As Rocky punched his way through the Cold War, Rambo was still fighting in Vietnam. “Rambo: First Blood Part II” has Rambo emerging from prison in a deal with the government to investigate possible prisoners of war still in Vietnam. When he finds them, Rambo is instructed to only take pictures, but he goes off-script, rescuing them against the wishes of his commanding officer.
When he does so, he gets left in the jungles of Vietnam with only his wits and training to rescue the POWs and get back home. Just like in “Rocky IV,” this Stallone character goes up against members of the Soviet army, and their defeat is quite a bit more explosive than in the boxing movie. It was a rousing action movie, with more explosions and bodies than you could count.
The Cold War in the Ring
“Rocky IV” is remembered for being a small-scale Cold War fought on the silver screen. Drago, played by Dolph Lundgren, was a product of the Soviet Republic and something the nation wanted to demoralize America. Well, Rocky isn’t about to let that happen, no sir. The film was somewhat mixed critically upon release, with criticism being leveled at the predictable screenplay, as well as being almost like propaganda – negative portrayals of Soviets abound. On the other hand, critics found Ivan Drago a compelling villain.
Whatever the critics said, the public loved it. It earned over three hundred million dollars worldwide, becoming the highest-grossing movie of the franchise and the third highest-grossing movie of 1985 domestically, and second-highest worldwide. The number one spot on the domestic list was “Back to the Future.” What about the number two spot? It also starred Stallone.
Fighting for Real
Both of the men knew that they were filming a movie, but that doesn’t mean there was no danger in a ring containing Sylvester Stallone and Dolph Lundgren. Stallone might have been training, but Lundgren was a real fighter – he’s a fourth Dan black belt in karate and was even European Karate Champion from 1980 to 1981. To make the big fight at the end of the film more real, they agreed to actually hit each other, a decision Stallone probably regrets to this day.
Lundgren hit him in the chest so hard his heart started swelling – had he not received immediate medical attention, the strike might very well have killed him. After a few days of recovery, the two actors decided to go back to fake boxing.
A Sorry Sequel
We’ve already discussed that the second Rambo film made more than its fair share of money at the box office, but critics weren’t anywhere near as pleased with it as they were with the first film. Instead of a deep and tragic hero, Rambo turned into a muscled berserker like so many others. It was a fun action flick – nobody had the guts to deny that. Many critics found it lacking in tension, figuring Rambo was all but invincible, and that’s exactly what he was.
Even Gene Siskel gave the film three out of four stars, saying the movie was great action, but that’s all it was. Incredibly, the movie was nominated and won numerous Razzies, including Worst Picture, Worst Actor, Worst Screenplay, and Worst Original Song (“Peace in Our Life” by Frank Stallone Jr.).
Not a Fan of the Animated Series
Following the relative success of the second Rambo film, a whole lot of merchandise started appearing on shelves for the character. Stallone didn’t appreciate this, since the character was at his core a tortured war vet – not the kind of thing that should be an action figure. However, he didn’t have much say, since he didn’t own the character.
Even more, a 1986 animated series called “Rambo: The Force of Freedom” appeared on television, which had a far-softened version of the character, doing good deeds and fighting the bad guy (a nefarious villain named General Warhawk). Once again, Stallone wasn’t pleased, but once again he had no ability to stop it. Thankfully for him, however, the show only lasted a single season.