Tuesday, September 29, 2009
Review: Rambo: First Blood Part II
Synopsis: In the hopes of getting a Presidential pardon, Rambo returns to action in Vietnam, on a mission to find missing POWs. But once the truth is revealed, he soon finds out that his real enemies might not be the ones shooting at him.
Review: As the second installment of the "Rambo" saga, this film definitely ups-the-ante in terms of action and body count. "Rambo: First Blood Part II" takes Rambo back to the jungles of Vietnam, where most of the mental traumas that dog him began. His mission is to search for missing POWs, instead he falls right back into a war that, for him, has never really ended.
As I said, the action in this film goes way beyond anything we saw in the first one (but with James Cameron as one of the screenplay writers, that's not exactly a surprise). Less content to let the personal and political dramas propel the action, this film is pretty much the reverse, with the action being cause to create those plot developments. In many way, this film seems to forget the humanity shown in the original and opts to let the excitement of the moment wash over you, like the backwash of an F-16 fighter jet, as the explosive battle sequences blast you against the back wall. Although, while extremely over the top in almost every stunt and fight, to the point ungodly suspension of disbelief is pretty much he order of the day, it is a beautifully choreographed bloodbath to behold. It basically, for good or ill, set the stage for what the 80's action epic would be expected to achieve for the rest of the decade.
While not exactly a deeply emotive character in the first film, Sly gets even less moments here. There is no understanding to what Rambo is feeling being back in the place that has tortured him so. There is almost no attempt to play on those feelings at all, save an all-too-brief scene on a boat, between Rambo and the young Vietnamese woman (played by Julia Nickson) who is helping him in the mission, but that's as far as they go to give you any idea on what Rambo is thinking and feeling, being back in 'Nam after all this time. I would have liked to get into Rambo's thoughts more, as the traumas he'd suffered there could have added even more depth to an emotionally complex character. But that simply isn't what this film was about.
Richard Crenna reprises his role, as Rambo's C.O., but he gets very little to do in this film. Whereas in the first he was a key to understanding Rambo and used to contrast the political themes that were presented, here he is merely a very small cog, used mainly to set up the plot to get Rambo back into action. He does have one very intense scene, where he argues with the slimy Washington bureaucrat (played by Charles Napier), which brought back a momentary flair from the first film, but it is over quickly, as the need to get back to the jungle slaughter is the paramount concern here.
"Rambo: First Blood Part II" was less the ending of an iconic character's saga (not the least of which is due to the fact two more sequels were made) and more the start of replacing character-driven action, with action-driven drama. It created a new standard for what action films could be (and in many cases, would be) from that point on. It set up a game of constant oneupmanship with the other action stars of the day, as they all attempted to outdo what this film began. In some ways, this film is almost a whole new entity, completely separate from the original film in every thing but the characters names, yet it is also strangely completely bound to it. As a sequel to a film that had some very deep philosophical and political themes, this film fails to recapture almost any of that same spirit, but in terms of spinning the action film genre into an ever growing and testosterone-fueled behemoth, determined to make the impossible seem probable, as well as solidifying Rambo's status as an 80's icon for all-time, the film succeeds on a level no other film could ever hope to manage. This is truly the film that epitomizes the phrase, "check your brain at the door and enjoy!" Which I am more than able to do.
Rating: 2 1/2 Stars (out of 4)