Moriarty’s DVD Shelf! Round Two! MAGNUM FORCE VS. RAMBO: FIRST BLOOD PART II!!
Hey, everyone. “Moriarty” here.
Here’s a link to part one of this article.
With DIRTY HARRY, that’s a film I’ve seen over and over, a film I’m intimately familiar with at this point. FIRST BLOOD, not as much, but it’s definitely something I’ve revisited many times since its first release. I’ve always liked it, but of the two, DIRTY HARRY was the one that tickled my pleasure center more directly.
In terms of the sequels, though, RAMBO: FIRST BLOOD PART II got a lot of heavy play in my house in the ‘80s. Directed by George Pan Cosmatos. Written in part by James Cameron. Easily one of the prototypical ‘80s action films in every way. By contrast, I’ve only seen MAGNUM FORCE once or twice, so this double-feature will be interesting. I decided to flip the order from the previous double-feature and start with the new Lionsgate BluRay release of the second film in the RAMBO series.
Ahhh... that TriStar logo. And then that great opening scene where you learn everything you need to know about the ride that’s about to start. “Sir... do we get to win this time?” So efficient. So few sequels come up with truly compelling reasons to bring the characters back, but this one gets it right immediately, gets it out of the way, then get down to the business at hand. Jerry Goldsmith’s score, Jack Cardiff’s photography, and the awesome comic book eye Cosmatos brought to this one... all beautifully represented on this new BluRay disc. When Charles Napier and Martin Kove show up in the same scene, you know you are in for some spectacular scumbag ahead. Along with Steven Berkoff as the commander of the Russian forces, they form the best rogue’s gallery of the entire RAMBO series. Because they give Rambo a compelling set of villains to butt heads with, and because of the way things pile onto him, the film pays off consistently, one solid action scene after another.
I’ll give MAGNUM FORCE the advantage for opening titles, though. Just that blood-red background, Harry’s hand, and the gun. Ohhh, that gun. As with R:FBII, this movie could be categorized as gun porn.
Seriously. Think about that scene at the end of RAMBO where he comes into “The Wolf Den” headquarters and shoots up all of that state-of-the-art equipment that was supposed to save his ass, shirt Stallone with the giant machine gun, both of them oiled up, and there are something like 40 different angles of him feeding the belt into the gun and firing, and it’s really Stallone doing it, and it’s the money shot of the movie pretty much so... yeah... gun porn. MAGNUM FORCE tells you right up front: you came to see Dirty Harry’s great big gun, so... here it is.
I don’t know about you guys, but I always love scanning the opening credits for character actors or department heads I like, and MAGNUM FORCE promises the trifecta of David Soul, Robert Urich, and Tim Matheson, as well as Buddy Van Horn as 2nd unit director. I don’t think I’ve seen this film since it came out on laserdisc, so that’s been about fifteen years. Curious to see if my reactions are any different to it now. I think my first viewing of it may have been on network television, in pan-and-scan, so this print... it’s pretty much a different movie than I what I saw back then. When you see the screenplay credited to Michael Cimino and John Milius (who both did uncredited work on the first one), that should be the thing that guarantees greatness. Those two were both at the height of their creative powers right around the time they were working on this, or just coming into their own. They were pretty hot-shit young guys at the time, and both smart and edgy and outsiders somehow working in the system successfully. Lalo Schifrin’s score is one of the things I forgot to mention in my review of the first film. It’s one of his best, a great piece of mood that captures the paranoid, post-Summer of Love meltdown of San Francisco. MAGNUM FORCE isn’t quite as iconic a piece of work, but it’s more excellent work by him. And then there’s Ted Post.
... who? I mean, not to be a dick, but after Don Siegel made the first one, the best Warner Bros. could come up with was... Ted Post?
The first line of dialogue in the film, as the opening credits end, is a flashback to the first film, and it’s a sign that they were already treating Harry as a sort of real-world superhero. That callback’s like a reminder of his origin story at the top of the first page of a comic from the ‘70s. Harry’s far more mythological in this one, a creative choice that I think sometimes traps a character in amber instead of encouraging a real sense of life.
Regarding Ted Post and scope: he has no feel for the frame or how to use it. Without looking him up on the IMDb, I can tell you this is a TV guy. I know he directed one of the PLANET OF THE APES movies and HANG ‘EM HIGH, which is why I assume he got this job, but this guy is TV, through and through. Then again, there’s Hal Holbrook playing Captain Redherring Ballbuster, and sure enough, he’s busting Harry’s balls, so that’s good news.
