Friday Flashback: Sly Single-Handedly Re-Fights the Vietnam War and Wins in “Rambo: First Blood Part II”

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Earlier this week we discussed the possibility that “Expendables 4” is back on the table, which if that does come to fruition we hope will be closer in quality to another Sylvester Stallone fourth-parter: 2008’s “Rambo.” But while we love the final (so far) film in that series for its bloodbath finale and surprising poignancy, for sheer entertainment value the gold standard is still “Rambo: First Blood Part II,” the only film in history to boast a screenplay by Sylvester Stallone AND James Cameron.

Cameron was actually working on the scripts for both “First Blood Part II” and “Aliens” simultaneously, and you can see the similarities in the fact that while he took the tense and claustrophobic “Alien” and turned it into a muscular war movie for the sequel, he likewise turned John Rambo from suicidal forgotten vet in “First Blood” into a righteous defender of American values in “Part II.” The film also helped make 1985 a career high point at the box office for Stallone, as “First Blood Part II” and “Rocky IV” accounted for two of the top three movies that year behind “Back to the Future.” So today we re-live one of Sly’s greatest hits as the only man in history who can be intimidating while wearing a headband, with our Round Table of “Rambo: First Blood Part II”:

(Originally posted Nov. 20, 2016)

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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.

(To read the rest of our “Rambo: First Blood Part II” Round Table, click HERE.)

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