As the final chapter of the Rambo series arrives in cinemas, we take a look back at the original trilogy as well as the recent stand-alone film. This is First Blood Part II, the film that made Rambo into a one-man-army.
Roughly three years have passed since the events of First Blood and John Rambo (Sylvester Stallone) is locked up, working inside of a prison. He’s called on a mission by Trautman (Richard Crenna), the only other returning character, to go back to the jungles of Vietnam. Operation itself is simple: take pictures of a supposedly empty Vietnamese camp and see, whether any POWs being kept there. What he nor Trautman know, is that they are being set-up by their own government and the leader of this operation, Murdock (Charles Napier). He doesn’t want to bother with extracting or finding American prisoners, so he sets up this mission to get rid of responsibility. He wants pictures that, even if proving the opposite, can be altered in a computer so that it looks like the camps are really abandoned. What he didn’t account for was the living mountain of muscle known as John Rambo.
Stallone’s amazing physical performance makes him the standout of the film once again. He has a few lines, and even fewer emotions to convey, but he still makes Rambo fun to watch as he mows down numerous enemies.
Once in Vietnam, Rambo meets with Co (Julia Nickson), his temporary sidekick and love interest for the film. She serves no other purpose than to get a few lines from Rambo and her character, like many others in the film, is never explored beyond the surface level. This is most notably felt in our titular hero, who is deprived of any traumatic memories that were haunting his character in First Blood. The very thing that made Rambo such a unique character of 80s action cinema is taken to make way for more macho action.
That said, the action did indeed improve in the sequel, thanks to a much larger budget. Jungles of Vietnam prove to be a more interesting setting for explosions than small-town America and Rambo: First Blood Part II takes full advantage of that. Into its tight 96 minute runtime, it manages to pack almost every type of action scene imaginable. From silent kills while clearing a camp, through mortar bombarding on a rice field to a helicopter chase, there is truly something for everyone. The film ends with the helicopter chase, which as epic as it tries to be, feels surprisingly lengthy and underwhelming by the time it ends.
This chase is between Rambo and Colonel Podovsky (Steven Berkoff), a Russian soldier who enters the film in the second half as a more tangible and immediate threat than Murdock. That said, he is a lesser villain in every sense of the word. Podovsky is an obstacle Rambo has to get through to deal with Murdock, who set him up to fail. Due to this structure, First Blood Part II essentially has two endings. In one, Rambo violently destroys Podovsky, which serves as the action climax of the film. In the second one, Rambo (mostly verbally) squares off against Murdock to prove his point, which serves as the political climax of the film. Neither of them are a satisfying conclusion to the story.
Rambo: First Blood Part II shifts its focus onto action, instead of the drama that made the first part so compelling. Stallone is still very entertaining to watch and manages to carry the entire film mainly through his on-screen presence. But just like a wounded soldier, the film stumbles over its political message and limps into an unsatisfying ending, rather than to march on with head held high.