action movie freak    





"Do we get to win this time?"  

(22 May 1985)  Director:  George P. Cosamatos
Story by Kevin Jarre
Screenplay by Sylvester Stallone (first draft by James Cameron1)



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.

• Following the Paris Peace Accords of 1973, 591 Americas POWs were returned during Operation Homecoming.

• When POWs were released, roughly 2,500 servicemen were designated MIA (a figure they use in the movie). As of 2015, more than 1,600 were still unaccounted for.

• Another figure lists 2,646 Americans as unaccounted for (including about 1,350 POWs or MIA and roughly 1,200 reported KIA and body not recovered).

• In June 1992, President of the Russian Federation Boris Yeltsin told NBC News in an interview that some Americans captured during the Vietnam War may have been transferred from Hanoi to the Soviet Union: "Our archives have shown that it is true, some of them were transferred to the territory of the former U.S.S.R. and were kept in labor camps. We don't have complete data and can only surmise that some of them may still be alive."  [What a crock of shit. These men would be at least 63 now (2018). There's no way that whoever is in charge of the labor camp(s) doesn't know who is a prisoner from the Vietnam War.]

SOURCES: Wikipedia Vietnam War POW/MIA issue  |

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 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:

Sir, do we get to win this time?

This time, it's up to you.


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:

I was glancing over your files. Makes for some pretty interesting reading.

Rambo, John J. Born 7-6-’47, Bowie, Arizona, of Indian-German descent—That’s a hell of a combination. Joined the Army H6 ’64, Accepted Special Forces, specialization: light weapons. Cross-trained as medic, helicopter and language qualified, 59 confirmed kills, 2 Silver Stars, 4 Bronze, 4 Purple Hearts, Distinguished Service Cross, and the Medal of Honor.


Murdock lays it all out:


Rambo, you're probably aware that there's almost 2,500 Americans still Missing In Action in southeast Asia. Now, most of these boys are presumed killed, but to the League of Families, Congress, and lots of Americans, it's still a very emotional issue.

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.


Just photographs. Under no circumstances are you to engage the enemy.

I'm supposed to leave them there?

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):


Rambo, you can feel totally safe because we have the most advanced weapons in the world available to us.

I've always believed that the mind is the best weapon.

Times change.

For some people.

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.

Colonel, are you sure he's still not unbalanced from the war? We can't afford to have anybody involved in this mission that might crack under pressure in that hell.
Pressure? Let me just say that Rambo is the best combat vet I've ever seen. A pure fighting machine with only a desire to win a war that someone else lost. And if winning means he has to die, he'll die. No fear, no regrets. 

And, um, one more thing . . . what you choose to call hell, he calls home.

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?


Getting Rambo back to the jungle is everything we never knew we wanted. This is the movie, even more than the first, that cemented the figure of Rambo as the ultimate Super Soldier. More than just the build up by the first movie and by Trautman, once he's unleashed, there's no holstering him. He's so sharp, he even spots Murdock's lie about where his unit was. 

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 . . .


When I came back to the States I found there was another war going on.


What war?

Kind of like a quiet war. A war against all the soldiers returning.  It's the kind of war you don't win.

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:


To survive a war, you gotta become war.


That why they pick [sic] you? Because you like to fight?

I'm . . . I'm expendable.


As Rambo and Co reach the POW camp, Rambo makes it clear he's going in no matter what. Can we take a moment to appreciate Sylvester Stallone's arm . . .

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.

It was a lie, wasn't it? Just like the whole damn war. It was a lie.

"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.


Aw, Trautman, I still don't think you understand what this is all about.


The same as it always is: Money!

In '72 we were supposed to pay the Cong2 four and a half billion in war reparations. We reneged3. They kept the POWs. And you're doing the same thing all over again.


And what the hell would you do, Trautman? Pay blackmail money to ransom our own men and finance the war effort against our allies? What if some burnt-out POW shows up on the six o'clock news? What do you want do? Start the war all over again?  You want to bomb Hanoi? You want everybody screaming for armed invasion? You think somebody's gonna get up on the floor of the United States Senate and ask for billions of dollars for a couple of forgotten ghosts?


Men! Goddamnit! Men! Who fought for their country.

