THE VIETNAM WAR
Real-life angst over POWs and MIAs after the Vietnam War ended lent much to the driving force of this movie. For decades after the war, there was the tragic helpless feeling that so many of the names we saw in the newspaper lists would never be accounted for.
Losing the war was the bitterest pill to swallow because it had dragged on for so long (20 years), Americans thought at least if the US wins, it will have been worth it. That those who fought were disrespected when they returned only made things worse. The whole thing was a mess, as was illustrated in First Blood—where Rambo was disrespected, thrown in jail, abused, and then they even tried to kill him. Compounding the disillusion, here, in Part II, he voluntarily goes back to Vietnam to find POWs but his own government sets him up to fail. Guess what, Rambo doesn't fail.
THE RAMBO MYTHOLOGY
The movie opens with an explosion (#becauseRAMBO) in a prison-camp rock quarry where a sledge-hammer wielding Stallone makes a back-on, turn-around entrance through smoke (rock dust) in the air. (The real Big-Dog Entrance comes later.)
Col. Trautman has come to see him, but Rambo's position is clear: First, that he's been in worse situations (tortured as a POW), and, second, that he's more comfortable in jail because at least he knows where he stands—bringing back all the bullshit he went through in the 'real world' in the first movie. Trautman says he's there to recruit Rambo for "a recon mission for POWs in 'Nam". That changes everything—of course. Rambo accepts and asks:
That's our first hint that when things go south, Rambo is going to be Rambo. The corruption of government is first hinted at when Rambo goes to a military base and meets Congressional errand boy Marshall Murdock, who lies about his service duty. Contrast that to Rambo's career:
Murdock lays it all out:
Murdock claims to have served in the 2nd Battalion 3rd Marines in Kontum, so he claims he knows how Rambo feels. "Maybe the government didn't care, maybe certain segments of the population didn't care—my Committee cares." Apparently, they want Rambo to confirm the presence of POWs and to just take photographs. We are as incredulous as Rambo is.
Yeah, that's not happening. We know where this is headed even as Col. Trautman tells Rambo to rely on equipment: "Don't try the blood-and-guts routine, let technology do most of the work." All the prepping for the mission with banks of computers and screens of information beeping and clicking are supposed to represent military intelligence. Murdock asks if Rambo's impressed with all the ultra-modern equipment. Murdock's supposed to be impressed with Rambo, not the other way around. Murdock reassures Rambo (what more proof do you need that he has no idea who he's dealing with):
That's a fuck you (and it shows Murdock knows nothing). It's clear Rambo doesn't like Murdock and he doesn't trust him. Even after Murdock read Rambo's file, he doesn't even give him any credit for listening to orders. I love how Rambo is kind of Trautman's dog. When Rambo first entered the tent, he looked at Trautman until Trautman directed him to Murdock. He listens to Murdock but takes his directions from Trautman.
Love that true Action Movies build up the Action Figure with Trash Talking. From the pep talk about ultra-modern equipment and advanced weapons, we cut to Rambo's super strong, veiny, sweaty arm sharpening his knife. (This is what Action Movies should be all about. Real-life physical prowess and "Boy Scout bullshit" are too often missing in today's 'movies with action'.) They cut back and forth between Rambo's low-tech battle prep and shots of the military 'machine'. You can keep your technology. The "equipment" gets Rambo hung up on the jump from the 'plane and he has to cut it away anyway. Symbolic, dontcha think?
After the jump, Rambo's contact is a woman who ends up helping to rescue him. They have a brief conversation on a boat taking them from the drop zone to the point off the river nearest the camp. The dialogue explaining why he is where he is, is heartbreaking . . .
We get a glimpse in every Rambo movie of his tortured state of mind, and in this movie Murdock sums it up later on with "He went home." But Murdock is a jackass and it's a 'dis' as in back where he belongs. When Trautman said "What you choose to call Hell, he calls home", it was a statement on Rambo's competence. As we are about to find out, 'home' for Rambo is the state of war. As Rambo explains to Co in the boat:
All this sneaking around the jungle with just a knife and a bow, some "Boy Scout bullshit", super buff, with mad skills is all Action Movie Freaks really want. It's why we love Predator so much. Why we love Rambo also includes his undeniable sense of right and wrong, his humanity.
So, of course, Rambo finds POWs and, of course, he brings one back to the rendezvous point. (He's not going to leave him or the others there—Rambo would have put him on the helicopter and made them go back for the rest.) But there's a lot of North Vietnamese Army (NVA) soldiers on his trail, and just when the helicopter is feet away from picking them up, Murdock aborts the mission and deserts Rambo and the POW, who are re-captured.
Murdock freaks. The US government didn't want Rambo to find any POWs. We saw that coming a mile away. Still hurt though. Maybe that's why Rambo III is my favorite and not II. It just kills me to see them do this, and, what comes next.
Contrasting Rambo's humanity is the "scum"
as Trautman calls Murdock: "A stinking bureaucrat that's
trying to cover his ass." Trautman is understandably pissed.
