Rambo: First Blood, Part II (1985, George P. Cosmatos)
Hollywood action movies don’t come much more compellingly offensive than the clunkily-titled Rambo: First Blood, Part II. This hymn to Sylvester Stallone’s glistening upper body is repugnant; yet I can’t help rather liking it. Or, at least, I find it grimly fascinating: a bombastic opera of violence porn.
John Rambo is a Vietnam veteran with some massive demons and even bigger biceps. He’s sent back into ’Nam to rescue some POWs and generally finish the genocide. The Hawkish message goes thus: we didn’t lose Vietnam; the pussy bureaucrats in charge wouldn’t let us win. Rambo even says at the start, “Sir, do we get to win this time?”
The first Rambo movie, First Blood, is ridiculous but vaguely interesting. It begins with Rambo going to visit an old army friend, only to discover that he’s died from the effects of Agent Orange. There are also shades of Taxi Driver in its story of a lonely Viet vet unable to engage with society. The sequel, however, is a macho cartoon from the word go.
This is a WEIRD film, particularly considering who’s behind the camera. The cinematographer is Jack Cardiff! He worked with Michael Powell and Hitchcock, and here he is training his astonishing eye on Stallone’s muscles and Rambo’s weaponry.
There are bizarre scenes of Rambo being tortured. Stallone, like Mel Gibson, seems to have a narcissistic/masochistic desire to see himself suffer on the screen. If Stallone had played Indiana Jones, he really would have had his heart ripped out by Mola Ram. And then he would have mumbled something self-pitying before replacing the organ and pulling out a bazooka.
But the weirdest thing about an action film that made $300m at the worldwide box office is this: the action isn’t even any good. The first time I saw Rambo I remember being amazed that no individual action scene stood out. Only a few days later my memory of the film was a vague blur of random gunshots and explosions. Potentially good ideas, such as a bow with explosive-tipped arrows, are wasted on unimaginative sequences. The great action films – Raiders of the Lost Ark, Die Hard – contain setpieces so well-conceived that they remain thrilling even when you know every shot before it comes.
The director, George P. Cosmatos, went on to fashion further masterworks such as Cobra (Stallone as Dirty Harry) and Leviathan (Alien underwater, starring RoboCop, but not half as much fun as that sounds).
Rambo: First Blood, Part II is showing tonight, 10.40pm ITV 1
Hopefully you’ve got something better to do on a Friday night. (I haven’t.)