Tough Guy Round Table: “Rambo: First Blood Part II”

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Rambo’s deadliest weapon of all? You guessed it, his headband.

Kevin: To kick off our action movie Round Table series, in which the four of us together examine in depth one particular movie and discuss why it’s so great, I figured we’d begin with one of the most iconic action films of the 1980’s, in which the U.S. finally got its victory over Vietnam once those bureaucratic pencil pushers in Washington couldn’t stop John Rambo from doing what he does best. Of course I’m talking about “Rambo: First Blood Part II”:

My thoughts: 1) They don’t make trailers like that anymore. 2) Based on the beginning of that trailer, I would have no idea that the opening shot of Rambo’s giant biceps would reveal that he was just tying his shoelaces. 3) Speaking of, people forget that in the middle of Rambo’s famous “gearing up” montage …

… amid him sharpening his knife, loading his machine gun, preparing his explosive arrow tips etc., there is also a shot of him loading film into a camera, which seems weirdly out of place, like if they had also showed Rambo making sure to mail his landlord a rent check before his mission. 5) Between this and “Beverly Hills Cop,” the menacing European dude with the mole between his eyes had a great year as a bad guy from 1984-1985. 6) One of Rambo’s killing moves involves him burying himself in mud while standing upright during a massive rainstorm. Thank god the Russian soldier he knifed stopped right in front of the tree he was standing against, otherwise that would have been a giant waste of time. 7) In case anyone doubted its greatness, this will probably go down as the only film in history with the credit, “Screenplay by James Cameron and Sylvester Stallone.”

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Anthony: Ok. Initial thoughts on the trailer only. The missiles from the Apache? (After contacting a former Vietnam veteran helicopter pilot, the first helicopters are Hind D Russian gunships and Rambo is flying a two-engine version of the UH-1, so there you go) sound like a wizard casting a magic spell, go listen to it. “Rambo: First Blood Part II” is one of the most confusingly named movies in history. Not enough numbers in there … hey let’s add more. “Rambo Part 2” won’t cut it since there’s only been one other Rambo movie. Oh did I forget to mention he outruns a hydrogen bomb dropped straight down? Fuck you gravity … John Rambo is faster.

Mike: Obviously I was a huge fan of this movie, and like everyone else the title confused the hell out of me as much then as it does now. This was made even more confusing by the fact that I saw “Rambo: First Blood Part II” about five years before I saw “First Blood.” I didn’t even know it as a sequel! I just thought it was cool that they plucked a guy out of jail and sent him to Nam to kick everyone’s ass. Anyway, it’s just a terrible title. It’s up there with “Friday the 13th: The Final Chapter” (it wasn’t the final chapter, it wasn’t the final anything!). In terms of movie titles, the last thing you want is a lot of punctuation. We’re Americans, we like things short and simple. “Critters” is a fantastic example of this. Anyway, we can make fun of this movie all day, but “Hot Shots: Part Deux” already handled that pretty well.

The “gearing up” scene is one of the best parts of the movie. In all honesty, I still think of this scene whenever I’m packing for a trip. When I was a kid I used to lace up my Nikes real tight and tie a camouflaged strip of fabric around my head. I’m certain there are at least a dozen photos of this which I will track down. But for now, back to the film.

Here are some moments that come to mind:

1) “Murdock, I’m coming for you.”
2) Blowing up the patrol boat with a rocket launcher.
3) Blowing up the enemy gunship with yet another rocket launcher.
4) Blowing up enemy hooches with his explosive arrows, which are as effective as cruise missiles.
5) Blowing up that one lone soldier—who killed his bitch—with an explosive arrow.
6) Outrunning the barrel bomb, which seems to drop in slow motion while Rambo moves at normal speed!
7) The Viet Cong lowering Rambo into the leech pit only to use his own knife to cut the leeches off.
8. Rambo bonding with his main squeeze on the riverboat. Talking about how he is “expendable,” a line which would later go on to birth the entire “Expendables” franchise.
9) Any scene with Richard Crenna (Col. Trautman).
10) “To survive a war, you gotta become war.”