That's enough. Trautman, I'm gonna forget this conversation ever took place.
You bastard!
And if I were you. I'd never make the mistake of bringing this subject up again.
You're the one who's making the mistake
Yeah? What mistake?

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.]


Think this movie doesn't resonate even now? Think again. Enter the Russians. The NVA have been marinating a captured Rambo in what looks like raw sewage and pig slop/shit. Strung up by his arms, he's even got leeches. When the Russians arrive, they haul him out and interrogate/torture him. After all Rambo went through in the war the first time, after losing all his friends, after the mistreatment in First Blood, then winding up sentenced to hard labor(!), seeing him back here in a POW camp is so terrible. It really shows us even more what he's made of. And you don't want to piss him off. After he endures the beating, the shocks, and a burn with his own knife, they want him to radio in. So far, he hasn't said anything. What causes him to agree to speak is to save another man any more pain. You don't really know what he's going to say when he grasps the mic. [He doesn't have anything to say to Trautman because he knows Trautman would never betray him.]

"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 Rambo has become war. And we get to sit back and watch some of the best Action Movie moments ever created, including the one moment I would choose (if I had to choose only one) as the most epic Action Movie moment EVER:  The wall of mud.

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).


Now we have a battle in the skies. Rambo is skilled, to be sure, even if he is outgunned. In the end, he uses the explosion meant to kill him as cover to land his wounded helicopter and play dead. Not only did the Russian pilot intend to kill them all (not capture), he appeared to enjoy it and, a little overconfident, he comes in close to savor the kill. With the sharper mind as his weapon, Rambo capitalizes on drawing him in to take him out.  Sweet!

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) . . .


The war, everything that happened here may be wrong but, dammit, don't hate your country for it.


Hate? I'd die for it.

Then, what is it you want?
I want what they want. And every other guy who came over here and spilt 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.
How will you live, John?
Day by day.

Really drives home the wrongness of disrespecting those who served their country. Heartbreaking!  Love this movie but it hurts to watch.



1 From HeadGeek via Wikipedia, James Cameron wrote a first draft of the script but Stallone took it over.

"I think that James Cameron is a brilliant talent, but I thought the politics were important, such as a right-wing stance coming from Trautman and his nemesis, Murdock, contrasted by Rambo’s obvious neutrality, which I believe is explained in Rambo’s final speech. I realize his speech at the end may have caused millions of viewers to burst veins in their eyeballs by rolling them excessively, but the sentiment stated was conveyed to me by many veterans.... [Also] in his original draft it took nearly 30-40 pages to have any action initiated and Rambo was partnered with a tech-y sidekick. So it was more than just politics that were put into the script. There was also a simpler story line. If James Cameron says anything more than that, then he realizes he’s now doing the backstroke badly in a pool of lies."


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.

The Vietnam War [(Vietnamese: Chiến tranh Việt Nam), also known as the Second Indochina War, and in Vietnam as the Resistance War Against America (Vietnamese: Kháng chiến chống Mỹ) or simply the American War], was a conflict that occurred in Vietnam, Laos, and Cambodia from November 1, 1955 to the fall of Saigon on April 30, 1975. Officially fought between North Vietnam and the government of South Vietnam. The North Vietnamese Army (NVA) was supported by the Soviet Union, China, and other communist allies, and the South Vietnamese army was supported by the US, South Korea, Australia, Thailand, and other anti-Communist Allies.  [SOURCE: Wikipedia]





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 and commodities.

Of course, neither side respected the peace agreement. South Vietnam's president, Nguyen Van Thieu, launched military actions against Communists in the South, and Hanoi's forces made major gains in the Mekong Delta. Washington had its excuse to back off from its commitment to reparations.

That was almost three decades ago. Aside from General Giap's strategic arguments, simple justice suggests that it is time to pay our debt. Last year, the United States offered Vietnam $3 million; at the same time it continues to hold Vietnam to the $145 million debt that the Communists inherited when they took over the South.  SOURCE:  The New York Times, November 18, 2000


4 The Russian helicopter nicknamed the "flying tank" is an Mil Mi-24, but the helicopter in the movie is an Aerosaptiale SA 330 Puma that was modified to look lke an Mil Mi-24. (See all the Rambo 'planes at IMPDB) At 1:23:54 in the movie, one of the guns falls off, but in the next scene it's still there . . .


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