While the taught thriller First Blood was a surprise success that introduced the character of John Rambo (who was never supposed to survive the ending) along with the "Rambo knife," it was the bigger-than-life sequel that cemented the character as a pop culture icon—a muscled, shirtless warrior with long hair, a red headband, and an M60, or an RPG, in his hands.
We find John Rambo at the beginning of this film serving out his prison sentence for the crimes he committed in the first movie working in a hard labor camp, literally breaking rocks.
Rambo is offered the opportunity to score a win for the POWs and MIA soldiers, Marines, and sailors of the Vietnam War who were never recovered, as well as a presidential pardon, by a familiar face who shows up as a visitor: Col. Sam Trautman.
A little piece of trivia for you movie nerds out there—director James Cameron actually wrote the first draft of the script for this movie in 1983 and titled it "First Blood II: The Mission". Stallone kept the core idea, but rewrote about 90 percent of it. Originally, Trautman found Rambo locked away in the neuropsychiatric wing of a VA hospital in North Carolina.
The following adventure was to be sort of a buddy movie with Rambo being sent into Vietnam with a young spec ops soldier who had never been in country before. Word is that John Travolta was being considered for the co-starring role.
Stallone scrapped the idea in the early stages and gave Rambo the female indigenous CIA operative Co Bao (Julia Nickson-Soul) as a guide, but the character is ultimately on his own for most of the movie. He also nixed a lot of the heavy dialog and made Rambo more like he was in the original, always a bit brooding, always watching and considering. Cameron's Rambo talks way too much and says way too many dumb things.
Although I have absolutely no evidence, I firmly maintain that the original idea for Cameron's version of this movie was recycled for the 1993 movie Sniper starring Tom Berrenger and Billy Zane.
You can read Cameron's entire script here for free...but fair warning, the dialog—and the script in general—is pretty awful.
In the movie that was eventually released, Rambo's mission that gets him out of prison is a CIA operation to surveil an old prison camp in Vietnam, where he himself was held prisoner during the war, which is part of why he was chosen. His objective is to take photos, while remaining undetected, to prove POWs are still being held in captivity in 1985, which would then be used to give congress the evidence it needed to authorize rescue missions to recover the men. Or so the story they fed to Col. Trautman and Rambo went.
In reality, the mission was a smokescreen and the CIA spook, Murdock, running the operation intended for it to fail so that they could tell congress they tried. Trautman levels an accusation that even if Rambo did make it back alive and with photo evidence, those photos would have either been lost or doctored. Murdock didn't expect Rambo to survive, let alone actually find American POWs, which he does. And then all hell breaks loose.
In fact, Murdock had his mercenaries set it up so that Rambo would likely be killed during his insertion jump by having him get tangled up in some rigging and dragged by the plane—but he manages to find the strap holding him up and cuts himself free, losing most of his gear in the process.
One might ask why Murdock, if his goal was to have the mission reveal there were no POWs being held in Southeast Asia, would send Rambo to a prison camp at all—knowing he's unstable and that he might do more than take photos.
Even if Rambo managed to survive the rigged jump, the camp he was being sent to was supposed to be empty at that time of year. Co even says it straight up after she and Rambo meet in the jungle: "You come a long way, Rambo, just to see empty camp," and she's the CIA's on-the-ground intelligence officer.
The POW they rescue later tells them, "They move us around all the time, harvesting crops. We've only been there a week." So it's only by chance that the camp had prisoners in it when Rambo and Co arrive—which is why Murdock is so taken aback when the rescue team reports Rambo has "what appears to be an American POW with him. They've got one of ours."
This movie was tonally completely different from the original, which was darkly lit and moody. The sequel had a lot of bright colors, dynamic action sequences, and a lot more violence.
Rambo's body count in the first movie was zero—though he severely injures a bunch, causes the mostly accidental death of one deputy, and nearly kills the sheriff with a machine gun.
In the second one, he takes out 74 people. And while Rambo is in prison at the beginning, his actions from First Blood are never brought up or referenced other than Trautman telling him he'll get a full presidential pardon if his mission is successful.
The sequel paid tribute to the original film by giving Rambo the same machine gun at the end of Part 2 that he used to tear up the town in First Blood to tear up the POW camp in Vietnam, but it's just a bit different this time around, as a sequel should be.
