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RAMBO: FIRST BLOOD PART II
4K Ultra HD Edition

Review by Gordon Justesen

Stars: Sylvester Stallone, Richard Crenna, Charles Napier, Steven Berkoff
Director: George P. Cosmatos
Audio: DTS HD 5.1
Video: Anamorphic Widescreen 2.35:1
Studio: Lionsgate
Features: See Review
Length: 95 Minutes
Release Date: November 13, 2018

Sir...do we get to win this time?”

This time, it’s up to you.”

Film ***1/2

The success of First Blood allowed Stallone to evolve a small, surprise hit into another blockbuster franchise, just like he did with Rocky. In the summer of 1985, Rambo: First Blood Part II landed in theaters and went on to become one of the biggest box office hits of that year. There are two sheer qualities to this movie; it’s both a superior follow up and literally one of the most action packed movies to ever hit the multiplex.

Even though this movie dispenses with the grim tone of First Blood, I’ve always thought it was the right direction to go in. While we caught glimpses in the first movie of Rambo’s specialized combat tactics, here we get a first hand look at why he’s the most elite killing machine the army ever produced. Give the man an M-16 and his trademark combat knife, and he’s more than good to go.

The movie runs a quick 95 minutes, and I will go so far as to say that around 75-80 minutes of the film is nothing but pure action, and some of the best captured on film during the 1980s. Watching Rambo: First Blood Part II is one of those movies where, while watching, you really have to appreciate all of the hard work that went into it. By today’s standards, it still remains a most impressive piece of work as far as the action genre is concerned.

If you recall in First Blood, Rambo was fighting a personal war as society challenged him to live a normal life as a survivor of the Vietnam War. Here, Rambo is yanked from prison by Col. Trautman for a secret operation that could very much redeem him. The mission is to venture into enemy territory, Southeast Asia to be exact, and sneak into a suspected POW camp, which is holding missing American soldiers. He’s ordered to scout the camp, take pictures, and not to engage the enemy, but if anyone is familiar with Rambo's tactics, then it's safe to assume that things won’t go as planned.

At the heart of all of the extravagant action of Rambo: First Blood Part II is Rambo's fight for self-redemption. In the opening of the film, Rambo is doing hard labor as a result of his actions in the first movie. Col. Trautman's surprise assignment is the character's only chance to free himself not just from prison, but also from his inner demons.

The man behind the structure of this operation is a shadowy figure named Murdock, played memorably by Charles Napier. When it becomes clear that Murdock has sent Rambo into enemy territory and not wanting the mission to exactly succeed, Trautman clashes with him in several scenes of debating that are very well acted, even if there isn't a whole lot of meaning to it. All that concerns us is that Rambo extracts his rage on Murdock in the end.

Stallone co-wrote the screenplay with none other than James Cameron, who at this point had already made a name for himself with his breakthrough hit, The Terminator. Cameron, of course, has always had a go-for-broke sense of extreme filmmaking, and the lengthy epic feel of the action is without a doubt in the true Cameron spirit. What more can be said of a guy who got to work with both Stallone and Schwarzenegger in the span of a year?

Much credit should also go to director George P. Cosmatos, who also directed Stallone in Cobra, as well as the memorable western Tombstone. Cosmatos applies a grand and atmospheric look to the action and setting. The sequence where Rambo attacks enemy villages by way of a chopper is wonderfully executed, and the visual enhancement that Cosmatos applies makes it inevitably seem like a roller coaster ride, and the result is one of the best action scenes of the 80s.

I also especially get a kick out of the scenes where Rambo takes out his enemies with a bow and arrow equipped with explosive tips. The physical presence of Stallone is totally convincing. This is the movie that really transformed him as a larger than life action star, as Stallone went through a strong physical enhancement.

As far as action movies go, Rambo: First Blood Part II is one you can simply never go wrong with. It represents a high point for the series, as well as action movies in general.

Video ****

The Rambo movies only got better in terms of presentation quality in past formats. The same can be said of its 4K Ultra HD incarnation, as this installment marginally upstages its predecessor in the video presentation department. Whereas the first movie was limited to mostly night time action in the forest, this sequel gives us plenty of daytime action set pieces, all of which pretty much explode off the screen. I had no idea the same man who worked on many of the classic Powell and Pressburger films, John Cardiff, was the cinematographer here. The aforementioned chopper raid scene looks more glorious than ever, and the overall 4K quality really lends itself to the authentic jungle setting (even though, this was entirely shot in Mexico).

Audio ****

Same case with the audio quality, as the performance gets bumped up a notch for this sequel. The reason for that is quite simple; much more bombastic action is on display here. Once Rambo is back in the jungle, you can forget about silence as gun fire, explosions and all sorts of physical combat take hold on your sound system, which gets a good working courtesy of the supplied DTS HD mix. Again, Jerry Goldsmith’s music score is staggeringly well delivered and dialogue is terrifically well heard!

Features ****

Lionsgate continues its grand streak of well supplying these movies with extras for this 4K Ultra HD release. Included on the 4K disc is a commentary with director George P. Cosmatos. That can also be found on the standard Blu-ray disc, along with the rest of the extras. Among those are a good number of featurettes, including “Rambo Takes the 80s Part 2“, featuring more insight into the series and even bigger splash this one made on the culture at the time. There’s also additional featurettes including the retro making of special, “We Get to Win this Time”, as well as interviews with Sylvester Stallone and Richard Crenna, ”Action in the Jungle”, chronicling the difficult action shoot, “The Last American POW”, which takes a glimpse at POW Robert Garwood’s return home, “Sean Baker: Fulfilling a Dream”, which takes a glimpse at one truly dedicated fan of the series, Behind the Scenes footage, and “How to Become Rambo Part 2“, continuing the glimpse of the extreme exercise regiment one must go through to look like the character. Lastly, we get a look at The Restoration, a Trailer and TV Spots.

Summary:

Rambo: First Blood Part II captures the series at the height of its popularity, and understandably so. It was very much a product of its time, but I much prefer it as a slam-bang, comic book like action movie than any sort of political statement. The 4K Ultra HD release from Lionsgate is a grand upgrade, indeed!

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