Rambo: First Blood Part II (1985)

(Second viewing, On TV, September 2017) As a Canadian, it amuses me to point out that John Rambo, a character that has come to embody the worst excesses of American jingoism, was twice created by Canadians—novelist David Morrell for the novel that gave rise to the PTSD-ridden Rambo of First Blood, then screenwriter James Cameron who developed Rambo-the-war-machine of First Blood Part II. The real story is a bit messier than the sound bite (starting with the influence of all-American Sylvester Stallone in re-writing and playing the character), but it’s a reminder that the character has a far more nuanced origin story than simply seeing Stallone re-win the Vietnam war by himself. It’s practically impossible to re-watch Rambo II today from a simple-minded entertainment perspective: the film itself cries out for socio-critical commentary, either as a gold-plated representation of the Regan-era mindset, as a repudiation of post-Vietnam humility, as wish fulfillment writ national, or as a dispiriting proof that audiences will be gleefully cruel as long as you appeal to their base instinct. Because, not to put it too bluntly, Rambo II is in many ways a terrible film. The set-up makes no sense; the dialogue is blunt to the point of being ridiculous, the plot threads are barely disguised and the overall plot couldn’t be more obvious. Appealing to unsophisticated plot elements, the film gleefully multiplies Rambo’s enemies because, well, why not? It’s not enough to fight Vietnamese soldiers holding American hostages—let’s throw in even-more-evil Russians and duplicitous American weasels who clearly can’t measure up to John Rambo, Esq. as a true-blooded depiction of what it means to be American (mostly by killing everyone else). Sarcasm isn’t just easy in commenting Rambo II: it’s almost mandatory. But here’s the thing: it seems to work in a low-level cunning way. I’d draw the parallels with the rise of reactionary elements in American politics circa 2017, but you’re probably ahead of me in this regard—maybe it’s better to sign off while acknowledging than even in reaching for the lowest common denominator, Rambo II does find one and exploits it for all it’s worth.

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