I've been on a bit of a Sly Stallone kick lately, going back and looking at some of his earlier hits and misses. This has been partly because I've always enjoyed most of Stallone's stuff and also partly due to wanting to introduce my oldest grandson to some of it.
Bill (my grandson, who lives with me) and I go to a lot of current movies and he has enjoyed the recent Expendables films as well as the latest chapters of Rocky and Rambo --- but he had seen only bits and pieces of the early entries in the latter two series, so I've been trying to catch him up on these and other "older" films I think he'd enjoy, when and where the opportunity presents itself.
The other night he and I sat down to watch Rambo: First Blood Part II, which has always been one of my personal favorites. For me, the movie held up about as good as I remembered and Bill seemed to enjoy the heck out of it as well.
Afterwards, it occurred to me that I had done a written review of the film back when it came out in '85, in the debut issue of my Hardboiled magazine. I thought it might be fun to go back and see what I had to say then. Here it is:
This is the kind of rousing, action-packed movie that causes you to leave the theater feeling the same kind of energized exhaustion you experience after participating in hard-played athletic competition. A art of you is ready to wind down, to relax, to come off the adrenalin high, but your mind is still racing, replaying certain lines of dialogue and key scenes that charge you up all over again. You want to stop strangers in the theater lobby and ask them what they thought of it. If you were still in school, you'd make it a point to get there a little early Monday morning and find out which of your friends saw the same movie so you could begin the 'How about the time Rambo did the such-and-such' routine.
In short, in case you haven't figured it out by now, I liked 'Rambo'. I liked it a lot. Like all of Stallone's best work, it is a physical story that takes unabashed aim at our sentiments and follows the theme of an underdog rising up. In this case, the underdog is John Rambo, who represents the forgotten Vietnam vet and, in a larger sense, anyone who feels remorse for us 'losing' the war over there and turning our backs on those who put their lives on the line to fight it. For this reason, a lot of critics will probably take potshots at 'Rambo' for its right wing politics and gung ho Americanism. I know of one already who has chastised the film for 'racism' --- accusing it of reverting to the old Yellow Peril theme by pitting Rambo against a horde of faceless, nameless Vietnamese soldiers. Come on, for crying out loud. If you're going to do a POW rescue story set in the Far East, who the hell are you going to have for the bad guys --- albino Martians?
A certain amount of the film's dramatic impact may be lost on anyone who hasn't seen the original 'First Blood'. In that one you get a better feel for why John Rambo is the way he is. In this sequel, you get huge close-ups of Stallone brooding, sometimes with a faraway look in his eyes. That worked effectively for me, because I've seen the previous film. It's a good example of letting the viewer do part of the work, not slowing down the pace by putting too much into words. But, like I said, all of this might not be so clear for someone who is encountering Stallone/Rambo for the first time.
But that's a minor point. 'Rambo' is not a dramatic film. It is, above all else, an action picture and --- on that level --- it succeeds very well. Staged with state-of-the-art stunts and special effects and recorded by fantastic camera work, some of the scenes hit you like a kick in the stomach. Nevertheless, it is Stallone who makes the whole thing work. You actually believe that someone with his intensity and rugged physique could do all that Rambo does. It is primarily through him that the movie achieves its added dimension of reality, keeps it from being just a big screen TV episode.
The story, involving the discovery and rescue of American MIAs being held by Communist Vietnamese forces and used for slave labor, has been done before and undoubtedly will be again. But, I strongly suspect, will it be done any better. And if you don't find yourself wanting to stand up and cheer when Rambo lands a stolen helicopter in the enemy camp --- after blasting hell out of it --- and singlehandedly goes in to rescue the MIAs … well, you're probably better off staying home and catching an old Jane Fonda flick on the tube.
If I were to review this same film today, I likely wouldn't be quite so gushing … But, by and large, I wouldn't say it a whole lot differently. It holds up pretty darn well. On this most recent viewing (somewhere around the tenth time, probably) I still liked it a lot. And so did Bill.
If you're in the mood for a good actioner and haven't seen this in a while (or ever) and you spot it listed on cable or available in a WalMart bargain bin, go ahead and check it out. I don't think you'll be sorry.