Man, MAGNUM FORCE suffers from sequelitis. Here’s a good example. In the first movie, in the classic bank robbery scene, Harry’s eating a hot dog when the robbery starts. It inconveniences him, because he manages one last bite before he sets it down and walks outside, still chewing. Here, Harry sees something going on at an airport while he’s eating a hamburger, so when he decides to get involved, he takes the burger with him and keeps eating the entire time. It’s trying too hard to turn the first film’s quirks into codified habit. That’s the danger in any sequel when you work too hard to repeat the exact ingredients of the original.
Here’s the thing: RAMBO has a reason to exist, narratively. The idea of taking that guy, so broken at the end of FIRST BLOOD, and giving him the chance to go back to Nam and win? That was an unbelievably powerful fantasy in 1985. Love it or hate it, that struck a nerve. It wasn’t an excuse for a sequel; it was a valid reason.
MAGNUM FORCE does ofer some rich thematic material for Harry, or at least it tries. The decision he made at the end of the first film has to change something for the character, and it did. It marked him. His bosses are afraid of his nuclear strike sensibility, but they can’t cut him loose. They know he does have an occasional use. So they ride him constantly, and he ignores them just as constantly. It’s just this side of unbearable for all of them. The idea of Harry discovering this police force within the police force, working without restraint and free to wipe out the worst scum without worrying about due process... well, that’s rich ground for that character to cover. But it really only works as a logical next step if Harry is tempted to join these cops, and he never is. For some reason, he acts like they’re obviously out of control from the moment he figures it out, and that seems wrong to me.
Wouldn’t it make more sense if Harry had a moment where he sees some total piece of shit turned loose to kill again, and he knows when the guy is going to be alone, and he has the chance to kill him without any strings attached? Because it takes the end of the first film and escalates it from there. But here, things play out with all the thematic complexity of an episode of MANNIX. Still, it’s got moments. Scenes. Images. Harry’s Asian neighbor is the best neighbor ever. There’s a charm to watching Clint Eastwood beat six shades of shit out of Hal Holbrook. And there’s a pretty damn good chase scene and protracted cat and mouse action sequence near the end, but I suspect that’s got more to do with Buddy Van Horn, who I mentioned earlier, and who I’m sure I’ll mention again before the end of this series.
Both films feature superior transfers, but it’s obvious which one is better. RAMBO: FIRST BLOOD PART II is confident and focused and it is such a great sequel that it feels like the first film is incomplete without it. MAGNUM FORCE is meandering and unfocused and never really makes the most of the good ideas it does raise. I’ll be playing that disc at least one more time, though, to hear the John Milius commentary, but even with that...
DECISION: RAMBO: FIRST BLOOD PART II
This next match-up is going to be the roughest of the whole series... THE ENFORCER versus RAMBO III. I have a feeling that in a match like that, I’m the one who loses. We’ll see...
Drew McWeeny, Los Angeles
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June 17, 2008, 8:56 a.m. CST
Is in part II, when he's being forced to radio out to his commanding officers. There is a lightning strike, the camera goes in tight on Rambo's fist as it curls taught around the heavy, vintage lead microphone. You can see every bead of sweat on Rambo's forearm and hear the sinew pop as he tightens his grip on the microphone. The music goes quiet except for some reedy "80's action" sounds, and then BOOM Rambo goes bugnuts! To me, that's as good as action cinema gets.
June 17, 2008, 8:58 a.m. CST
by Uncle Stan
June 17, 2008, 9:05 a.m. CST
Damn You Michael Bay
June 17, 2008, 9:06 a.m. CST
June 17, 2008, 9:08 a.m. CST
by A G
..20 years ago I mean.
June 17, 2008, 9:22 a.m. CST
I mean, really, pointing the rocket at the helicopter WHILE HE IS INSIDE A HELICOPTER AND HAS PEOPLE SITTING RIGHT BEHIND HIM. That scene was so implausable to me that it ruined an otherwise great action film.
June 17, 2008, 10:07 a.m. CST
By itself, Rambo 2 is a really great 80s action film and, within the confines of the action genre, a relatively smart take on things. The first Rambo, however, is more of a drama: a "Fugitive" for vets. Oh sure, it has a bit more action than most drams, but just think about how many times the characters sat down and talked with another about the issues concerning the Vietnam Vets? Yeah, the first Rambo isn't exactly Shakespeare, but there were some serious issues being dealt with in that movie that were overlooked by civilians of the era, whereas Rambo 2 was just an 80s action fest whose sole issue was "rescue the vets."
