Franchise Expansion Or Implosion – Rambo: First Blood Part II
by Ben Martin
Franchise Expansion (or Implosion) is a column that looks at franchises that have new installments or releases forthcoming. In looking at a franchise, each entry in a franchise will be given a review and then be examined as part of the bigger franchise. (i.e., Was this sequel a worthy expansion of this franchise or was it an implosion of sorts?)
Sylvester Stallone is a cornerstone of the action genre. Throughout his career, Stallone has created two of the most beloved underdogs ever. One of these underdogs is, of course, John Rambo. A character who, for better or worse, has become an American icon. The return of Rambo is right around the corner with the latest (and presumably final) installment in this movie series, Rambo: Last Blood. This time around though, we’ll look at the film that bolstered the character of Rambo to iconic status, Rambo: First Blood Part II (1985)!
In essence, the point of a sequel is to be bigger, and hopefully better; giving audiences more of what they loved from its predecessor. More often than not, though, just because a sequel is bigger, does not make it better. Sure, there will occasionally be a sequel that’s an exception to the rule. Now, while Rambo: First Blood Part II isn’t one of these exceptions, it is the epitome of a bigger, badder sequel!
This film’s predecessor, First Blood (1982), was a financial and critical success. Thus, it’s only logical that produces Andrew G. Vajna, and Mario Kassar at Carolco Pictures wanted a sequel. As did leading man Sylvester Stallone who had not had a box-office hit as an actor since First Blood. Logically, it was time for Stallone to go back to the well with John Rambo; just as he had with Rocky Balboa.
Screenwriter Kevin Jarre (Tombstone) conceived a story for the sequel which put our hero back in Vietnam. After that, then up-and-comer, James Cameron (Avatar) was hired to pen the screenplay. (Which he was concurrently writing along with The Terminator (1984) and Aliens (1986), both of which would also direct.) Cameron’s first draft was entitled First Blood II: The Mission.
According to Cameron, himself script was more violent than its predecessor. However, he maintains he attempted to have the sequel retain the spirit of its predecessor; despite having Rambo teamed up with a team for his mission. Following Cameron’s initial draft, Stallone took over. While it seems most of the action sequences created by Cameron remain, Stallone pumped them all up, making them much more violent. In addition to amending the action, Stallone also injected most of the movie’s politics. At the time, there were reportedly still 2,500 Vietnam vets missing in action; hence, the political angle. Beyond all that, Stallone is also responsible for changing the film’s title to Rambo: First Blood Part II. Vanity project, anyone?
It was already clear that this follow-up intended to be a more traditional, bombastic action/war picture. Therefore, it’s not surprising that the original film’s director, Ted Kotcheff did not return. Instead, an Italian filmmaker with love for American genre films, George P. Cosmatos (Tombstone) took the helm. Although, it’s purported that Stallone shadow directed the movie in review.
Rambo: First Blood Part II finds its now titular character back in the jungles of Vietnam. After being released from prison by Colonel Trautman (Richard Crenna), the American government sends John Rambo (Sylvester Stallone) on a mission to obtain evidence of American POWs. Mind you; his mission is to survey the evidence merely. But, Rambo takes it upon himself to save his fellow brothers-in-arms!
I must say, Stallone was undoubtedly devoted to First Blood Part II, at least from a physical standpoint. The actor did eight months of daily physical training for four hours each day to prepare for this film. Alas, all that time spent in “The iron game,” as Stallone is fond of calling it can only supplement a performance, as opposed to making it work.
As I stated in my First Blood review, I feel Stallone delivered one of the best performances of his career in that film. However, the same cannot be said of his reprisal of Rambo in First Blood Part II. To the contrary, it’s almost as if he’s sleepwalking through this thing. Now, it could be argued that Rambo would indeed be an empty, dull man, after all, that’s happened to him. I mean, c’mon, the dude went from serving in Vietnam to serving hard time. Still, I don’t think he’s even trying here as it seems the whole intention in drawing blood again was to make Rambo into being an indescribable one-man army as opposed to an actual, damaged human being.
This movie, albeit, an empty one, is competently made by Casmatos and Stallone. But again, the problem is that there’s nothing here. The story doesn’t make much sense as the government would undoubtedly send in some young soldiers on this mission as opposed to Rambo. Granted, if all you’re looking for is action, you’ll get in spades here. The first death in the movie occurs at the 34-minute mark. After that though, the flick essentially becomes the non-stop, mind-numbing action and carnage. So much so that by its conclusion, the movie’s body count is 85.
While I find Rambo: First Blood Part II to be a bad film; audiences at the time of its release in 1985 (ten years after the conclusion of the Vietnam War) disagreed. First Blood Part II was the first film to be released to over 2,500 theaters and went on to gross over $300 worldwide as audiences embraced it wholeheartedly. In the process, this movie and the character of Rambo became a prime example of jingoistic cinema. A real ra-ra America piece of work bolstered by an endorsement by President Ronald Reagan; went on to proclaim Rambo was a republican. Meanwhile, Ronnie missed the fact that the U.S. government is this film’s real villain.
Frankly, Rambo: First Blood Part II is a terrible film while simultaneously being a Franchise Expansion. As much as I dislike this sequel; it took the tone and protagonist in a new direction. It also cemented Rambo into America’s collective consciousness of pop culture. As a result, it also spawned a video game, a short-lived cartoon entitled Rambo: The Force of Freedom (1986), and tons of merchandise. Last but not least, this, of course, led to Rambo III (1988), which I’ll look at shorty!
Rambo: First Blood Part II is available on Digital HD, 4K, Blu-Ray, & DVD!
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