CANNON MONTH 2: Rambo: First Blood Part II (1985)

EDITOR’S NOTE: This was originally on the site on August 21, 2019Rambo: First Blood Part II was not produced by Cannon but was released on video by HBO/Cannon Video.

When it came time to do a sequel to First Blood, there was a thought that Rambo needed a partner.

Producers wanted John Travolta, but Stallone vetoed the idea. Lee Marvin (who almost played  Colonel Trautman in the first film) was offered the role of Marshall Murdock, but declined.

In fact, that sidekick character is in the first draft James Cameron wrote for this film. Stallone said of what he wrote, “In his original draft it took nearly 30-40 pages to have any action initiated and Rambo was partnered with a tech-y sidekick.”

What ended up on screen was very different.

“Rambo, John J., born 7/6/47 Bowie, Arizona of Indian-German descent. Joined army 8/6/64. Accepted, Special Forces specialization, light weapons, cross-trained as medic. Helicopter and language qualified, 59 confirmed kills, two Silver Stars, four Bronze, four Purple Hearts, Distinguished Service Cross, Medal of Honor.”

Yep — that’s our hero. Given that he kills 74 people in just two days in this film, he’s somehow more successful in Vietnam the second time. But we’ll get to that.

For now, it’s been three years and Rambo is paying for his actions in the original movie when he’s visited by Colonel Sam Trautman. Even though the Vietnam War is over, people remain convinced that POWs have been left behind. The government has authorized a solo mission to confirm if any are alive and Rambo is one of only three men suited for such a mission (who the other two are, I leave up to you, dear viewer, but if one of them isn’t Thunder, I don’t want to know about it).

Marshall Murdock (Charles Napier) is the suit in charge that tells Rambo that all he has to do is take photos, not rescue anyone or engage the enemy. As Rambo drops into enemy territory, his parachute becomes tangled, leaving him with only a knife and a bow. He doesn’t need all those guns, trust me.

A young intelligence agent named Co-Bao (Julia Nickson) and some pirates take Rambo up river, where he saves an American POW who has been crucified and left to die. The Vietnamese troops attack and the pirates betray Rambo, so he kills everyone. Rambo’s extraction is canceled, as Murdock says that Rambo has violated his orders and tells Trautman that he never intended for there to be any rescue — it would be too expensive and no one wants another war.

Rambo is turned over to the Soviet troops who are training the Vietnamese, Lieutenant Colonel Podovsky and Sergeant Yushin. They demand that he read the US government a message to stay away from future missions. Instead, he warns Murdock that he’s coming for him. He escapes thanks to Co and they kiss, only for her to die seconds later.

Rambo then becomes a slasher villain that we cheer for as he wipes out every single enemy one by one. He even steals a helicopter and uses it to destroy Murdock’s office before demanding that the rest of the POWs get rescued.

Trautman then confronts Rambo and tries to convince him to return home, but our protagonist angrily replies that he only wants his country to love its soldiers as much as its soldiers love it.

James Cameron claims that he only wrote the first draft of the script and that Sylvester Stallone made many changes to it. He claims that the star didn’t like that the sidekick got all the cool dialogue and scrapped most of the POWs backstories.

When the film was released, the political content of the movie was controversial, with many critics not ready to see any heroism in the Vietnam War. For his part, Cameron commented that he wrote the action and Stallone the politics.

That said — at the time of the making of this film, there were 2,500 soldiers missing in action, so you can see where the sentiments were coming from. There were even reports that Delta Force operatives were in training to try and find those prisoners.

Stallone explained the ending of the film quite passionately: “I think that James Cameron is a brilliant talent, but I thought the politics were important, such as a right-wing stance coming from Trautman and his nemesis, Murdock, contrasted by Rambo’s obvious neutrality, which I believe is explained in Rambo’s final speech. I realize his speech at the end may have caused millions of viewers to burst veins in their eyeballs by rolling them excessively, but the sentiment stated was conveyed to me by many veterans.”

This film was beloved by audiences worldwide just as much as it was savaged by critics. It won Worst Picture, Worst Actor, Worst Screenplay and Worst Song (“Peace In Our Time” by Frank Stallone) in the  Razzie Awards. It doesn’t matter — it started an entire genre of military revenge pictures.

Director George P. Cosmatos would go on to work with Stallone again on Cobra, as well as direct the films Leviathan and Tombstone. He was recommended for the film by Stallone’s son Sage, who liked his movie Of Unknown Origin. Of course, Cosmatos’ son Panos would grow up to be the director of Mandy and Beyond the Black Rainbow.

This movie marks a true change from the way American audiences would view Vietnam and its veterans. It could have only been made in 1985, to be honest, and exists within that time to remind us of a completely different era.

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