Action Month - "Rambo: First Blood Part II" Review

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John Rambo (played by Sylvester Stallone) is released from prison by the government for a top-secret covert mission, but must return to the last place on Earth he wants to go - the jungles of Vietnam
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MRR's Action Movie Month - "Rambo: First Blood Part II" Review

-- Rating: R
Length: 96 minutes
Release Date: May 22, 1985
Directed by: George P. Cosmatos
Genre: Action, Adventure, Thriller
Cast: Full Cast and Crew

"Rambo: First Blood Part II," released three years after the first movie in the series, features Sylvester Stallone as John Rambo, a veteran who is sent to find POWs in Vietnam. Directed by George P. Cosmatos, the film goes all in with over-the-top violence, jingoistic undertones, and a Cold War flair that may feel a bit dated to today's audiences. A bit more cartoonish than the original "First Blood," the film is nonetheless an entertaining piece of Reagan-era entertainment.

The film opens with Rambo still in prison after the events shown in "First Blood." Colonel Sam Trautman (Richard Crenna), the man who trained Rambo, visits his student in prison with an offer of clemency in return for a favor to the government. The mission is simple: Rambo is supposed to go to Vietnam to see if there is any truth to the rumors that American POWs are still being held in the country after the end of the Vietnam War. The mission commander is Marshall Murdock (Charles Napier), a Washington bureaucrat who tells Rambo that this is a reconnaissance mission and he is not to engage the enemy. Of course, since this is a Rambo movie, Rambo proceeds to largely ignore this order. Mere moments after arriving in Vietnam and meeting with Vietnamese freedom fighter Co Bao (Julia Nickson), he finds himself in a firefight with pirates. Soon after this battle, he discovers that not only are there still American POWs in Vietnam, but there are Soviets on his tail as well.

One of the first things Rambo fans may notice while watching "First Blood Part II" is how different it is in tone when compared to its prequel. The original "First Blood" was in part a commentary on the listlessness of many Vietnam veterans and spoke to the very real issue of the country's abandonment of its soldiers after one of the most controversial conflicts of the day. In that film, Rambo had a brain behind his brawn, something he lacks in "First Blood Part II." Here, the plight of Vietnam vets and POWs receives extremely simplistic treatment. None of the shades of gray that permeated the first film remain. Like Stallone's "Rocky" films, the "Rambo" movies transform from a gritty original into comic book action thrillers. Check your brain at the door because this is a straight-up, no-holds-barred cartoonish battle between Rambo and the nameless bad guys.

When it was released in 1985, "Rambo: First Blood Part II" was somewhat groundbreaking in that it was one of the first films to really go all in with the theme of one man against an army. Steeped in Reagan-era politics and Cold War paranoia, the film tells a very simple story of a mission that serves as an excuse for Rambo to blow up Communists. Despite the simplicity of the tale, the character does retain some of his mystery. Stallone plays up the lone wolf aspect of Rambo's persona, grunting and looking solemn throughout the film. The few times the audience sees the character open up is in his relationship with Co. Unfortunately, his interest in Co and even his friendship with Colonel Trautman are two themes that the film barely touches. The action is ultimately what matters here, and this film delivers that in spades.

When Cosmatos directed this movie, he was a journeyman director who had yet to develop a distinct visual style. "Rambo: First Blood Part II" has the decidedly drab visual sheen that is common in 1980s action films. That said, Cosmatos does manage to keep things interesting and moves the story along quickly, with the action-set pieces being quite well choreographed for the era.

Ultimately, "Rambo: First Blood Part II" is a good film that doesn't try be anything other than a standard action movie. In many ways, it's no different from some of the cowboy pictures that were popular in the 1950s and '60s. The main difference is that it's a soldier instead of a cowboy who is taking on a large group in an effort to make things right. The film was popular enough with audiences that it led to more movies in the Rambo series: "Rambo III" in 1988 and a fourth movie in 2008. Both films upped the ante on the violence while attempting to stay relevant by placing Rambo in troubled parts of the world.

Rating: 3 out of 5 stars