George P. Cosmatos | 92 mins | TV (HD) | 15 / R
Part II, eh? A continuation of the same story from Part I, theoretically; like The Godfather or Back to the Future. Rambo certainly picks up from the first film — our titular hero is in prison for his crimes — and continues the same theme of showing respect to Vietnam vets, but other than that it’s rather different.
The first entry in what was to become the Rambo series had a certain amount of realism, which comes as a surprise today thanks to Rambo’s reputation among filmgoers as a ludicrous action man. (Personally speaking, my main exposure to Rambo before watching First Blood earlier this year was the spoof Hot Shots! Part Deux, but more on that with Rambo III (probably).) Part II is where this reputation begins, however: Rambo becomes a superhuman killing machine — running round a jungle topless, muscles shiny and bulging, taking out more-or-less an army single-handed. It’s cartoonish and ludicrous, which can be fun in its own way — the bit where he uses an explosive-tipped arrow to kill one man is gloriously, and indicatively, OTT — but only for action movie fans, losing any crossover appeal the first film had.
The screenplay is by James Cameron (yes, that one) and Stallone. Cameron says he wrote the action and Stallone added the politics. I don’t know who wrote the dialogue, but on the whole it’s typically straightforward and/or laughably weak. You can see why these days people get hired to do a “dialogue polish”.
Talking of politics and things that are easy to see, it’s easy to see why this was accused of being an American revenge fantasy. It’s not only got a bunch of Vietnamese soldiers being slaughtered (this time America wins!), but they’ve teamed up with the Ruskies (we’re still in the Cold War here, remember), so Rambo gets to blow a load of them away too. How satisfying for a certain facet of America, no doubt disappointed by such a long period without decisive military victory.
This attitude might be thwarted by some nasty US military types back at base — not nasty in the way the majority of US military commanders come across as nasty, but nasty as in unpatriotic (about the worst crime there is to an America, of course). They do little to dent the general atmosphere though. It’s made clear that these unpatriotic chaps are the exception — if the film is vilifying those who didn’t care about soldiers who fought in Vietnam (which it is), the characters who abandon Rambo and the other PoWs are an embodiment for this disdain.
So the film’s politics may be distasteful — it was adopted by the Republicans, just to rub salt in the wound — but if you can put that aside — along with all the dire dialogue and flat characters — then Part II has some value as a rather basic, rather ridiculous actioner.
The second sequel, Rambo III, is on ITV1 and ITV1 HD tonight at 10:35pm.
Rambo: First Blood Part II is on ITV4 tonight, Saturday 8th February 2014, at 10pm.