Rambo: First Blood, Part II, by Albert W. Vogt III

When I was in elementary school, I had a copy of Rambo: First Blood, Part II (1985) on tape.  If memory serves, it had been recorded from broadcast television, which tells you something about the kinds of movies they used to put out over the airwaves in the 1980s.  I used to watch it almost every day when I came home, mostly because I did not have hardly any of the Star Wars films on VHS.  We did not have “a galaxy far, far away” money, apparently, except for Star Wars: Episode VI – Return of the Jedi (1983).  As such, I would alternate between Rambo: First Blood, Part II and Return of the Jedi.  By the way, the reason why I think Rambo: First Blood had been recorded from television is because the first scene I remember is John Rambo (Sylvester Stallone) gearing up to go back into Vietnam.  This does not happen until roughly ten minutes into the proceedings, so I am guessing a blank tape was put in the old VCR as an afterthought.  At any rate, it kept me busy for a little while.

The real beginning of Rambo: First Blood, Part II features Colonel Sam Trautman (Richard Crenna), Rambo’s Green Beret commanding officer during the Vietnam War, getting his subordinate out of prison for the crimes he committed in the previous film.  To do so, Colonel Trautman offers Rambo one more mission, and he would have his release upon its completion.  Initially, Rambo wants no part of it, content to serve his time.  What piques the veteran’s interest is the fact that the mission involves freeing prisoners of war still being held in Vietnam.  Being one briefly himself, Rambo accepts the new mission.  However, when he arrives at the army base in Thailand, he finds that the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) officer, Major Marshall Roger T. Murdock (Charles Napier), in charge of the affair has a different idea of going about this goal.  With all his gadgets and technology, his soul purpose is to find evidence of the prisoners, and not to engage.  Rambo is to simply collect photographic evidence, and not to affect a rescue.  This is not to his liking, but he goes along with it anyway, and eventually links up with a CIA asset in the jungle named Co Phuong Bao (Julia Nickson) who is to lead him to the camp where the American hostages are being held.  There are some close calls with some untrustworthy locals along the way, but they reach their target.  When they arrive, they find that not only are they being guarded by the Vietnamese Army, but there is also a contingent of soldiers from the Soviet Union in the camp.  Owing to the loss of some of his equipment when he parachuted in (namely the camera), but mostly because of Rambo’s desire to save his comrades, he goes into the enemy compound and emerges with Banks (Andy Wood), an American prisoner of war.  Unfortunately, he had attracted attention in the process, and their escape is followed by Vietnamese troops.  Even so, they make it to the pre-determined extraction point, only to have the rescue helicopter turned away by Murdock when it is revealed that Rambo has a hostage with him.  Major Murdock aborts this mission because Rambo is not supposed to find that proof, being a pawn in a larger, geo-political game.  Further, a budding relationship between Co and Rambo is cut short when she is killed while defending them.  Instead, Rambo and Banks are captured, and Rambo undergoes a great deal of torture, from the Russians and the Vietnamese.  The Russian leader, Colonel Sergei Podovsky (Steven Berkoff), wants Rambo to radio his base and tell them not to make any more rescue attempts.  Rambo seemingly complies only when Colonel Podovsky threatens the lives of the other prisoners.  Getting in front of the radio, Rambo tunes into the right frequency, but instead threatens Murdock.  He then goes, well, Rambo, and kills his captors.  With the now freed hostages in tow, they hijack a helicopter and Rambo spends a bit of time using his newfound firepower to destroy the camp.  Still, on the way back to Thailand, he has to dodge (and eventually shoot down, of course) a larger Soviet helicopter piloted by Colonel Podovsky.  As you can probably expect, Rambo and company make it back safely, though not without taking a bit of damage along the way.  Once on the ground, Rambo takes a machine gun into where Major Murdock has set up operations and proceeds to pump a lot of bullets into the assembled computers.  Rambo then takes his famous knife to Major Murdock, making him swear to find the other men missing in action.  I am guessing that effectively ends any hope he had for a pardon as he decides to part ways with Colonel Trautman and stay in Vietnam.

Rambo: First Blood, Part II is a fitting, though still silly, follow up to First Blood (1982).  Rambo: First Blood, Part II is logical in this manner because you have our hero going after the very people with which he identifies: Vietnam veterans, and specifically those who had once been held as prisoners.  It is the one enticement that could have gotten Rambo to go along with anything the government asked of him based on the events of the previous film.  And yet, while he has the same passion for their plight as before, it remains the ridiculous action schlock with which we are familiar, though with decidedly fewer flying cars.  What it also has, like its predecessor, is an emotional treatise by the main character at the end.  Rambo tells Major Murdock that people like him just want their country to love them.  While on the warpath deep in the jungles of Vietnam, it is difficult to ascertain the desire for love on Rambo’s part from his actions, but as a practicing Catholic, I appreciate the sentiment all the same.  This is precisely what God created us for, which I suppose you could say makes him a tragic figure since he is so good at the opposite of what God wants of us.  Regardless, despite all the dumb wrapping, it is refreshing to have at least one fundamental Christian principle affirmed.

Having that thought conveyed at the end Rambo: First Blood, Part II is also welcome because it means the credits are about to roll.  Who knows what I saw in this movie when I was seven or eight years old, or why my parents let me watch it?  If you are in the mood for a movie so over-the-top bad it can be funny, then this is a candidate.  If you do not like violence, then skip way ahead to when Rambo is bringing the helicopter in for a landing at the base in Thailand.  If you look into the side door, you can see a special effects guy pumping out smoke to make it look like the vehicle is truly damaged.  If you are not into such inanities, which would be totally understandable, then by all means skip this one.


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