Rambo extends the mindless slaughter and retching carnage of First Blood (1982) with equally unnerving results. It begins with an explosion so loud it shakes the floor and threatens to dislodge the kidneys. This is to get your attention.
The rest of the movie follows John Rambo, the persecuted Green Beret, from the prison where he’s serving time for smashing up most of the Pacific Northwest, back to the prison camp in Vietnam from which he escaped in 1971.
Sprung by the military and dispatched to the jungle behind Communist lines, he’s ordered to track down American soldiers missing in action, determine whether they are prisoners of war, and take photos.
“Don’t try the blood-and-guts routine, warns commander Richard Crenna – “Let technology do the work.” This is like telling Milton Berle to just stand there while another comic tells the jokes.
There might be a presidential pardon if he completes the mission in thirty-six hours. What follows lasts only ninety minutes but seems more like thirty-six days . . .
Deserted by the military and left to the mercy of the Viet Cong, Rambo is interrogated, brainwashed, tortured with electricity, and condemned to die as an enemy spy.
No matter what inhuman horror he endures, he always emerges in the next shot with fresh ammunition.
Like the cowboys in old Saturday matinees, he never runs out of bullets. And for someone who’s been in prison, he’s also in fantastic shape!
Driven to get his fellow prisoners home, Rambo goes berserk, fights deadly odds, battles hundreds of guerrillas under artillery fire with only a bow and arrow, treks through rock slides and snake-infested jungles, and flies all his comrades to safety in a burning plane.
The premise is completely loco, and the direction, by George P. Cosmatos, consists mainly of close-ups of Stallone flexing his biceps, Stallone loading his artillery, Stallone crawling through mud, Stallone leaping from exploding gunboats, Stallone staring at his own armpits. He’s Superman with helicopters.
The commercial success of this sequel (which made three times as much as the original at the box office) combined with the recalibration of Rambo as a straightforward American hero, ensured that First Blood Part II was the film which truly cemented the character as an icon of the Reaganite zeitgeist.
President Reagan himself acknowledged as much towards the end of the 1985 Beirut hostage crisis, when he stated to the press: “Boy, after seeing Rambo last night, I know what to do next time this happens”.
George P. Cosmatos