Rambo: First Blood Part II (1985) – A Review
John Rambo is recruited for a mission.
After being locked up for his dangerous behavior awhile back in First Blood, Rambo (Sylvester Stallone) is offered a deal by his old commander Colonel Trautman (Richard Crenna). If he agrees to go on a covert mission in Vietnam he’ll be granted a pardon from the rock pile he’s sitting in. Rambo agrees.
This mission is to confirm if there are still American POW’s being held by the Vietnamese. Rambo is meant to take only photos, he’s not permitted to “engage with the enemy”. But anyone who saw First Blood and is familiar with Rambo should know that he’s not exactly the kind of guy who works in photography. I can’t even picture him even taking a selfie.
Well, what do you know? This mission runs into some slight complications and Rambo just can’t follow his orders. He not only engages with the enemy, but stages an explosive, bloody one-man war with the Vietnamese enemy, the Russians and the bureaucratic suits who felt him and his fellow soldiers were expendable. The resulting cinematic carnage results is one of the most popular and iconic films that would come out of the 1980’s.
Stallone had a really big year in 1985. Rambo: First Blood Part II was released in May and was a huge juggernaut of a movie. Critics be damned, the film would gross tons of money worldwide, make audiences cheer and ensure another iconic character for Stallone to revisit and a franchise that his fans would line up to see.
The film and character would became so popular President Reagan would reference him. Stallone’s machine gun wielding, shirtless image would be spoofed and parodied to no end.
Things got so ‘Rambo crazy’, Coleco created a Rambo toyline. The character even spawned a Saturday morning cartoon! Can you imagine that? There wasn’t a second thought of turning the film’s violent anti-hero into morning entertainment for the kiddies. Ah, the 1980’s…what a different time that was.
While the world was still in the midst of all this ‘Rambo Rage’, later in the year Rocky IV got released – the most financially successful film out of the Rocky franchise. I’m sure Stallone had a big smile on his face during most of 1985.
There were other people involved with the making of Rambo: First Blood Part II besides Stallone. Director George P. Cosmatos (who would reteam with Stallone the following year with Cobra) barely ever gets a mention. James Cameron is credited as a co-screenwriter, along with Stallone.
However, it became apparent Rambo was more of Stallone’s baby than anyone else’s. He rewrote much of Cameron’s script, dropped a lot of his ideas and the politics of the film became his. Cameron would later say the only thing left of his contributions we see in the final film were the action scenes.
In fact, Cameron’s original treatment was spotted by the Cannon Group a few years earlier, which gave birth to Chuck Norris’ Missing In Action films, that the studio rushed into theaters preembitively beathing Rambo to theaters. Those Cannon Boys didn’t miss a trick.
Cosmatos’ role of directing duties almost appears like it’s become common knowledge that at best he was co-directing the film alongside Stallone – but even that might be too generous according to some sources I’ve read. Cosmatos is a strange fellow. I later heard Kurt Russell took up many of the directing duties of 1993’s Tombstone, which Cosmatos came in as a replacement director. I’m not sure what went on with him.
The film tackled the topical issue of American POWs, that was in the news at the time. Despite the serious nature of the subject, the film itself became an explosive cartoon and didn’t focus on it all that much. The prisoners Rambo finds become devices to serve the plot rather than important characters. The film was more focused on Stallone shooting up baddies like a duck shooting gallery.
Maybe you can criticize the film for not taking the subject as serious as it deserved to be and it being an unbelievable action-packed cartoon, but it’s hard to argue despite what the movie ended up being – the film is awfully entertaining.
Rambo gets sprung and gets the rundown of his mission by a very blasé Charles Napier who appears more eager to get a cold Coke than rescue any American POWs. Rambo is only meant to do some recon of a Vietnamese camp, take a few photos of what he sees and slip back out. Engagement of the enemy is off limits.
During his flight there’s a snafu. Rambo loses all his equipment and home base isn’t sure if he survived or not. On the ground Rambo meets his contact Co (Julia Nickson), the only other ally and likable person Rambo will encounter in this flick.
The camp is discovered to indeed be keeping captured POWs. Rambo takes one weakened man with him and his arrows start flying. An exciting escape is on where Rambo has to outrun and kill betraying nasty pirates and the in pursuit soldiers.
