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Alternet - September 20, 2019

"... At a time when children from Latin America are being ripped away from their parents at the southern border, when the president isplanning to spend billions more on a boondoggle of a border wall, when racism against racial minorities is peaking. In other words, when we live in Trump’s America, it is impossible to view this film as anything other than a rationalization of the very bigotries that are hurting millions of people in our real world."

... The film repeatedly perpetuates right-wing myths about America’s treatment of Vietnam War veterans, such as that they were regularly spit on and harassed by antiwar protesters (a 1971 Harris Poll survey found that 99% of veterans said they were treated in a friendly manner by friends and family, and 94% said the same thing of their generational peers). It makes valid points about PTSD and institutional indifference to veterans’ health, but focuses on the idea that America is full of ingrates who can’t appreciate the idealized, Nietzschean hyper-masculine men that supposedly represents everything noble about this country. When the protagonist goes on a rampage, it is morally justified by how he was persecuted by small-town cops — and his persecution is brought on by a sadism rooted not in the truth, but in right wing myths about America that allow its audiences to root for someone who would otherwise be seen as contemptible.

That is the key to understanding the Rambo movies: They are gruesome, cruel, egregiously violent stories that justify their existence with political messaging. If they were straightforward exploitation films — explicitly meant to horrify, titillate or just in general get the adrenaline pumping — they’d be as innocuous as any other action movie created in that style. The problem is that they aspire to be more than escapist entertainment; their goal is to send a message. When you take action film genre tropes and graft a political narrative onto them, people often imbibe the ideology along with the spectacle. That is when they become propaganda.

The best film in the series is easily the second installment, 1985’s “Rambo: First Blood — Part II” (you’ll quickly notice that the titles become progressively more nonsensical), which at least had the good sense to be premium-grade cheesy ’80s action shlock. Things blow up real nice in that one, people get mangled and mauled in creative ways and from a pacing perspective it zips right by like other ’80s action classics such as 1987’s “Predator” and 1988’s “Die Hard.” Yet while the craftsmanship is top notch as overwrought action movies go, the politics are still quite toxic. As New York Times film critic Pauline Kael wrote at the time, it is “a wired-up version of the narcissistic jingoism of the John Wayne-Second World War pictures. Its comic-strip patriotism exploits the pent-up rage of the Vietnam vets who feel that their country mistreated them after the war, and it preys on the suffering of the families who don’t know what happened to their missing-in-action sons or brothers, fathers or husbands

Yes, “Rambo: First Blood — Part II” is all about the idea that Communist no-goodniks and their liberal pencil-pushing bureaucratic enablers in Washington secretly know that there are Vietnam War POWs being held captive by one-dimensional Vietnamese caricatures, being tortured because America reneged on war reparations after the conflict (one wonders how leftists are supposedly such spendthrifts on certain occasions and then cheap on others). It vilifies both the Soviet Union and the Vietnamese in ways that are consistent with a neoconservative philosophy, both in the Cold War era and by implication in our own, and adds some conspiracy theorizing on top of that. One can imagine a casual Republican watching this movie, having a blast and then cursing about the damn liberals who betray America’s soldiers but never pick up a gun themselves. ...
Read full review at Alternet