Sunday, March 13, 2016

Rambo: First Blood Part II

   Earlier this month, I saw RoboCop, and First Blood- introducing them to my little brothers for the first time. Both are amazing movies that have completely stood the test of time, in my opinion. I could prattle on about both movies and what they mean to me (RoboCop seriously changed 12 year old me... For the better, of course!) but, they mean a lot to just about everyone. People love RoboCop, people love First Blood. The negative opinions about those movies are in the absolute minority. So, me reviewing those movies now... without some kind of fresh perspective is just masturbatory. But... Rambo II? Now that one we can talk about...
   I hate typing out Rambo: First Blood Part II, Stallone's franchise reasoning be damned; I'm calling it Rambo II. Anyways... I first caught Rambo II on a local TV station when I was ten and currently moving into a new apartment with my family. It put a halt to me unpacking my action figures and comic books, and just... captivated me. Machine guns? Mud? Explosions? That freaking amazing music score by Jerry Goldsmith? I had missed most of the first hour but it didn't matter. I instinctively knew that Stallone was rescuing people and shooting bad guys. And that, friends, is the beauty of Rambo II. It's simple storytelling at it's absolute finest.

   It might be overblown and preposterous, with far-winged politics, and verbose speeches about patriotism and such... but it's cathartic. Everyone went through John Rambo's pain in First Blood, hell- it brought my little brothers to tears by the end. Nobody wanted to see him go through that kind of thing again, and those same pragmatic people would argue that sequels should never have happened. Sure. Fair. But... they did, so... why not watch them? Rambo II is the cathartic wish fulfillment that the character of John Rambo desperately needed. "Do we get to win this time?" he asks Col. Trautman. "This time... it's up to you." Trautman replies. And, that is the movie in a nutshell. It's red-blooded wish fulfillment.

  On the heels of an era where every Vietnam war movie was about embodying the confusion, horror, and carnage of that war- Rambo II was the exact opposite. It was a Delta Force-esque 'happy ending'. A chance to do it over, and do it right. At least as much as you can within the confines of a 90-odd minute action movie. I guess I'm seeing this movie in a light that movie people don't. I think this is a movie that the character of John Rambo from First Blood, would approve of. Or maybe at least enjoy. It doesn't have to be a complex character study, or a brainy commentary on the war- it's just a cathartic afterbirth. The gung-ho little brother to every Full Metal Jacket movie out there. It's just about rescuing P.O.W.'s and being completely in the right about it.

  Politics be damned, this is about right and wrong. Rambo II is enticing in it's black and white morality, it's simplistic view of good vs. bad is fitting of a good action movie, and of an ideal war. No soldier wants to go to a war muddied with shady politics and lies. Causes and actions become confused and well... as they say, it's history. Rambo II presents a conflict that is as clear cut as WWII, Americans vs. Nazis. That kind of simplicity has got to be appealing to someone like John Rambo. A man willing to die for his country, but not it's bureaucratic nonsense. Granted, this kind of black and white morality means conversations about justified actions and consequences probably won't crop up as much when discussing the movie, the way it does when you talk about First Blood.

  Which is definitely a trade-off, and sort of an unfortunate one at that- but First Blood still exists for all to enjoy. Uninterested parties need not entertain the sequels. They are definitely their own beasts. Rambo could no longer be the character he was in the first movie. He had to be an action figure at this point, but a self aware one- realizing he's merely an expendable device, used because he kills well. The movie might be nothing more than big explody wish fulfillment, but the hero at the center of it is still the same tortured man from First Blood. Only this time, he's unleashed on the bad guys with the force of a dozen Cannon movies.  As a movie, it seeks only to entertain. And, to me? That's perfectly fine. It could never be another First Blood, you just can't make a sequel to that movie.

   Rambo II could only have ever been precisely what it is. As an action movie, it's slick and well crafted. It's a hero-with-a-cause movie that the 80's were rife with, but it's one of the finer examples. It's a well oiled machine, and Rambo himself is at the helm, doling out death and destruction in glorious quantities, showcased with cinematography that an action-buff would find simply orgasmic. There's some stunning shots in this movie that will likely go as unappreciated amongst film geeks as the movie itself is. Immediately, one comes to mind- seeing Rambo trapped in the middle of a rice paddy field, as the extraction helicopter leaves him behind enemy lines, and the camera slowly pans out, revealing that Rambo's enemies are closing in on him.

  It's a gut wrenching moment for sure, and just one- there's more. The movie makes sure you have every reason possible to want the bad guys dead. And, not just dead... obliterated, by arrows, explosions, stabbing, and a hail of bullets from a variety of high powered machine guns. Rambo certainly has no shortage of weaponry at his disposal. The movie takes it's time getting to the action, the bodycount doesn't even start until 39 minutes in- but from that point on, it's a non-stop roller coaster ride- launching action scene after action scene at the viewer, with each eclipsing the last in scale and intensity. Despite all this, Rambo never quite feels like an untouchable superman.

  He's not John Matrix from Commando, and he's not quite the action figure that you'd find starring in your average Cannon flick either. He hurts, he bleeds, he runs out of ammo, gets angry and demoralized. Of course, this is still all bundled and packaged in an 80's action movie presentation, where characters are only allowed to emote in short stingy sentences. Preferably no longer than five or so words. Then of course there's your prerequisite amount of glaring and brooding. But, honestly? Would you have it any other way? "Murdock... I'm coming for you." Cue heroic escape music. Only the 80's could get away with this Reaganistic wish fulfillment, but that doesn't mean this isn't a fun and thoroughly entertaining movie- you just have to accept it for what it is.

  It's the perfect second half of a double feature with Missing in Action. I love it.

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