June 17, 2008, 10:08 a.m. CST
Though I haven't seen First Blood part II in years, I don't think a rewatch would make me prefer it to the sheer awesomeness that is Magnum Force. It's a little uneven, but come on! It forces Dirty Harry to go up against the flip side of exactly what he is. Also, a naked Suzanne Sommers gets shot. And all the weird gay subtext between the cop vigilantes...it's just too good.
June 17, 2008, 10:12 a.m. CST
Hey, as long as they can shoot like that, I wouldn't care if the entire department was queer!
June 17, 2008, 10:14 a.m. CST
by Lost Jarv
Dirty Harry sequels get exponentially crapper until the Dead Pool sucks like a dyson. Rambo 2 and 3 are far better and Rambo 4 destroys DH4.
June 17, 2008, 10:17 a.m. CST
June 17, 2008, 10:19 a.m. CST
by David Cloverfield
Think about it. It makes sense. It's the 70s. Rambo just arrives back to the US from Nam he is crazy and tears shit up in San Francisco, behaving like a punk. DH doesn't like that one bit. Do it till they're both alive to do the voices!
June 17, 2008, 10:21 a.m. CST
by Spandau Belly
in The Enforcer. That was hilarious! Plus Harry busting out a rocket launcher for a big showdown on Alcatraz was pretty absurdtastic.<br><br>However I'll actually the Death Wish series over Dirty Harry or Rambo.
June 17, 2008, 10:26 a.m. CST
by Nice Marmot
They're both poor sequels. But I guess I'd give it to Rambo, since I categorize it as so-bad-its-good & funny. That said, I hate to admit that, upon rewatching First Blood, I agree w/ anyone who thinks it falls apart once the weekend warriors blow up the mine entrance. I realize this comment belongs in the other talk-back.
June 17, 2008, 10:29 a.m. CST
Just like Sly did with the Rocky series, he started with a good movie and as the series continued, he made it more and more cartoonish (even if they were occasionally entertaining). I agree with ziggy5yrs in that Magnum Force had a fantastic concept! It was probably the last really good Dirty Harry movie - Dead Pool needs to be erased from existence.
June 17, 2008, 10:31 a.m. CST
And that's the problem with Darabont's Indy script right there.
June 17, 2008, 10:40 a.m. CST
I did always love the scene where Harry is hanging on the hood of the car, just before the car rams into a pole, impaling the drivers side. I remember when it was a big deal between Eastwood and Reynolds doing their own stunts in the '70s.
June 17, 2008, 10:40 a.m. CST
by Spandau Belly
It turns into an urban Rambo movie at the end. In fact, I doubt John Rambo himself would even believe his own eyes if he walked into that.<br><br>So yeah, Death Wish is the best of them oldschool action series that just get more and more absurd and turn out more sequels than you'd have ever thought possible.<br><br>Then you get into the next generation and I'll definately take Lethal Weapon as an overall series over Die Hard. But maybe the first Die Hard film is better than the first Lethal Weapon film. But I also consider Lethal Weapon 2 the best Lethal movie.
June 17, 2008, 10:41 a.m. CST
But that may be because it seems like it's always showing on TV.
June 17, 2008, 10:45 a.m. CST
June 17, 2008, 10:59 a.m. CST
by Mel Gibsteinberg
When people say "not to be a dick, but..." and then go on to be exactly that. I love it, its such a great qualifier, because I realize that with that power, I CAN DO ANYTHING! <P> For example, at work from now on, I will just tell my co-worker Sally, "hey honey, not to be a dick, but your poon stanks! time to hit up that Summer's Eve Tropical Rain douche. <P> Or how bout, "hey Ralph, not to be an asshole, but Sheila in accounting says you got a small johnson, just thought you should know everyone is talking about you and your microscopic wang!"<P> See, by saying, not to be a dick, I am untouchable, cause I told them, I wasn't being a dick! Therefore, my actions following, are not dickish, they are fine and acceptable. <P> Thank you Mori, you have taught me a valuable lesson!