"The whole damn war was a lie" is a slap in the face to America. In real life, we all knew that, too. This is Trautman's moment. He gives Murdock hell, and calls him on all his bullshit.
It's hard to say how epicly awesome that moment was in theatres. A one-word sentence that strikes fear into the heart of anyone: "Rambo." We could hardly contain our excitement as we knew there was gonna be a reckoning coming Murdock's way. Not just any payback either, a RAMBO payback.
Here's Trautman's let-that-sink-in/almost pitying look he gives Murdock. Richard Crenna is a huge part of The Rambo Mythology. He gives a stellar performance every time. Love his commanding voice, and the character's loyalty to his men is everything.
In real life, this is what we all suspected happened anyway. Men were 'forgotten' by their country. That this movie got made is a testament not only to Sylvester Stallone's great sensibilities, but also to the lingering doubts in the US even 10 years later. [Yes, there were other movies made but this is the best.]
"Murdock [lightning strike] [pin-drop silent pause . . . ] I'm coming to get YOU!" It's such an awesome Bad Ass moment. In a movie full of awesome action moments, this one still thrills. Love the use of the lightning.
What follows (Rambo's escape with Co's heap and then Co's death) pushes Rambo even further because although he was committed to get revenge on Murdock, now that Co is gone, he's even more pissed. It's so poignant that he wears her necklace and takes the time to bury her.
"NOW, I AM BECOME [WAR]"
Another signature Rambo item (besides the giant knife) is the bow. [Check out page 4 of this issue of Payback magazine for a list of RAMBO trademarks.] And this movie is all about how he uses it. After picking off a few soldiers with his knife or with arrows via traps and using the terrain, he escapes to a nearby village. Again, he uses the terrain to his advantage. The enemy rushes in as if there's nothing to fear. Rambo's already plotting mayhem using what's at hand: gasoline and chicken blood. They don't give this away and we are left to enjoy the enemy's stupidity and carelessness as it unfolds. The men are boxed in by a ring of fire and several explosions from Rambo's explosive arrow heads.
Shooting from the nearby river, Rambo is spotted fleeing by the NVA Lieutenant Tay who empties his rifle in Rambo's direction. Once the rifle's empty he has to switch to a hand gun. It's so cool how Rambo just stands in place as Tay shoots at him, and takes Tay out with his last exploding arrow. Love a Gnarly Kill!
Then, the "Damn Russian Bastards" try to bomb him back to the stone age. A little overkill, but even when they shoot into the water where Rambo landed, he still outsmarts them by swimming toward the helicopter and coming up underneath to take out the gunman. The remaining Russian in the cabin is the big dumb bastard who enjoyed trying to electrocute Rambo. Rambo bests him of course and then the chicken shit pilot jumps out (rather than meet Rambo's knife). So, now Rambo has a helicopter—you know where he's headed.
Imagine all his anger over the war and just being re-tortured being poured out to destroy the camp. We get one of his trademark screams—a release—as he takes out everyone and destroys everything but the structure that houses the POWs. This is war, and he is a one-man army. This was before CGI was common so the shots of Rambo flying the helicopter look great!
Once he inflicts the maximum damage from the air, he goes in to get the prisoners. Behold the belt-fed M60E3 machine gun!
Just to make you hate the Russians a little more, one of the wounded officers, shoots at the backs of the fleeing POWs. They get away though, and we enjoy a brief moment of jubilation, until the "flying tankk4" appears. I'm not sure which photo is scarier. Silhouette (as compared to the Bell 212 model Rambo is flying above).
THE BEST WEAPON
All that's left is to head back to base: wounded helicopter, wounded men. Rambo calls in for an emergency landing. Murdock pussies out and so Trautman gives the order to prepare to receive POWs. Although we are relieved they made it safely, Rambo grabs the M60 again, and heads in to look for Murdock. This is the real Big Dog Entrance.
Expending his frustrations on the equipment, Rambo is able to reel in his anger and let Murdock off with a warning. All the emotions in this movie come crashing down when the knife hits the desk. We're glad Rambo won't be going to jail, but he's still disillusioned (and rightly so) . . .
Really drives home the wrongness of disrespecting those who served their country. Heartbreaking! Love this movie but it hurts to watch.
2 The National Liberation Front of South Vietnam (Vietnamese: Mặt trận Dân tộc Giải phóng miền Nam Việt Nam) also known as the Việt Cộng (Vietnamese: [vîət kə̂wŋmˀ] was a mass political organization in South Vietnam and Cambodia with its own army—the People's Liberation Armed Forces of South Vietnam (PLAF)—that fought against the US and South Vietnamese governments during the Vietnam War.
VIETNAM WAR ARMY UNIFORMS
3 In 1972, pressing the North to sign
a peace agreement, Henry Kissinger agreed in Paris to
reparations for the war damage to Vietnam. The chief Communist
negotiator, Le Duc Tho, first suggested $8 billion -- $4.5
billion for the North, $3.5 billion for the South. By the time
an agreement was initialed in January 1973, the figure was down
to a total of $3.25 billion over a five-year period, with the
possibility of an additional $1 billion to $1.5 billion for food
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