Refiguring Rambo: Competing Imperatives in the High Concept War Film

By Gish, Harrison | CineAction, Summer 2010 | Go to article overview

Refiguring Rambo: Competing Imperatives in the High Concept War Film


Gish, Harrison, CineAction


Of all the films produced during the 1980s to engage the Vietnam War, George Pan Cosmatos' 1985 Sylvester Stallone vehicle, Rambo: First Blood Part II, stands today as the preeminent example of the United States's ill-fated conflict writ large through Hollywood's strategy of visually excessive high concept film production. Of course, warfare and its representation have long been key narrative and generic elements in Hollywood cinema, evident in the work of DW Griffith, whose historical Babylonian battle scenes in Intolerance (1916) were the epitome of cinematic spectacle at the time, and in the more recent spate of fantastical blockbuster films, particularly Peter Jackson's The Lord of the Rings trilogy (2001-2003). The 1980s witnessed a unique conflation of warfare's filmic representation, as the Vietnam War, a real event still prominent in national memory, found itself narratively reconstructed as a fantasy playground for seemingly superhuman, hypermasculine individuals that could single-handedly bring apparent closure to a national, political and military failure beset with trauma. While Chuck Norris freed military prisoners from Vietnam in Missing in Action (Joseph Zito, 1984) and both Patrick Swayze and Charlie Sheen defended the United States against a Communist invasion in Red Dawn (John Milius, 1984), Sylvester Stallone's turn as John Rambo epitomized the subgenre, with Rambo: First Blood Part II being the most financially lucrative and visually excessive film in the 1980s high concept war film cycle. (1)

[ILLUSTRATION OMITTED]

The marketing of Rambo: First Blood Part II, specifically the widely disseminated, instantly recognizable image, displayed on posters and one sheets, of Stallone wielding a rocket launcher and displaying his abundant musculature, intimated the film's focus on war and violence as well as the "strength, readiness, [and] dominance" of the macho male body prior to the film's release. (2) As an unprecedented worldwide success, a true blockbuster, Rambo gained enough prominence that Ronald Reagan lauded the film's ability to inform his foreign policy. Simultaneously, Rambo's popularity instigated debates in the liberal press and academic journals over the coming of the "Age of Rambo" and the overabundance of fantastical violence the film celebrated. (3) In such discourse, Rambo was reviewed and criticized as a paean to the effectiveness of warfare in solving international political conflicts, as an exceptionally conservative film that blamed liberalism for the loss of Vietnam, and as a document of extreme narcissism, all too blatant in its fetishizing of male physical dominance and a new beefcake masculinity. (4)

Such an immediate apprehension of the film is understandable--as a high concept action spectacular designed to promote a high box office return, Rambo, in both its marketing campaign and its construction of filmic narrative, appeals to simplicity, blatancy, and legibility. As Yvonne Tasker notes, this blatancy within 1980s action cinema has led to the categorization of these films as "monolithic", inciting knee-jerk dismissal and outright vehemence on the part of both the liberal press and the "cine-literate". (5) However, Tasker contends that such films are by no means as simplistic as they first appear, and exemplify a multitude of at-times-competing discourses concerning politics, national identity, race and gender relations, and masculinity. This essay proposes a critical rereading and refiguring of Rambo: First Blood Part II as a political film unable to reconcile its two main imperatives, namely a vindication of brute force and heavy militarism as viable international policy and an utter rejection of governmental authority through an endorsement of a primitive and savage individualized masculinity. This irreconcilable collision of competing political invectives will be shown to play out across three registers, specifically the plot and character establishment within the film's diegesis, the visual indulgence of the hypermasculine body in crisis, and the film's inscription of cultural otherness. …

The rest of this article is only available to active members of Questia

Already a member? Log in now.

Notes for this article

Add a new note
If you are trying to select text to create highlights or citations, remember that you must now click or tap on the first word, and then click or tap on the last word.
One moment ...
Default project is now your active project.
Project items
Notes
Cite this article

Cited article

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Buy instant access to cite pages or passages in MLA 8, MLA 7, APA and Chicago citation styles.

(Einhorn, 1992, p. 25)

(Einhorn 25)

(Einhorn 25)

1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

Note: primary sources have slightly different requirements for citation. Please see these guidelines for more information.

Cited article

Refiguring Rambo: Competing Imperatives in the High Concept War Film
Settings

Settings

Typeface
Text size Smaller Larger Reset View mode
Search within

Search within this article

Look up

Look up a word

  • Dictionary
  • Thesaurus
Please submit a word or phrase above.
Print this page

Print this page

Why can't I print more than one page at a time?

Help
Full screen
Items saved from this article
  • Highlights & Notes
  • Citations
Some of your highlights are legacy items.

Highlights saved before July 30, 2012 will not be displayed on their respective source pages.

You can easily re-create the highlights by opening the book page or article, selecting the text, and clicking “Highlight.”

matching results for page

    Questia reader help

    How to highlight and cite specific passages

    1. Click or tap the first word you want to select.
    2. Click or tap the last word you want to select, and you’ll see everything in between get selected.
    3. You’ll then get a menu of options like creating a highlight or a citation from that passage of text.

    OK, got it!

    Cited passage

    Style
    Citations are available only to our active members.
    Buy instant access to cite pages or passages in MLA 8, MLA 7, APA and Chicago citation styles.

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn, 1992, p. 25).

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn 25)

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn 25)

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences."1

    1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

    Cited passage

    Thanks for trying Questia!

    Please continue trying out our research tools, but please note, full functionality is available only to our active members.

    Your work will be lost once you leave this Web page.

    Buy instant access to save your work.

    Already a member? Log in now.

    Search by... Author
    Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed

    Oops!

    An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.