The M60 E3 that Rambo uses this time around was a lightweight improved version of the M60 with a number of updated features. It has a bipod attached to the receiver, an ambidextrous safety, universal sling attachments, a carrying handle on the barrel, a simplified gas system, and a vertical fore grip to help make it more controllable when fired from the hip.
In the final act, after Rambo beats the Russian interrogator hand-to-hand in the helicopter and “convinces” the pilot to exit, he takes control and lands the chopper at the POW camp after using the on-board weapons to soften the enemy defenses from the air.
On his way to free the prisoners, he grabs the door gunner's M60E3 off its mount and wraps a belt of ammunition around his arm. He uses this as his primary weapon until the end of the movie. Whereas he often fired the M60 from the hip two-handed with a sling around him—he uses the foregrip on the M60E3, but often fires the large gun one handed, feeding ammo with the other.
Can this be done by the average person? Actually yes, and there's plenty of video evidence floating around the Internet if you want to look. So could someone in Rambo's physical shape do it? Sure. How accurate would his fire be? At close range, say to 20 or even 30 yards, probably accurate enough, and that's really what we see him do with it when shooting from the hip in the second movie. If you want to see a lot of M60 shooting offhand and from the hip, check out Hickock45's video where he spends some time getting to know the M60 E6.
He covers the POWs with the M60E3 as they board the helicopter and takes out the last few enemy Soviet commandos and NVA soldiers who are still attacking in the decimated camp. (He also cements a firm action movie tradition of hitting every bad guy with every burst, while their AK fire miraculously misses him every time.)
He puts the gun back on its mount after the POWs are aboard. Just as they think they've made a clean getaway, a Soviet Hind helicopter gunship cruises over the horizon with Lt. Col. Padovsky, the Russian commander, behind the stick. A fairly awesome helicopter chase ensues (especially for the pre-CGI days) that ends with a rocket launcher, but more on that later.
When Rambo finally gets back to the CIA outpost with the POWs, he again takes the M60E3 off its mount and heads into the hangar with all the high tech equipment Murdock showed him at the beginning. He proceeds to empty his entire ammo belt into the room destroying pretty much everything, even the water cooler, with links and 7.62 NATO casings flying everywhere. If you pause it just right, you can clearly see the casings and the ammo in the belt are blanks. That doesn't take away from the genuine awesomeness of this scene.
When its run dry, he tosses the M60 over a table and heads into Murdock's office with just his knife.
Heckler & Koch HK94A3 as an MP5A3
At the top of the movie, we get a somewhat extensive "gearing up" montage before Rambo sets off on his mission, which created an oft repeated action movie trope (Commando has one of the most over-the-top examples).
Shots of him preparing his gear are intercut with shots of the CIA-hired mercenary crew and some regular U.S. soldiers readying the plane that will take him to his insertion point, where he will parachute into the jungle. Some materials accompanying the film and some associated products describe it as a freefall HALO jump (High Altitude, Low Open), but Rambo is actually executing a low-altitude jump using a static line.
He preps a bunch of gear he never actually gets to use. When he jumps on the green light, the lines get tangled and he gets hung up and dragged by the plane until he is able to cut through the line that got snagged.
Unfortunately, he has to ditch a lot of his gear to get to that line, meaning he hits the jungle with nothing but his knife and his bow bag, containing his broken down compound bow, arrows, and explosive tips.
One of the weapons he loses is a Heckler & Koch HK94A3 standing in for an HK MP5A3 submachine gun, which was to be his primary firearm. The HK94A3 is the semi-auto civilian version of the MP5A3, which can be distinguished by the lack of a paddle magazine release in favor of a magazine release button.
When he's prepping and loading the gun, we see Rambo look through a 3x scope mounted on top, but in the plane, the scope seems to have been removed.
Something that makes this gun stand out: it features the not-often-seen slimline handguard instead of the much more familiar and bulkier "tropical" MP5 handguard.
Remington 870 Shotgun
After the rescue of the first POW during the recon mission, the river pirates Rambo and his indigenous CIA operative and guide Co Bao used to get to the camp turn on them and reveal they are planning to turn the pair in for a payout.
