Rambo: First Blood Part II

Rambo: First Blood Part II poster

There were at least two high profile odes to testosterone of the pull-the-superhuman-war-hero-out-of-retirement-for-a-suicide-rescue-mission variety in 1985: Rambo: First Blood Part II and Commando. Both traffic in the big, loud, and dumb of 1980s Cold War action tropes. But only Commando is actually fun, because it has the good sense not to take itself so seriously.

Each of Arnold’s one-liners in Commando is a winking acknowledgement that this is high octane escapism, a celebration of wanton destruction in the name of good versus cartoonish evil. Heavy themes are incongruous with that celebration; they don’t sell popcorn. But First Blood Part II holds on tight to both its explosions and its politics, and its heavy-handed protest of America’s shabby treatment of her Vietnam vets casts an unflattering shadow on the film’s ludicrous action sequences, leaving little room for the adrenal mirth they ought to provoke.

First Blood, which introduced us to Rambo, did a decent job of counterbalancing his thorough badassery with the psychological damage he suffered in the wake of the Vietnam war. Replacing the damage with an extra helping of badassery, as First Blood Part II does, deflates its message and does a disservice to the people it claims to honor.

As brawny action flicks go, you can certainly do a lot worse. But if you like your one-man army suicide rescue missions to be unconflicted of purpose, Commando is probably a better bet.

This piece originally appeared on Letterboxd.
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