For the past few years, Vietnam War veteran John Rambo (Sylvester Stallone) has been imprisoned, doing hard labour, but now his old Colonel, Trautman (Richard Crenna), arrives to meet him, speaking to him from behind a chain fence. Looking him in the eye, Trautman tells him that Rambo has been suggested to take on a one man mission in Vietnam, a mission to discover if there are any American prisoners of war left captive in the jungle. If he accepts, Rambo will receive a pardon, but when he agrees to the offer, he is more interested in one question: "Do we get to win this time?"
Well, Rambo gets to win up to a point in that he gets to take his revenge on the symbols of all who have oppressed him, but he didn't quite re-start the Vietnam conflict so he could succeed in wiping out the enemy and giving those namby pamby liberals something to chew over. Back in the mid eighties, this film was a phenomenon, with even President Ronald Reagan coming out as a fan - I say "even", but this seemed to have been made with sucking up to his administration in mind. It was written by Stallone and Terminator director James Cameron from Jean-Michel Jarre's brother Kevin Jarre's story, an unashamedly gung ho spectacular aimed at pumping up patriotic fervour.
The United States of America didn't have a war to fight during the eighties, so Hollywood provided the next best thing: beat the Commies on the silver screen instead. Stallone's other big success at the time was the similarly motivated Rocky IV, the tone of which is echoed here as it's revealed that the Soviet Union has a strong-arm presence in the Far East, and the Vietnamese army are merely the tools of the monolithic force behind the Iron Curtain. However, Rambo has another enemy to fight against, embodied by Murdock (a sweaty Charles Napier), and that's the bureaucrats back home who, it's implied, let the U.S. population down and the soldiers too by not letting them win the war.
When Rambo lands at the American base, he is told by Murdock that his mission is to take photographs only, not to engage the enemy, and that's exactly what he does. Only joking, the way our hero lovingly fingers his massive penis, sorry, hunting knife, it's plain to see that he's all geared up for any number of acts of violence. Yes, fetishism is the name of the game here, with the camera dwelling on Stallone's muscled form and his weaponry with equal relish, even adopting a drooling, sado-masochistic approach to any abuse Rambo not only doles out, but suffers as well, with dubiously Christ-like poses struck by him.
But if you thought that the Vietnamese might take offence at the way they're bumped off with such enthusiasm, don't worry because there's one nice local. Only one, mind you, but that's better than nothing, and she's Co Bao (Julia Nickson), Rambo's contact who speaks in halting English and looks all set to be his love interest, but naturally the moment they share a kiss she is immediately destroyed by the baddies. This is all the excuse Rambo needs to increase the pressure and kill as many Commies as possible, all in the name of saving the handful of P.O.W.s he finds imprisoned - P.O.W.s who he wasn't actually supposed to find.
During the eighties, two threads of entertainment in cinema saw as many characters killed off in as inventive ways as possible; one was the slasher movie and the other was, like this, the action movie, and here "fighting machine" Rambo is happy to assist in fuelling the audience's bloodlust by firing explosive-tipped arrows and rocket launchers and stabbing as many bad guys as the running time will allow. There's hardly any plot at all, just the usual clichés - Steven Berkoff shows up as a Russian colonel to torture Rambo and for us to hiss at - and as much death and destruction that will fit into an hour and a half. It's laughable now, yet the film's overbearing devotion to mayhem and hollow, humourless, right wing mythmaking really caught the mood of a lot of people in its day. Followed by a (flop) second sequel in 1988 and an even more violent revival in 2007. Music by Jerry Goldsmith.