
Stallone contrives to make this action movie into a message picture by including a protest at the way the returning Vietnam veterans were treated by the war-weary American public. It is difficult to know how sincere Stallone is: he makes his statement at an emotionally effective moment, but appearing within the context of a brutal, bloody gorefest, the sentiment strikes a weird chord.
One note for connoisseurs of presumptuousness: Stallone plays with a Christ motif for his hero here, as he has in the recent Rocky films. This appears to be his lone, feeble attempt at intellectual ambition—similar to the way he uses 50-cent words when he appears on talk shows, as if to say: “See? I think.”
He loves to stretch his arms out into a meaningful, Christlike posture, and when Rambo arrives at the Army camp, someone greets him by saying, “So, you’re the chosen one, eh?”
Sylvester Stallone has no shame.
Originally appeared in the Herald, May 25, 1985
The movie, of course, become a monster hit, and a defining film of its decade. Feeling the need to explain who James Cameron was is a charming little reminder of where we were in ’85. I erred in suggesting that Stallone’s only attempt at intellectual ambition was his beloved Christ imagery; of course he’s tried many other stabs at heaviosity over the years.