June 17, 2008, 11:44 a.m. CST
I gotta disagree with this decision. Maybe MAGNUM FORCE isn't the hardhitting exploration of police accountability that it could've been, but it DOES take the bold step of challenging the hugely popular themes of the first movie. RAMBO doesn't challenge the audience but pampers it like a fucking baby, projecting the first movie's concern for vets into a moronic cartoon world where instead of an emotionally vulnerable killing machine Rambo is a super-powered mass murdering God who can not only single-handedly take on an army, but can refight the Vietnam war to recapture America's soul. I'm not sure why they didn't have him swing by South Africa to end apartheid. And then he could do a tour of the states massacring drug gangs while healing the wounds left over from the civil war. Don't get me wrong, I like it because it's a fuckin ridiculous movie. But MAGNUM FORCE is a smarter sequel that honors the first one better than this one does. It recaptures what was fun about the first one while putting a new spin on it. And there's an awesome motorcycle chase. Rambo doesn't even know how to ride a motorcycle.
June 17, 2008, 11:47 a.m. CST
by DC Films
These movie are incomparable! Rambo is a brainless turd compared to it's predecessor, First Blood - that was a great movie, Rambo morphed the set-up into a shallow bang-bang crapfest! (Rambo 3 was worse still, while John Rambo re-injected some of the broken-heart and adventure, but remained weighed down by it's need for gore-spectacle and body count). Magnum Force is a great sequel. Not quite up there with it's predecessor, but almost - a worthy script that delves more deeply into the original's anti-establishment themes. It turns the tables on Clint's character, saying, OK, Harry, we know you're a badass, but where do you draw the line - that keeps him human. It's a genius turnaround for a sequel to pull (making HIM the establishment investigating cops not much more rogue than himself). Rambo is the lame duck at the funfair that's nailed to the target, so you know it'll never fall down, no matter how many times you shoot it. Magnum Force is the Ghost Train with intellectual as well as visceral scares. Are you seriously comparing these films, Moriarty?
June 17, 2008, 11:47 a.m. CST
See? I wanted to say that, but you knew how.
June 17, 2008, 11:56 a.m. CST
I just saw him on Attack Of The Show a little while ago. He said Hellboy 2 was better than the first (great news since I enjoyed the first film - although I am incredibly disappointed that Hyde Pierce isn't back) and Del Toro's best commercial film so far....But he said that he had heard that Dark Night was "good". Just "good"....Not great? This summer has really sucked for me movie wise and I know I am not the only person who feels this way. If Dark Night is only going to be "good" and not AMAZING then I'm in big trouble. But everything I've seen of the film so far has me really excited. And Prestige is one of the best films I've seen in recent memory.
June 17, 2008, 12:12 p.m. CST
by George Peppard
feels like a TV show, wait until The Enforcer. Anyway, what some call "unfocused and meandering" I call "A Week in The Life of Harry Callahan". Magnum Force is swell. Rambo II was just ripped off from Uncommon Valor.
June 17, 2008, 12:34 p.m. CST
He rode that dirt bike like Jenna Jameson rides a cock. WITH TALENT. Trust me, the man can ride a motorcycle.
June 17, 2008, 12:39 p.m. CST
Both had real hot Asian women but Harry's neighbor wins hands down with that line: "So what does a girl have to do to go to bed with you?"
June 17, 2008, 12:51 p.m. CST
"AM I RIGHT??" ;)
June 17, 2008, 1 p.m. CST
by Spandau Belly
Right now of Dirty Harry, Rambo, and Death Wish I'm going with Death Wish as best overall series even though I think Rambo got a bit more inventive and absurd in its sequels and all four Rambos are in my opinion good films, but Death Wish appeals more to my sensibilities and the absurd urban violence of parts 3 - 5 was hysterical. The first three DWs are the best, but those last two are funny too. And I think Death Wish and Rambo have more in common in that the first of both of those series were more serious statements and the lead characters had internal struggles, whereas Dirty Harry was more of an action hero right out of the gate and had a couple weak films.<br><br>However Rambo's not done. Rambo 4 wasn't a bookend film like Rocky 6 was, but I didn't mind. I was happy to see another real Rambo film after so long. But I get the feeling Rambo 5 will be that meaningful bookend film and might bring the overall series up a couple notches in book.
June 17, 2008, 2:32 p.m. CST
by Second Try
One the best action movies of the 80s. The ending was great too. To me the second best in the series was Rambo 4, great film too.
June 17, 2008, 2:33 p.m. CST
That's the reason the film rolls out with so much momentum. Not to mention some of the corniest moments. My favorite: taking his girlfriend's good luck charm after she's been ripped up by machine guns.
June 17, 2008, 2:34 p.m. CST
by Second Try
He rides machine guns.
