Three years into his sentence, former green beret John Rambo (Sylvester Stallone) is visited by his old commander, Colonel Sam Trautman (Richard Crenna). With the war in Vietnam over, the public has become increasingly concerned over news that a small group of US POWs have been left in enemy custody. To placate their demands for action, the US government has authorized a solo infiltration mission to confirm the reports. As one of only three men suited for such work, Rambo agrees to undertake the operation in exchange for a pardon. He is taken to meet Marshall Murdock (Charles Napier), a bureaucratic government official overseeing the operation. Rambo is temporarily reinstated into the US army and instructed that he is only to photograph a possible camp and not to rescue any prisoners or engage enemy personnel, as they will be retrieved by a better equipped extraction team upon his return. During his insertion, Rambo's parachute becomes tangled and breaks, causing him to lose his guns and most of his equipment, leaving him with only his knives and a bow with specialized arrows. He meets his assigned contact, a young intelligence agent named Co-Bao (Julia Nickson), who arranges for a local river pirate band to take them upriver. Reaching the camp, Rambo spots one of the prisoners tied to a cross shaped post, left to suffer from exposure, and rescues him against orders. During escape, they are discovered by Vietnamese troops and attacked. When a gunboat manages to catch up, the pirates betray them out of fear. Rambo gets the POW and Co-Bao to safety, destroys the boat with an RPG-7, and kills the pirates. When Rambo reaches the extraction point, the helicopter is ordered to abort by Murdock, who claims Rambo has violated his orders. When Trautman confronts him, Murdock also reveals that he never intended to save any POWs if any should be found, but to leave them caught to save Congress the money it would take to buy their freedom and evade any possibility of further war. Co-Bao escapes, but Rambo and the POW are recaptured and returned to the camp. There, Rambo learns that Soviet troops are arming and training the Vietnamese. He is turned over to the local liaison, Lieutenant Colonel Podovsky (Steven Berkoff), and his right-hand man, Sergeant Yushin, for interrogation. Upon learning of Rambo's mission from intercepted missives, Podovsky demands that Rambo broadcast a message warning against further rescue missions for POWs under fatal cost. Meanwhile, Co infiltrates the camp disguised as a prostitute and comes to the hut in which Rambo is held captive. Rambo at first refuses to cooperate, but relents when the prisoner he tried to save is threatened. But instead of reading the scripted comments, Rambo directly threatens Murdock, then subdues the Russians with Co's help and escapes into the jungle. Will Rambo be able to save the POWs and get out alive?
Despite negative reviews,"Rambo - First Blood II" was a major worldwide box office success, with an estimated 42 million tickets sold in the US. It has become the most recognized and memorable installment in the series, having inspired countless rip-offs, parodies, video games, and imitations.
Compared to "First Blood", the sequel developed the character John Rambo into a stupid and overblown actionmovie hero that goes so quickly into overdrive before you even have time to blink. Stallone lose all credibility of the character by exaggerating everything in "Rambo - First Blood II" and by taking away most of the depth of Rambo we got to see in "First Blood". That film provided at least a small insight into the problems American soldiers suffered from when coming home from Vietnam. The storyline is quite poor, the acting is poor, the editing is poor and the cold war flag waving runs through the whole film. Yes, the action sequences are somewhat well-choreographed and shot ok. However, the action film clichés are massive and ridiculous in most cases. At that point in the mid 80s Hollywood action stars Sylvester Stallone and Chuck Norris created their Vietnam action superhero personas trying to make some sort of amends for the Vietnam war and by "saving" POWs pointing the finger at Vietnam as the bad guy yet again. You can´t get away from the fact that "Rambo - First Blood II" has a very straightforward right wing agenda in which Stallone puts the focus on how sore America were towards the Vietnam war. And besides that the Vietnamese are simply portrayed as stooges for the Soviet Union. I do like the lovely Julia Nickson as Co-Bao, but the character is flatter than a board unfortunately. Rambo - First Blood II" is just a poor mans flag waving 80s action extravaganza in which Stallone gets to flex his muscles in all sorts of angles.
Trivia: According to the documentary We Get to Win This Time (2002), the producers considered teaming up Sylvester Stallone with his Staying Alive (1983) protégé John Travolta (who was once considered to play Rambo himself in the first film) as Rambo's young partner in rescuing the American POWs. Stallone nixed this idea when he decided it would be better to make the film a solo project.