In honor of Friday's release of The Expendables, we're taking a week-long look at the action films of Sir Sylvester Stallone -- which is to say we're skipping his comedies. Out of respect.
Title: Rambo: First Blood Part II
Our hero: John Rambo (Stallone), who is offered a reprieve from breaking prison rocks (even though he looks pretty damn good doing it) in exchange for infiltrating a Vietnamese camp rumored to have a number of imprisoned American soldiers.
Our villain/s: Vinh (George Cheung), a Vietnamese captain hell-bent on keeping his stash of POWs. Col. Podovsky (Steven Berkoff), a Russian officer who's happy to torture Rambo and the vets in order to convince the United States not to send in any more one-man armies to rescue their soldiers. Also – and maybe especially – there's Marshall Murdock (Charles Napier), a D.C. bureaucrat who recruits Rambo for service and then abandons him upon hearing he is successful. He is literally an embodiment of the short-term-memory ingratitude of the American public to Vietnam veterans.
The stakes: Rambo's very life, not to mention the lives of the group of malnourished veterans he's sent to protect.
How long until our first confrontation? Most of the beginning of the film is smoldering conflict between Rambo and the various mercenary bureaucrats who oversee his assignment. But the first action comes about 20 minutes in when Rambo's parachute gets caught on the plane he's jumping out of. After that, it's all exploding-tip arrows, minigun battles and helicopter chases.
Line of dialogue that nails it: "In order to survive war, you've got to become war."
Coolest display of might: Surviving a sweltering afternoon covered in leeches in the most authentic-looking cesspool certainly tops my list, but Rambo's endurance is probably the secret to his success: where mortals might have buckled after facing electrocution, old Johnny offers his torturers the satisfaction of only one scream in pain. I guess not dying after being dragged by an airplane also counts, but when you're as ripped as Rambo and do as much cool sh*t as he does, it all kind of runs together.
Is that...? Martin Kove, the malevolent master of Cobra Kai in the Karate Kid movies, plays Ericson, one of Murdock's henchmen. Oh, and that's also James Cameron's name on the "screenplay by" screen, demonstrating he was as effective with plotting and plausibility in the 1980s as he is now with stuff like Avatar.
Oddest lack of consistency: It really makes no goddamn sense at all why the U.S. government would track down Rambo, who is widely-acknowledged as the greatest freaking soldier who ever lived, pull him out of federal prison to photograph – yes, photograph - a camp where POWs are reportedly being held, go through with an entire plan with contacts and bribed Vietnamese pirates and hollowed-out airplane hangers with photograph and map-covered corkboards everywhere, and then turn a helicopter around as it was landing when the boss of the operation discovers that yes, in fact there are prisoners in the camp. Also, would you really pretend to be knocked out in the pilot's seat of a helicopter in order to draw in another helicopter? Sometimes I couldn't see through the windshield when it was directly in front of the camera, so it seems difficult to understand why Rambo would think a guy a hundred or more yards off would be lulled into a false sense of security by him playing dead.
Moral of the story: If we forget to honor our veterans then we've already lost the war. Also, blowing up half of Vietnam is necessary – and pretty awesome to watch.
Stallone Action Scale: 9 out of 10, because Rambo not only emerges from his mission 300% more victorious than anyone expects, but because he gets freed from imprisonment, and shows mercy even as he gets revenge on the bureaucratic bastards who forsook him during Vietnam!