They take Co's rifle and as she argues with the boat captain, Rambo pulls two push daggers he has hidden in his belt (which we see him stow during the mission prep montage) and stabs one of the pirates with both, using his body to shield himself from the captain's pistol fire.
When the pirate's body falls, we see Rambo has taken the man's cut-down Remington 870 shotgun, which he then uses to shoot every one of the pirates on the boat, except for the one who tries to sneak on deck from the hold, who Co cuts down with her AK.
During the scene, Rambo slam fires the shotgun, which means he holds the trigger down and works the pump action. On older model shotguns, doing this caused a round to be fired as soon as it was chambered. The technique was often employed in WWI to clear trenches.
The addition of the trigger disconnect on modern shotguns, intended as a safety feature, prevents today's pumps from executing a slam fire. On those, if you hold the trigger down and work the action, all you do is chamber a new round. You must release the trigger for the internal hammer to reset.
Once Rambo takes out the pirates, an enemy patrol boat armed with a twin .50 caliber machine gun appears around the bend in the river and is about to get them in its sights. Before it can maneuver into a shooting position, Rambo gets Co and the POW into the water and swimming to shore just in time while he takes cover in the boat through the first salvo of heavy machine gun fire, which chews a lot of the boat to sawdust around him.
RPG-7 (Rocket Propelled Grenade)
When the crew stops shooting to reload, Rambo makes his way to the weapon locker the boat captain showed him when he was bragging earlier on the way to the camp and retrieves an RPG-7 rocket-propelled grenade launcher.
In reality, the launcher looks to be the same as the mock-up launchers used in Red Dawn (as do a lot of the “Soviet” firearms) and not a genuine RPG-7.
The warhead can be clearly seen with Soviet markings, but when translated, they mean “Cartridges 7.62mm 1943 year.” Kind of strange to find on a 70mm rocket.
Rambo retrieves the launcher, flips up the iron sights, aims, and fires at the patrol boat, just as it begins firing its machine guns again. The boat is destroyed, and on fire, but the burning hull crashes into the pirate boat, just as Rambo jumps free with his bow bag.
I have a gripe here. As the burning boat is headed toward him, Rambo is caught with a garrote by a still living pirate who was hiding on a bunk above him. Rambo draws his knife and stabs the pirate through the bottom of the bunk, which is pretty awesome—but my question is, how on god's green earth did that pirate survive the huge salvo of .50 BMG machine gun fire that chopped the boat to bits while he was hanging out up in his bunk?
AKM Assault Rifle
Since he doesn't have any of the firearms he prepared for the mission, Rambo has to rely on what he can pick up in the field. He gets his first AKM from Co Bao after they split up following the river boat shootout. He uses it until he is abandoned by his CIA employers and taken captive on the hilltop. Apparently that very prop gun, still covered in mud, is displayed at a Planet Hollywood restaurant.
Later, when Rambo escapes from the enemy camp with Co's help, he is able to grab his knife, which was used to torture him, but otherwise has to rely on enemy weapons for the rest of the movie. (Co hangs on to his bow and returns it to him, so he has that as well.)
During the escape, he picks up another enemy AKM assault rifle with a magical never-ending magazine, and some snagged hand grenades, to take out a number of enemy pursuers during a breakneck, nighttime, down-hill sprint through the jungle with soldiers and helicopters giving chase.
Here's my number one movie gun gripe with the entire series...other than one time in the fourth movie, Rambo is never seen reloading a firearm. Ever.
When morning breaks after his escape, Rambo and Co have a peaceful moment that actually turns briefly romantic as they hammer out some rough plans to head to Thailand before trying to get back to the U.S. together. Just as they are preparing to move on, Co is shockingly cut down by a barrage of enemy AK fire.
Rambo picks up his AKM and fires down at their pursuers accurately enough to take out all but one of the patrol, the one who fired the fatal shots at Co, who flees toward reinforcements.
Co dies in his arms, and Rambo's goals change just a little bit. (Production Note: the original cut of the movie had Rambo screaming "Nooooo!" after Co dies as the camera pulled away from him into an overhead shot. When test audiences openly laughed, the shot was cut.)
He sets out on a mission of revenge against the men who killed Co, the men who captured and tortured him, and against the war he never stopped fighting by doing what he knows how to do best.
