Release Date: May 22nd
Box Office: $150,415,432 (US)
You have to hand it to Stallone, when the man has an idea that works he milks it as much as possible. Sure, sometimes a little too much, but he isn’t afraid to keep going back to the well.
Case in point: Rambo.
Now, Stallone had already created one cultural icon with Rocky which is so powerful a character that not even two sequels (by the early eighties at least) could diminish it’s impact. The only problem was his work outside of that wasn’t really catching fire with an audience like with Balboa. You can argue that Nighthawks was a great little proto-buddy cop action movie but the paying public didn’t think so. So, time to go back to that well again.
In 1982 Stallone hit with Rocky III, another $100m film but also snagged a respectable $47m with First Blood, a gritty thriller about a Vietnam veteran being bullied by a small town sheriff and the bloody retribution that followed. And a film that does decent money and good reviews always warrants a sequel.
How things change in three years.
See, it wasn’t necessarily the quality of First Blood that made it a hit, it was that character of John Rambo. It nailed itself right into the cultural psyche.
So the second film is called Rambo: First Blood Part II, putting that name front and centre. The poster shows a now shirtless Rambo, displaying his eighties hard body in all it’s glory. Behind him is a wall of fire.
Make no mistake, this film is a game changer and part of what made the action film so big during the decade. Rambo turns from a conflicted traumatised character who is abused by the authority figures around him, to a man who fires grenade arrows at Russian helicopters to blow them up. It’s a film embraced by then US President Reagan, an American soldier sticking it to the Red Menace the only way he knows how at the height of the Cold War.
It’s slightly more layered than that, but not much. There is still some of the trauma of war in Rambo’s character which is quickly pushed to one side by how cool it looks when things get shot and explode. There is also the idea of Rambo being betrayed by the CIA, or the those far away from the battle. This ties it in to the blue collar politics of the time; in an era when factories were being closed by corporations seeing Rambo stand up to the bureaucracy is a cathartic moment.
It’s a cartoony moment as well. Whereas First Blood felt more like a gritty 70s thriller, Rambo II is an over the top fantasy full of snarling bad men that we want to see get shot. But what it loses in nuance it gains in craziness.
Stallone would return to this well, as he would others. With this film he properly cemented his place at the very top of the movie food chain, even if he had to become war to do so. Wouldn’t last that long though, the rollercoaster of Stallone’s career was about to his a very rough patch. But for this moment no one was bigger than Rambo, not even Rocky.