Trautman: John, where are you going?
Rambo: I don’t know.
Trautman: You’ll get a second medal of honor for this.
(Rambo looks over at the rescued POWs)
Rambo: You should give it to them. They deserve it more.
Trautman: You don’t belong here, why don’t you come back with me?
Rambo: Back to what? My friends died here, and a piece of me did too.
Trautman: The war, the whole conflict may have been wrong, but damn it, don’t hate your country for it.
Rambo: Hate? I’d die for it.
Trautman: Then what is it you want?
Rambo: I want what they want, and every other guy who came over here and spilled his guts and gave everything he had, wants! For our country to love us as much as we love it! That’s what I want!
We left Rambo arrested and responsible for injuring a small town sheriff who pushed him too hard. This violence poured out of Rambo after he found out the last man in his unit besides himself had died. The cold shoulder Rambo got from the country he bled for, the country they died for, aggravated and irritated his war-damaged psyche.
Rambo II is the start of the Cheese of this series. Rambo II and Rambo III leave behind the true drama of First Blood and become a set of cheesy action flicks. Enjoyable? Yes! As strong as First Blood and Rambo (4)? No. But even in the middle of the cheese, we see the continuation of the idea of the silent war going on in America that couldn’t be won. The government drafted young men and sent them to die. The ones that made it home faced rejection by their country. The soldiers couldn’t win this war because they couldn’t even fight it. They knew about blood and guts. They didn’t know how to combat the hatred they faced from their fellow Americans.
In a way, as much as First Blood shows us what the men faced, First Blood II is almost an apology from the people. It’s the war in microcosm with a chance for the warrior to have his say at the end. I was always told that Rambo was made so that we could feel like we’d won the war in Vietnam, but I don’t think it was. Granted, Rambo “wins” in that he defies the politicians and gets the POWs home, but he didn’t really win. He was still betrayed and he still had no home to return to. The government still didn’t respect they warrior they had made leaving Rambo still viewing himself as a societal misfit. First Blood shows how we lost that war, and First Blood II shows what we left behind. It shows that the men we trained are more at home on the battlefield than in the city. “What you call hell, he calls home.” It makes Rambo the spoke person for POWs and for all soldiers who were spit on and insulted by their country.
The interesting thing about this movie is that in a way it mirrors the entire Vietnam War. Rambo is sent on a mission. Granted he doesn’t just take pictures, he goes into the camp to investigate, but once a mission gets started it’s really in the hands of the man carrying it out. Rambo discovers American POWs and tries to rescue at least one of them. At this point, he’s betrayed by his own government and left to die. In reality, we never fought the Vietnam War to win. We got involved in it, but due to politics and the confusion of Communism, we never won that war. We could have, but we didn’t. We never went all out. Soldiers took a hill and gave it up, took a hill and gave it up. They fought in hot stinking jungles for land we then retreated from. So, in a way, I guess First Blood 2 is us repeating the war, but this time Rambo saves the men and returns home to confront the politician that left him there to die. It is a bit cathartic, but I don’t think the movie is entirely there to make us feel better. It’s more there to let us get a taste of the betrayal and frustration experienced by our soldiers. It’s there to remind us that it is us who betrayed them, not the other way around. The lasting effects of the Vietnam War, for Americans, is not so much the War as it is us forever haunted by the men we betrayed.
With this concept, I think First Blood II can be a very important cultural film. It’s important to be challenged to think not just about whether you agree or disagree with the Vietnam War, or if you agree or disagree with how it was handled, but to remember that men, boys, battled, bled and died there. Did they do it for nothing? We need to remember, even in this slightly cheesy small way, that at every turn our soldiers were betrayed by politicians, and then hated by citizens. This was a dark point in America’s history and one I pray that we never repeat.
Rambo is in his late thirties by the time he gets sent to rescue POW’s in Vietnam. These men had been left to die by their country. Of course, Rambo wants to get them out. In many ways, they’re analogous to how Rambo felt when he came home. He made it home but he was left to die like a tool no one needed. His friends, the ones who made it back, died because of the chemicals used by the government. In every way, Rambo is still a POW. I think on a certain level, in rescuing them, he rescues himself, just not completely. His healing doesn’t come until the fourth movie. But, he is pardoned and allowed to go his own way.
First Blood II is the only Rambo movie where he kisses a girl. Another woman appears in Rambo 4, but there is no romantic involvement. I think this is part of the reason he doesn’t return home. The only woman he loved lived and died in Vietnam. Again, “What you call hell, he calls home.”
Stallone might be mocked or called a bad actor for his portrayal of Rambo. He spends most of the movie just staring a people and has maybe 12 lines total with most of them coming in the last few minutes of the movie. I don’t think this is due to bad acting, but purposeful directing. Rambo isn’t a typical man. He is a hardened warrior trained to do one thing: kill. Trained and discarded by a government who didn’t want to deal with what it had made doesn’t lend to excessive communication. I think the “mile-long stare” of Stallone is perfect for this character. I also think it showed how uncomfortable Rambo is on base contrasted with his easy and comfort in the jungle. My only problem was my surprise to learn that by First Blood II Rambo is almost 40. Stallone looks younger than a man in his late 30’s, but a little research proved that Stallone was born the same year as his fictional character, so once again, Stallone was the perfect choice for Rambo.
I think, finally, that the cheese level of this movie is important because it keeps the story simple. In keeping it simple, the message isn’t mixed up with lots of other themes, it’s…well…simple: We just want our country to love us like we love it. We want them to love us enough not to leave us behind, and not to waste our lives.
This movie doesn’t so much let Americans feel like they won the war, as it uses Rambo to reminded us of what it felt like to fight in a war where the government betrayed its soldiers. At the mid-point of the movie, Rambo and one POW are surrounded by enemies and the American chopper is not 10 feet over their heads. It can save them. It still has time. But for political purposes, it’s ordered to leave them there. That is the moment where you realize that Rambo has been betrayed again by the very government he’s willingly bleeding for. They left him in Vietnam, again. Even with a certain level of cheese, there is no denying the powerful theme in this movie.
I recommend not watching it as just silly Rambo cheese, but as a simple and clear invitation to emotionally and visually put yourself in the shoes of the soldiers who fought the Vietnam War.
Watching this movie with my ‘Christian-colored’ glasses on and thinking of our pastors as warriors—those front line men who sacrifice much in this life that we call normal—I came away with two thoughts:
One, we are reminded of Christ’s great power and beauty. He is the King who will never leave us behind. He will never betray us. He will win the war against Satan. In contrast to the hopelessness we see in Rambo’s story, we are never without hope.
Two, we need to pray for our pastors. They wage war, wade into battle to rescue those in need, and stand scarred and broken. The very people they seek to protect can betray them. Pray that your pastors wouldn’t trust in men, their popularity, or level of acceptance, but that they would have courage to preach the truth and grace to trust Christ.
On a side note, this is the movie where Stallone calls himself Expendable. I wonder if that gave him the idea for the Expendables movies?