He begins by stalking the men who are chasing him in a scene very reminiscent of the forrest stalking scene in First Blood, only this time, he's not trying to wound a bunch of cops, he's killing trained Soviet commandos. And he does it mostly with his knife and compound bow, but more on those later. I have to say, looking back, I'm kind of disappointed Rambo didn't employ more Viet Cong style booby traps in this sequence, which we saw a bit of in the first movie. Instead, he mostly ambushes the commandos when they get isolated with his knife or bow. However, there is that one awesome scene where he buries himself in mud next to a stream.
When he's finally spotted, Rambo leads his persuers through a small village where they are joined by some NVA reinforcements, who all follow a fake blood trail into a dry field of corn. Once all the Commandos and NVA troops are deep in the field, they see a gutted chicken and an empty gas can just as Rambo strikes a match and sets the field ablaze.
M72 LAW launcher (Light Anti-Tank Weapon)
Rambo uses another rocket launcher near the end of the film in a sequence that includes one of the biggest weapons gaffs in action movie history, and it was committed in the editing bay.
At the end of the aforementioned helicopter chase where Rambo's underarmed Huey loaded with POWs flees a Russian Hind gunship with the Soviet commander in the pilot seat, Rambo plays possum in his chopper, which appears to have crashed in a shallow riverbed.
As the Hind moves in for a closer look, Rambo springs to action in the cockpit and fires a M72 LAW anti-tank rocket launcher, reducing the Hind to a pile of, flaming wreckage.
First of all, Rambo fires the rocket through a large hole in the helicopter’s windshield, which doesn’t appear until right before he fires.
Second, the film editors must have thought the audience wouldn’t have realized that Rambo fired the LAW…since the launcher is a non-firing prop and the point-blank rocket shot is conveyed with a quick smash cut and a zoom followed by the enemy Hind exploding. So, they edited in a couple frames of Rambo’s hand firing the RPG from earlier.
The problem is the RPG has a pistol grip and a conventional trigger, whereas the LAW trigger is a button located on top of the tube, which has no pistol grip.
Once you see it, it’s hard not to notice it every time.
Not to mention the fact that if Rambo had really fired the rocket launcher from inside the chopper, everyone in the passenger area behind him would have been killed or severely injured from the back blast. Also, a rocket launcher was just rolling around in the cockpit, but nobody noticed it the whole time they were bing chased by that giant chopper, which was only a few meters away at times? They should have made it an M79 grenade launcher, which would have been just as evocative of Vietnam-era weaponry and made a lot more sense in the scene.
Hoyt Compound Bow
As I said, Rambo spends a good chunk of the film roughing it and combatting enemies without a firearm, instead armed only with his compound bow and knife.
He had a survival knife in First Blood, and the blade became synonymous with the character, but the bow was a new addition for the sequel—and a fun one at that, since it conjures up all kinds of images of the half Native American using a bow in the jungles of Vietnam during the war.
For this mission, Rambo uses a Hoyt compound bow as his silent, and deadly weapon. It's something of a magic bow, in that the limbs can be removed with an Allen wrench so it can be broken down and fit entirely in his quiver bag. How he is able to assemble the bow in the jungle in the dark without a bow press is left a mystery, though we do get a few shots of him assembling the bow—all we see is him tightening down bolts with a big T-shaped hex wrench.
His black arrows are likewise made for stowability—the shafts unscrew into two pieces, and the broadheads are stored separately.
During the nighttime recon mission of the old POW camp, Rambo assembles his bow for the first time on the edge of the camp. It’s fitted with a stabilizer that also includes a flashlight, though the light is never activated in the film.
Rambo uses the bow, and his boot knife, to silently take out a number of sentries before exfiltrating the camp with a freed POW in tow.
Later, after Rambo’s escape and Co’s death, Rambo again assembles his bow (off screen and without the flashlight stabilizer) and fits the arrows with the explosive tips we saw him preparing in the gearing-up montage at the beginning of the film.
They appear to contain some kind of high-explosive with a plunger detonator on the front. They have a devastating effect on enemy vehicles.
He uses razor broadheads to take out the Soviet commandoes one-by-one in the rain, before switching to the explosive tips after setting fire to the corn field.