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It never sat right with me that Col. Trautman left Rambo behind when they came to extract him the first time. The door gunner pulls a pistol on him and it’s game over? Rambo would have snatched that gun away and made the bird land! Speaking of movie villains, it was a good year for Martin Kove as well. He was also in “Karate Kid” as the evil sensei.

Kevin: Let’s not forget he was also in “Karate Kid Part III,” in which his old war buddy from Vietnam (this is starting to become a motif), who has apparently dealt with his PTSD by becoming an evil billionaire with a Steven Seagal-type ponytail, decides to take time off from running his multinational conglomerate to completely fuck with some high school twerp who embarrassed Martin Kove in the first movie (which occurred five years earlier in real time, but less than a year earlier in this franchise). Also “Karate Kid Part III” may be one of the few movies that treated its leading man like a total loser, since Ralph Macchio acts like a complete spazz throughout the entire flick and the female lead (Robin Lively, Blake Lively’s older half-sister) basically puts him in the friend zone right from the start.

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Perhaps “The Expendables” is a stealth Rambo sequel, with Rambo changing his name to Barney Ross and … no nevermind, he has a whole history with Mickey Rourke and the crew, forget I ever bought it up. Actually his explanation of what “expendable” means always made me a little sad since he described it as being invited to a party but no one caring if you showed up. It makes me envision an acne-ridden high-school-aged John Rambo watching from the bushes as all the cool kids partied without him. Also not only does Rambo blow up that one guy with an arrow, but he stands still, right out in the open, and lets him take 6 or 7 shots at him first. It’s like the equivalent of Rocky deciding near the end of every fight that punches to the head don’t affect him, and with Rambo he apparently can decide that bullets can’t hit him as long as he is mad.

CJ: I love that 4 of Mike’s top 5 moments start with “Blowing up.”

Kevin’s rent check joke reminds me of “Red Dawn” when the kids are gearing up to head out into the woods and they make sure to pack a football. Survival is important, but we also need some sport. I also love any scene where the character lists the accomplishments of the hero. It’s an awesome way of saying “basically, you’re fucked.” I do wish they’d throw something odd but equally awesome in there, like “88 confirmed kills. Tactical weapons expert. 1965 East Mountain High Dunk Champion.”

I’m picturing the teenage Rambo outside that party Kevin. I’d add that while he’s in the bushes, each time someone else shows up to the party, he knifes another notch on his body while muttering “Party’s over.” At that point the camera pans two feet to the left and it’s Rambo’s loser friend Craig standing next to him and he is just really creeped out. If there was ever a character I would like to see as a kid, it’s Rambo. With other guys like John Matrix, you see he’s a family man, and with Dutch you know he was in some junior cadet program, then went straight to the army. John McClane failed out of high school. But what about Rambo? No kid is that dark growing up. Like, what if he was just really good at math?

Kevin: The “let’s stop the movie cold so I can tell you why the hero is such an awesome badass that he could pleasure your wife in front of you and you’d consider it the greatest day of your life” speech is another action movie staple we don’t see enough of nowadays, apart from throwbacks like “Olympus Has Fallen,” with Angela Bassett making sure the entire Cabinet knows that Gerard Butler’s character Mike Banning is “Ex-Special Forces, Ranger Battalion, he will move mountains or die trying.” I think screenwriters gave up on that trope once they saw Steven Seagal’s deranged masterpiece “On Deadly Ground” (which we will be covering at some point in the future) and realized they could never hope to top R. Lee Ermey’s ode to Seagal’s eco-warrior hero:

Finally, of all the violent movies led by mass-murdering psychopaths/heroes we cover on this site, this may be the only one that spawned a family-friendly Saturday morning cartoon:

“From the canyons of skyscrapers to the canyons of remote mountain peaks, liberty’s champion is unstoppable!” Also, roping in bare-chested through a plate-glass window! Ballsy.

Anthony: When I think of the perfect cartoon for children … I think Rambo. This new generation is a bunch of pussies.

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