Sunday, May 26, 2013

My Favorite Era: Rambo: First Blood Part II

Since it's Memorial Day tomorrow, the official start of the summer blockbuster season (though recently that seems to have been bumped to late-April/early May as of late), I thought I'd take a closer look at one of the biggest hits of the summer of 1985, the second Rambo movie.  Stallone is back and this time, as tended to be the case between 1983 and 1986, he's going back to Vietnam to try and rescue POWs still being held.  It's a terminally silly, endlessly entertaining 96 minutes that became an iconic summer blockbuster.

Whereas the original First Blood was a somewhat more realistic, gritty and serous affair with Rambo being hunted by a small town Sheriff's department led by Brian Dennehy, the sequel is just a balls-to-the-wall simplistic comic book.  In other words, perfect summer eye candy.

Stallone is in action mode here so the bulk of his performance is a physical one.  Happily, Sly has always been good at the physical stuff and this time out is no different.  Richard Crenna is also solid as Trautman, Rambo's former commanding officer and really his only friend.

On the villainous side of things, we get the fantastically hammy Steven Berkoff in his third turn as a bad guy in an American action movie.  The first two, Octopussy and Beverly Hills Cop, we'll get to another day.  He plays a Russian Lt. Colonel who captures and tortures our hero.  Needless to say, that doesn't work out so well for him and Berkoff plays it with his usual flair.
Charles Napier is also on-hand as a treacherous government bureaucrat who tries to stymie Rambo as he tries to turn his simple reconnaissance mission into a rescue operation.  He's good as usual, full of slimy charm.

Action is good too as Rambo uses his explosive tipped arrows, huge knife, even more huge machine guns, a helicopter and his bare hands to rack up a huge body count.  The action is shot fairly well and the film is never better than when it's knee deep in its action scenes.  Happily, the last forty five minutes or so are basically one long action beat so one can't say they don't get enough cluck for their buck.  The action is also helped by Jerry Goldsmith's thunderous action score, one of his best efforts.

When it tries to get serious however, it stumbles.  Rambo has a rather superficial friendship with a local woman Co-Bao (Julia Nickson) who assists him only to be killed before the last act; the conspiracy stuff is rather predictable and to be frank, the film is about rescuing prisoners of war in the same way that the Karate Kid films are about finding a way to solve problems without kicking the problem, in the face.  In other words, not a hell of a lot.

Like the first film, there is also a heartfelt speech for Rambo to deliver, though this time Stallone doesn't dissolve into tears.  He did one of his patented re-writes after the original script by James Cameron (yes, that one) was approved.  The end product is an exciting, but quite stupid action movie.

This opened the same weekend as our previous subject, A View to A Kill.  Needless to say, this trounced the Bond flick rather soundly, though they're both about equal in terms of overall quality (both are silly and stupid but in very different ways).  The film was a massive pop culture success, inspiring toys, scads of knock-off movies, philosophical debates (because the Sunday morning talk show circuit gets bored sometimes) and a cartoon series of all things.  I swear to god, I am not making that one up.

In the end, the film is a loud, violent crowd pleasing icon of the 80's that gets the job done when it's sticking to the action but fails when it tries to do anything else.  I like it but it's really the sort of film where you have to ignore the politics and just kick back and turn your brain off.

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About Me

I've been a huge fan of action, horror and comedy for as long as I can remember.