Where does John Rambo stand politically? Aside from being a loner, a one-man war, and the many other epithets he’s been given over five movies, plus a cartoon series for kids and more, how would he vote, if at all? David Morrell’s book was originally developed for Martin Scorsese and Robert DeNiro, so one imagines that the account of government vs individual featured in the first film would smack of some kind of liberalism, or at least neutrality. But by the time of this 1985 sequel, Ronald Reagan was in the White House, the inglorious past had been forgotten and a new cartoonish future was being forged. Historians may note that back in the 80’s, 138 of Reagan’s administration officials were subject to investigation, indictment, or conviction, so a little upbeat propaganda to change the mood was in order.
So although Rambo 2 claims to be based on the characters created by Morrell, the overall effect is almost the exact opposite as in First Blood. Instead of fighting against the establishment, Rambo now fights for them, albeit reluctantly. Rambo is smashing stones in a rural labour work camp when Col Trautman (Richard Crenna) approaches him to go back to Vietnam and locate US soldiers left behind after the war. Rambo agrees, but is double-crossed by the authorities, so once he’s completed his mission, rescued the POWs’ and killed everyone else, Rambo heads back to the US to shoot up the offices of the double-dealing corporate zeros who sent him on his way.
George P Cosmatos’ action game-changer is a surprisingly slow burn; not much has happened after an hour of this 96 minute film, but the last half hour makes up for it by offering non-stop carnage. Stallone is credited as writer here alongside James Cameron, who brings a little of his Terminator relentlessness to the narrative. Stallone still glowers like the old John Rambo, but now comes complete with a ridiculous physique that the camera pores over like a car advert depicts a new car, and all kind of military gadgets like grenade launchers. This isn’t much like any real war, it’s a video game set to easy, and the pumped-up action feels more like a playground fantasy than any kind of actual real-world conflict.
I re-watched Rambo: First Blood Part II as part of assessing StudioCanal’s streaming channel; probably the most popular of the five films, it’s also one of the most neglected, possibly because it’s seen as having the most overt political messaging. But Rambo isn’t so much of a Republican or Democrat fantasy, but an adolescent one of killing baddies with impunity. If the first film was about survival, this one sets up a new and unlikely scenario through which Rambo, like Rocky, can not only endure suffering but win. It’s a visceral, ridiculous film that reworks genuine veterans issues to create a comic-book of justified war. Ronald Reagan apparently loved it, and it’s still kinda fun to watch despite the head-spinning hypocrisy of watching Rambo kill 75 times and then walk off into the sunset to a song titled Peace in Our Life, performed via the unique vocal stylings of Sylvester’s brother Frank.