Rambo: First Blood Part II: Cinema Shame

I’m constantly a step behind my own Cinema Shame prompts. I see no reason to start now as I watched Rambo: First Blood Part II (1985) for the July summer blockbuster Shame prompt. I scanned numerous lists of the biggest and best “summer blockbusters” and I came away with one movie — the only movie on any of the “best of” lists I’d not seen. First Blood Part II shot to the top of my Netflix queue. (Yes. I still rent physical media.)

first blood part II

I attribute the non-watch to the proliferation of Rambo parody. Beyond First Blood, the reputation for John Rambo’s exploits have become infamous. I’m a fan of the first. I’ve seen Hot Shots Part Deux and the UHF Rampo sketch. What more would I need to know about First Blood Part II than Weird Al’s fakey pectorals?

Nothing. Not a damn thing.

The parodies of Rambo: First Blood Part II don’t expend any creative energy in elevating the original film into the realm of spoof. It’s all right there in glorious, over-the-top 1985 action spectacle and mindless explosions. Did I mention mindless explosions? Because you’ve never seen explosions quite this mindless.

Let’s go to the tape. Get it? Mindless?

If you didn’t know any better, *that’s* the parody. Obviously.

Rambo: First Blood Part II offers nothing even resembling the gravitas of the original First Blood, which has a purpose and reason for existing. It highlights the disillusionment and perverse treatment of our returning Vietnam veterans while providing a few action/thriller beats.

Of course, Part II still treats us to gripping Stallone monologues about being unwanted at home, about being one of “the expendables.” (SPOILER ALERT FOR FUTURE MOVIE FRANCHISE.) That’s just lip service lending a sliver of credibility to the impossible one-man cinematic demolition crew that is Rambo. Richard Crenna also returns as the inconsequential voice of reason, but nobody ever listens to him.

first blood part II
Rambo not listening to Richard Crenna’s Trautman.

The First Blood Part II Mission

In order to justify the extreme violence you’ve got to motivate your unhinged protagonist by giving them targets of the most inarguably egregious personage. This time Rambo journeys to Vietnam to find potential POWs. He’s plucked from a prison camp to do one last job for his country.

Not only does he get to extract vengeance against the Vietcong, but also the Russians (!) because they’re propping up the communist regime with weapons and masochism and then they kill his new Vietnamese girlfriend/contact (they had such a quaint meet-cute) as they’re trying to escape. OH NO THEY DIDN’T.

It’s like the 1970’s and 1980’s got together and manufactured the most despicable enemy imaginable (and cast the reliable Steven Berkoff as the main baddie). Rambo’s not done, however, because it turns out his own country sent him there to  corroborate the politically convenient story that they’re not leaving hundreds of POWs behind enemy lines. (Of course they are.)

And we all know what Rambo gets like when he’s angry.

The First Blood Part II Stupidity

The absurdity doesn’t stop with the action on screen, however. Everything about this movie skews absurd. Vietnam is apparently only the size of a couple of city blocks because Rambo just keeps bumping into everyone he knows ALL THE TIME. I’m also quite fond of this observation written by Vincent Canby in the New York Times:

Rambo, as personified by Mr. Stallone, isn’t a man who needs the love of others. He loves himself quite enough. There’s also the comforting presence of the camera, which behaves like someone obsessed. It caresses Mr. Stallone’s face and body with an abandon not seen on the screen since Josef von Sternberg made movies with Marlene Dietrich.

Rewatch First Blood Part II with the von Sternberg/Dietrich comparison in mind. You’re taken to entirely transcendent levels of cinema. The notion that Stallone was responsible for filming himself a la the way Josef von Sternberg fetishized Marlene Dietrich will make your brain melt. (The directorial credit goes to George P. Cosmatos, but come on, folks, we all know he’s just a puppet regime.)

The screenplay by Stallone and James Cameron can’t be bothered with subtleties when there’s more communists around to make puddles of goo. Let me give you a sample of this entirely scripted dialogue. Rambo and his guide Co are on a boat headed back from the “non-existent” POW camp with a wounded POW in tow to share on show and tell day back at the base. One thing leads to another and the boat explodes. Rambo swims to shore and Co says, “Rambo, you made it!”

Let me be clear, it’s not like Rambo just popped up and surprised her on shore. She watched him swim from the boat to the shore, a good fifteen seconds of observing, only to exclaim, with much enthusiasm, that Rambo had indeed “made it!”

I’m not going to sugarcoat this. First Blood Part II is incredibly stupid, but stupid in a way that recalls B-movies with production budgets (and talent) much lesser than their aspirations. And it’s certainly not that Stallone had any mind towards making a parody of the original. Don’t think for a second this has any of the self-awareness Joe Dante used when he brilliantly parodied Gremlins with Gremlins 2.

Stallone plays First Blood Part II 100% straight. Therein lies the blunt-force beauty of this almost tone-deaf orgy of explosions and insensitivity. Gleefully preposterous and mindlessly entertaining. I hated it and I couldn’t help but be entertained. I’ll let you reconcile whatever happened in between.

(Bold/linked denotes watched)

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Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer
Paris, Texas
Wuthering Heights
Paper Moon
Sunrise
The Conversation
Victor/Victoria
Once Upon a Time in the West
Ikiru
Help!
Heaven Can Wait

Cinema Shame Monthly Prompts:

January Prompt: Shame Statement
February Prompt: An American In Paris
March Prompt: The Crimson Pirate
April Prompt: Once Upon a Time in the West / Heaven Can Wait
May Prompt: Shame Swap
June Prompt: Musicals! 
July Prompt: Summer Blockbusters
August Prompt: Ebert Brings the Love/Hate

James David Patrick is a writer. He written just about everything at some point or another. Lately it’s been all about movies. Follow his blog at www.thirtyhertzrumble.com and find him on TwitterInstagram, and Facebook.

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