Review by Derrick Carter
Running Time: 1 hour 36 minutes
MPAA Rating: R
Directed by: George P. Cosmatos
Written by: Sylvester Stallone & James Cameron
Starring: Sylvester Stallone, Richard Crenna, Charles Napier, Steven Berkoff, Julia Nickson, Martin Kove & George Cheung
1982’s FIRST BLOOD brought an iconic movie character to life and delivered social commentary through a gritty action movie lens. While FIRST BLOOD may be the most serious RAMBO film, I feel that RAMBO: FIRST BLOOD Part II is the movie that cemented John Rambo’s place in cinema history as an action hero for the ages. RAMBO is one of the coolest action movies ever made and had a profound impact on the action genre as a result. Countless rip-offs wanted to be this film, but FIRST BLOOD Part II is a highly explosive adrenaline rush that cannot be duplicated. This sequel is a very different film from the serious social commentary predecessor, but I love it as 100% pure entertainment.
A year after the events of FIRST BLOOD, Vietnam vet John Rambo (Sylvester Stallone) is offered a get out of jail free card in the form of a top-secret government mission. Rambo reluctantly agrees to drop back into the jungles of Vietnam and search for possible POWs (even though the war has been over for years). However, he is instructed not to engage the enemy or rescue anyone…just take photographic evidence for a follow-up team. Rambo’s conscience gets in the way of his orders and he rescues a POW. As a result, bureaucratic baddie Marshal Murdock (Charles Napier) aborts the mission and leaves our musclebound hero for dead. This doesn’t sit well with John Rambo as he’ll go to any length to regain his freedom and rescue the remaining POWs, which means facing off against two different villainous nationalities.
RAMBO: FIRST BLOOD Part II is a straight-forward action movie that delivers excitement from start to finish. The plot throws FIRST BLOOD’s tragic war hero into the fray with lots of explosions, gunfire, and a high body count (a total of 69 on-screen deaths). It’s a far more action-oriented film than its predecessor, but works surprisingly better as one hell of an awesome ride. Sylvester Stallone slips right back into the skin of John Rambo as if no time has passed at all. Stallone wasn’t just responsible for his performance though as he also polished the final version of the sequel’s script, which was originally a much simpler tale penned by none other than James Cameron. Stallone added political commentary into the screenplay (including a final speech that was inspired by his conversations with veterans) and reshaped a side character entirely.
The real villain of FIRST BLOOD Part II isn’t made out to be the Viet Cong or Soviet forces that Stallone sprays with bullets, but instead the bossy bureaucrat who willingly to turns a blind eye. This point is driven not so subtly home by Charles Napier’s smarmy performance as pencil-pushing Marshall Murdock. Murdock is a scumbag and I wanted to repeatedly punch him in the face. His villainy doesn’t come in the form of directly shooting POWs, but rather from giving orders over a radio and feigning concern. The only returning side character from the original film is Colonel Trautman (Richard Crenna) who has a slightly bigger role to play this time around, but doesn’t really get a chance to jump in on any of the action. Rambo also receives a partner/love interest in foreign agent Co-Bao (Julia Nickson). This character doesn’t exactly have a huge arc, but the story does something cool with her nonetheless.
RAMBO: FIRST BLOOD Part II is entirely different from its gritty predecessor and serves as perfect action-packed entertainment. The location/battleground, filmed in Mexico substituting for Vietnam, is larger and the pacing never slows down. Even when Rambo is facing a brutal interrogation and capture (an all too familiar scenario in action films), I was hooked into wondering how on earth he was going to get out of the desperate situation and how many people were going to pay for it with their blood. The level of on-screen mayhem is staggering and it’s easy to see why many consider this second installment to be the most memorable film in the RAMBO franchise. Watching John Rambo wipe out tons of Viet Cong and Soviet baddies never gets repetitive either as the film constantly finds new violent ways for him to fight. These include but are not limited to: knives, exploding arrows, rockets, machine guns, hand-to-hand combat, and a stellar stand-off between two heavily armed helicopters.
It’s not hard to see why RAMBO: FIRST BLOOD Part II has had such a massive impact since its release. Besides being the second biggest movie of 1985 (right behind BACK TO THE FUTURE), this action classic has spawned plenty of parodies (UHF, HOT SHOTS Part Deux, etc.) as well as many rip-offs. It’s easily one of the Stallone’s best films and the peak of 80’s action. Not every film is meant to enlighten, inform or deeply move us. Sometimes, we can be entertained beyond belief and that’s precisely what RAMBO: FIRST BLOOD Part II did for me!