It starts with an explosion. It’s literally the first thing you see and hear. The first of many – as you’d expect from a film co-written by Sylvester Stallone and James frickin’ Cameron – which is fitting considering the bombastic cinematic journey you are about to embark on as John Rambo returns to exorcise his personal demons by undergoing the kind of therapy that involves exploding a LOT of people to death.
We catch up to the soulful Vietnam vet – cracking rocks and doing hard time thanks to the actions caused by his epic breakdown years earlier – as his former commanding officer and personal cheerleader Colonel Trautman visits with a tantalising offer: head back into Vietnam to get photographic proof that American POWs are still, illegally, being held. Losing virtually all his state of the art equipment during a botched parachute drop into enemy territory, John has to survive the harsh environment with only a female freedom fighter (with impeccable makeup skills) and a knife so big God could use it to shave to help him accomplish his mission. After a succession of body count raising adventures involving duplicitous pirates, sadistic enemy generals and that most 80’s villain of all: Russians, it becomes apparent that some people in charge may not want Rambo succeeding in his mission.
As subtle as someone employing a drop kick to perform the heimlich manoeuvre, Rambo: First Blood Part 2 is where John Rambo as an iconic symbol of the Regan era emerges, taking on entire armies single handly in the name of the good old U S of A while somewhat shitting on the message that the somewhat more cerebral original. It’s a good job then that the movie is SO riotously entertaining that the fact it’s widely missed the point of it’s own main character is only a minor quibble in one of the most quintessential jungle action movies ever made. As the huge, episodic and ridiculously epic carnage unfolds, the film casually hurls crazily iconic shots and set pieces at you with all the unnerving accuracy of Rambo himself flinging a knife thirty feet into someones thorax: cool bow and arrow shit? Rambo. Stallone running in slow motion away from a fireball? Rambo. Someone aggressively tooling up in a super quick montage? Motherfucking Rambo, ya’ll! It’s virtually impossible not to get caught up in all the sweaty hoopla, especially as the dialogue is pure, uncut 80’s gold. “What you choose to call Hell, he calls home.” spouts an impressively unironic Richard Crenna at one point. “To survive a war, you gonna become a war.” laments Stallone later as if he’s spouting Shakespeare. The best material comes from the appealing lips of Julia Nickson as, the Vietnamese freedom fighter, Co, who struggles gamely with her attempted accent. “If someone invites you to a party and you don’t show up, it doesn’t matter.” mumbles Rambo explaining to her what the term expendable means. “You not expendable, Rambo!” she tells him later, sounding as about as natural as Steven Berkoff’s wildly inconsistent and hilariously sinister attempt at the Russian syntax. Oh yeah, Steven Berkoff is TOTALLY in this, as is a ridiculously sweaty Charles Napier.
Wonky accents, overblown action and vaguely pornographic gun worship aside (John emptying an entire M60 machine gun is essentially a cum shot with bullets) Rambo’s second outing is a wildly entertaining rollercoaster ride that, while morally dubious at times (an action-packed thrill-ride ride centred around tortured prisoners of war from Nam? What next, a romantic comedy based on the Crimean War?) is as vastly entertaining as it is utterly mental, as naively well meaning as it is crass.
The shifting from it’s main character from berserk anti-hero to just a plain old hero hero (with just a hint of berserk) means that some of his old tricks get a positive new spin, even Jerry Goldsmith’s awesomely exciting score seems more triumphant. Remember the legitimately disturbing scene in the original where he takes out a bunch of deputies by knife and booby trap? Well we get it again here but in a way we can cheer as he’s now slaughtering bad guys, which I guess means he’s not crazy any mire as he’s now killing the “right” people (Rambo’s destruction of the enemy camp by both missile and M60 is deliberately posed as both redemptive and immensely therapeutic for both the character AND America). The politics of the Rambo franchise eventually caught up with Stallone with Rambo III but for now, push it all to the back of your mind and enjoy our head-banded hero blowing communism to pieces with a quiver full of explosive arrow heads.
You not expendable, Rambo. You not replaceable, either.