After the soldiers and commandos chasing him are wiped out, Rambo uses his last explosive arrow to utterly destroy the enemy soldier who shot Co and abused him at the prison camp.
In real life, the bow was a Hoyt bow nicknamed “The Torque” that was specifically designed for the film with an all black paintjob. It was based on the Hoyt Spectra bow, which is very similar.
The bow was actually released as the Hoyt "Rambo," once the movie became a hit, in a very similar configuration to the bow in the movie, though the limbs were not all black. Occasionally you can still find one on eBay, but they aren't cheap.
The Second Rambo Knife
Rambo’s survival knife was again designed by Arkansas knife smith Jimmy Lile for this movie and is very similar to the First Blood knife. It has a blade that’s about an inch longer and wider than the previous knife, and the center is coated in a matte black instead of the bead-blasted finish of the first knife, which really makes it shimmer and stand out, especially in darker scenes.
The handle is wrapped in black cordage this time instead of green. and the hand guard includes a flat-head and Phillips screwdriver, same as the first one. The sheath is black leather with a collapsible diamond sharpening rod stored in a slender pouch on the front. The First Blood knife had a brown leather sheath and a pouch in the front for a small sharpening stone.
The knife again has a hollow handle, containing a few small survival items. While Rambo doesn’t use the needle and thread to sew himself up in Part II, he uses the compass in the knife's silver pommel to get his bearings after his botched insertion. Later, he uses the matches stored in the knife handle to set fire to the dry cornfield full of enemy troops.
He uses the knife quite a bit throughout, and it gets some nice closeups. During the torture scene, his own knife is used to carve a line across his cheek after its left to heat in a grill.
Later, when he finally returns to the CIA outpost, he threatens to stab Murdock with it, and nearly does, but he slams the blade into the desk just next to Murdock's head instead, leaving him with a threat.
Co Bao's AKM
When Rambo first meets up with Co Bao, she is caring an AKM rifle with a sling as her go-to gun. She has the rifle through the initial insertion in the enemy camp and uses it to fight the river pirates before the army gunboat shows up.
After swimming from the boat, Co meets up with Rambo on the shore. Soon after they go their separate ways. Rambo leaves his bow bag with Co, and takes her AKM as he attempts to get the freed POW to the extraction site.
Why he leaves Co with a weapon she couldn't possible use is kind of a mystery...maybe he thinks she can sell it, or maybe its actually part of his plan in case he gets capture and she has to help him escape. Either way, that's what happens. She brings him the bag when she breaks him out of the prison camp, so he has it for the stalking scene with the Soviet commandos.
MAC-10 Submachine Gun
Later, when Rambo is taken captive by the NVA troops, Co disguises herself as a prostitute to gain access to the camp, presumably having stolen the motorbike and red dress from the actual prostitute we see when they are first surveilling the camp.
Once she takes care of her would-be customer, she unveils a MAC-10 with a long suppressor and proceeds to skulk through the camp until she finds the hut where Rambo is being tortured. The suppressor is actually fake, and her gun is plenty loud, so it's likely it was includes just to make the gun look a bit more intimidating.
Co uses it to blast the men in the hut through the floor as Rambo takes care of his interrogator and leaps out a window after grabbing his knife.
In the first film we had the arm sewing scene, in this one, we have a straight up torture scene.
When Rambo defies his orders to only take photographs of any POWs he might find by actually freeing one and attempting to bring him back, the helicopter sent to extract him flies off, leaving Rambo at the top of a hill with an entire battalion of NVA troops in close pursuit.
He and the escaped POW are taken prisoner and after being hung in a pit of swine filth for a few hours, Rambo is moved to a hut for interrogation when the Soviet commanders show up.
When simple interrogation yields nothing, they move on to "enhanced interrogation techniques." Namely they strap Rambo to a steel box spring that's hooked up to a generator and proceed to zap the hell out of him over and over. They place his knife in a hot grill, and when Rambo refuses to talk, his interrogator, Sgt. Yushin, drags the white hot tip of his knife across his cheek, leaving a scar.
Eventually, Co shows up and helps him escape after he gets off the electrocution rack by pretending to send a message to his superiors—instead, he tells the CIA spook who decided to leave him behind that he's coming for him, and then turns on his guards while Co blasts them through the wood floor with her MAC-10.