In First Blood, John Rambo was a damaged veteran suffering from internal demons and post traumatic stress. In the oddly titled Rambo: First Blood Part II, he’s a one man army who kills literally hundreds of people in an attempt to win the Vietnam War single-handedly. I like to think of this film as a ridiculously patriotic fever dream had by the character in the first film, as it seems almost totally at odds with the tone and content of the original. That said, it’s still entertaining as a Reagan-era action cartoon, and it’s hardly surprising that it eventually became just that. Things blow up real good, and if that’s what you’re in for, it’s hard not to enjoy it.
First Blood (1982), Rambo: First Blood Part II (1985) & Rambo III (1988)
First Blood (1982) – Taut and well constructed actioner, making great use of it’s mountainous British Columbia location. Vietnam vet John Rambo (Sylvester Stallone) is hounded by a redneck Sheriff (Brian Dennehy) when he drifts through his town, until he’s pushed too far and goes BER-ZERK. Holds up much better than others of it’s ilk, and Stallone’s final speech is effective and well delivered. Hardly the explosion-fest that the series became, it’s excellently paced and exciting, and features a great performance from Dennehy. Richard Crenna’s performance as Col. Trautman sometimes crosses into cartoonish territory, and the ending may seem rather downbeat, but this is the best in the series by a considerable amount.
Rambo: First Blood Part II (1985) – And, then things took a strange turn. Working from a script by James Cameron (and Stallone), this time Rambo is offered the opportunity to photograph missing POWs in Vietnam. As expected, he’s better at mowing down waves of baddies and blowing up their villages than he is at taking pictures, and Murdock (who is running the mission) pulls out and leaves him stranded. Big mistake. He decides to take his revenge by killing everyone he sees, except for some POWs and the beautiful Vietnamese freedom fighter Co Bao (Julia Nickson, whose stilted speech patterns are embarrassing), and taking his revenge on Murdock (the awesomely slimy Charles Napier).
Rambo III (1988) – Somewhere the titling of these films went wrong. So, you thought that Rambo demolishing the Vietcong and winning the war dated the second film somewhat? Well, in this one Rambo is pushed to help Afghanistan freedom fighters take on Russian invaders after his friend Col. Trautman (Crenna) is captured by the Commies. Filmed at the end of the Cold War, and obviously well before the current conflict in Afghanistan, the film is at times ideologically ambitious but sabotages any sort of interesting political statement with massive amounts of killing and stereotypical Russian stooges. The action is often exciting, but things get muddled in the second half and the film never quite recovers. Badly timed on release, coming as it did as the USSR began to collapse, it remains a dated curosity with moments of solid action post 9/11.
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