MAD: Rambo: First Blood Part II

(1985 Tristar/Watched on DVD)

In one of the most spectacular misunderstandings of the premise of the original comes Rambo.

The first film is an exciting but ultimately harrowing depiction of what the Vietnam war did to the men who served, and worse, the contempt and dismissal they were treated to when they rotated back to the world.

John Rambo is mentioned as being of Indian and German descent in some of the opening lines, Stallone is half Italian, half Russian Jewish. Now that’s what I call acting!

If you’re familiar with Hot Shots Part Deux (and frankly if you aren’t) you will not be able to take this self serious testosterone-fest as seriously as it would like. It’s chock full of lines like “And by the way, what you choose to call Hell, he calls home”. Watched in conjunction with the original, putting the traumatised and deeply damaged John back in the shit is clearly an act of unimaginable cruelty and it’s never treated as such. He’s just a gun with legs, satisfied to finally be pointed in the right direction again.

The most cringe worthy aspect is the character of Co Bao, his contact in the jungle. At once exemplary of Asian characters speaking broken American, and a cack-handed way of force-healing the divide of prejudice. Their heart is in the right place; ” Hey, American men, not all Asians are evil. Some of them want wars to be over as well and if they die you should be sad.” But it’s as though they are explaining this to children.

What struck me most though was what an excellent setup for Predator this was. I even asked Lyra if it reminded her of anything and the muscly man running around the jungle, easily killing goons immediately recalled the McTiernan classic. Predator, coming two years later, takes the trope of these invincible strongmen in the bush and then throws in the only thing tougher, and they get slaughtered, and it’s brilliant!

As it is, Rambo (let’s not call this First Blood Part II any more, it’s an insult to both of the films) stands along with Commando as the benchmark of this kind of movie. The one man army with the amazing body, the opposing force of foreigners for him to throw bullets at with his hands (one of my favourite Hot Shots potshots), and walk out of the war zone with soot rubbed onto his glistening abs. You can’t really make this kind of film any more without subverting it or mixing it up in some way, so it’s important to have exemplars of the breed, even if they’re kind of embarrassing to watch. This was the stuff aimed at our dads and grandads, they deserved better.

It is hard to argue, however with the final sentiment. Rambo growls to Troutman that he wants America to love its soldiers as much as it is loved by them. The overall shape of the film is the G.I. fucked over by the pencil pushers who use them as weapons and then leave them to rot when they’re not worth saving. That’s a concept that deserves a mature reselling, to take it beyond this cartoon.

Author: Alex Shaw

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