Rambo is caught and tortured by sinister Russian Colonel, the delicious Steven Berkoff. Co helps him escape and once again a sprint to freedom is on with jungle warfare, machine guns, explosive arrows and helicopters being used by our shirtless hero killing the enemy in a varity of ways.
It’s a very uncomplicated actioner with well put together set pieces. Maybe that’s why it holds up so well. Everytime I stumble across it on television I end up watching at least some of it. It’s not like it takes a lot of time to get caught up in the story. Basically wherever you turn it on you can say – oh this is where Rambo is trying to kill the bad guys in the jungle.
I’ve read this was Stallone’s least favorite of the Rambo films he had done. I suppose it’s because he’s essentially a chess piece in the action scenes and there’s really not much opportunity for any more characterization and depth than him firing machine guns. But heck, he looks lean, ripped, looks cool and natural doing all the action handed to him and you’re very eager to see the bad guys get their well deserved payback.
In fact, Rambo has quite the tasty cast of heavies and baddies to battle. Everytime you turn your head you’re bound to see a nasty baddie you’ll enjoying booing at!
Birkoff is one of the great movie villains. He’s a complete delight to watch as Colonel Podovsky. He’s got his great voice, deadly stares.
I always love when he’s trying to break Rambo and get him to radio his HQ. Staying silent, refusing to divulge any information and treating Rambo to some electrocution torture the exasperated Podovsky exclaims – “And these are the people you protect with your pain!” Then he calmly says, “Make the radio call.”. It’s that downshift in tone he does that I always find amusing.
Birkoff had a good run of playing baddies in the 80’s. He did the hat trick of appearing as the heavy in Octopussy, Beverly Hills Cop and Rambo: First Blood Part II. The guy could have coasted through the rest of the decade terrorizing every popular action star on cinema screens.
Along with Birkoff there’s his silent huge menacing henchman Yushin played by Voyo Goric. He gets a kurt description by Birkoff who says, “To Sergeant Yushin here, you are a piece of meat. A laboratory experiment.” He then proceeds to give Rambo a nasty scar on his face. Right from his introduction you know this big brute and Rambo will be facing off later.
Napier gets his warning from the captured Rambo via radio in a really cool moment when Stallone says in in a closeup of his mouth “Murdock. <thunder and lighting going off> I’m coming to get you.” At which point he proceeds to escape this hell he’s stuck in the middle of. So basically, he has to kill a lot of Russian and Vietnamese soldiers, Birkoff and his henchman until he can get to Napier to kill him. And along the way rescue the POWs.
There’s sweaty nervous Napier, arrogant Martin Kove, sneering Vietnamese baddies and Rambo has plenty of worthwhile baddies to punch and unload weapons at to the joy of cheering audiences. He probably would’ve had a more relaxing time staying put at that rock pile.
Crenna returns as Rambo’s friend and trusted commanding officer. He spouts out his no nonsense dialogue and provides ‘trailer worthy’ lines like, “Let me just say that Rambo is the best combat vet I’ve ever seen. A pure fighting machine with only a desire to win a war that someone else lost. And if winning means he has to die, he’ll die. No fear, no regrets. And one more thing: What you call hell, he calls home.”
Can’t you just hear that playing over Stallone readying himself for battle in a trailer? Crenna was always a solid presence throughout his career. Despite having a career that stretched back to the 1950s the majority of audiences are familiar with him as Col. Trautman from the Rambo series.
Julia Nickson is the only female in this testerone yarn. She’s a calming presence as Co, Rambo’s ally and seemingly potential love interest, but as expected there’s not much room for romance in this stripped down actioner.
It’s the muscle ripped shirtless Stallone and the action set pieces that are the focus. Shooting explosive arrows, gurilla warfare tactics, diving out of dropping napalm, piloting choppers and taking out whole villages – this is the stuff the movie knows action fans want to see and it eagerly serves it all up. They’re well put together sequences accompanied by Jerry Goldsmith’s rousing score, that I associate as close with the film as Stallone’s sweaty chest.
Rambo: First Blood Part II has been a reliable Saturday night actioner that delivers the goods since it was first released. There are plenty of pyrotechnics and artillery to make it a fun time. Plus, running at a little more than 90 minutes it moves fast and doesn’t waste much time getting to amassing the legendary Rambo body count that will satisfy action fans and make you want to cheer when Rambo is left standing in the end.