June 17, 2008, 3:51 p.m. CST
by DC Films
Pre-production - looks to be set in New Mexico/Arizona
June 17, 2008, 4:29 p.m. CST
by Nasty In The Pasty
...when Sly finally kisses his Vietnamese girlfrind...only to have her riddled with bullets and dying in his arms less than TEN SECONDS LATER. Hilarious...
June 17, 2008, 5:07 p.m. CST
I thought everyone knew this?
June 17, 2008, 5:18 p.m. CST
but then gets bogged down with all the ex-Mrs. Eastwood garbage. For my money, Magnum Force is the best sequel.
June 17, 2008, 5:20 p.m. CST
and everybody knows that. Oh, sure, everyone keeps calling Harry Shockley, but I figure he was just undercover....
June 17, 2008, 6:15 p.m. CST
Somebody's gonna take your geek credentials away, man. Well, with that talkback name nobody's gonna say you didn't warn us.
June 17, 2008, 6:22 p.m. CST
by DC Films
I agree. And Gilkuliehe, you're right - Blade 2 is one of the best sequels ever - it's like John Carpenter changed his name to Del Toro and could make great movies again!
June 17, 2008, 6:37 p.m. CST
by Iowa Snot Client
Right now of Dirty Harry, Rambo, Death Wish, and Leonard, I'm going with Leonard as best overall series.
June 17, 2008, 7:25 p.m. CST
Rambo II. es caca
June 17, 2008, 8:37 p.m. CST
by nolan bautista
..didnt Suzanne Sommers appear topless in it? in the hot tub scene?
June 17, 2008, 10:23 p.m. CST
You say that like it's a bad thing. Rambo II is a comic book movie plain and simple.
June 18, 2008, 1:29 a.m. CST
by otm shank
words to live by.
June 18, 2008, 3:43 a.m. CST
by DC Films
Sounds a lot like Aliens - maybe Camerons Rambo2 script was where his Aliens script started - wouldn't that be weird! mr.brownstone, Blade 1&2, and Batman begins are comic book and they're great. Rambo2 gives comic books a bad name.
June 18, 2008, 5:58 a.m. CST
My fave of his 70's output, funky beefy and hooky as hell, oft copied but never bested. Think it' my favourite film of the series, formulaic aspects aside, it just kicks ass in all depts, Milius and Cimino's script is note perfect and of course there's the classic throw away line "Man's got to know his limitations"
June 18, 2008, 7:25 a.m. CST
:) Sorry guests at Cedar Point would always ask where Magnum Force was(Actually it was Magnum XL200, Hyper Coaster) because they would confuse it with Millennium Force (Giga Coaster, same park).. Anyways :) ...
June 18, 2008, 11 a.m. CST
by Abominable Snowcone
I can't believe Magnum XL200 is like, twenty years old now. Sigh...
June 18, 2008, 11:03 a.m. CST
by Abominable Snowcone
Rambo can't ride a motorcycle? Um, isn't that what he used to escape from the police station in the original?
June 18, 2008, 11:25 a.m. CST
Schifrin's main title music was a great followup to the already awesome themes he wrote in the first Dirty Harry movie.
June 18, 2008, 1:42 p.m. CST
saw it for the first time in years, it used to be on almost every week when i was a kid. it still holds up, very solid movie. i love the scene when callahan first figures out its the motorcycle cops. they're in the parking garage so its very dark, and all 3 cops are on their motorcycles wearing their dark sunglasses...indoors! i love that you don't really know they're there. i like how they looked very menacing, but also very "cool". when he's told that the murdered pimp killed the hooker by pouring drain cleaner down her throat, callahan waits a beat then says "shows a certain sense of style", in only a way that eastwood can deliver the line...priceless.
June 18, 2008, 1:45 p.m. CST
Next year she will be 20. Opened in 89... Really showing her age also so stay in the front 3 trains. They really need some better seats on Mag. Right now it feels like a staring role in fight club. Cool yes, painful yes! :)
June 18, 2008, 6 p.m. CST
Rambo can ride a motorcycle. In my zeal to criticize this travesty of justice I spread falsities about Rambo's motorcycling skills. I regret the error. However I have heard from an anonymous source that Rambo is not licensed to drive a motorycle.
June 19, 2008, 12:27 p.m. CST
Dirty Harry was so controversial for the time that they'd have never gotten away with DH going further down the vigilante path. They didn't show an uncut version on UK TV for *years*. I for one loved MF - the theme tune at the start with the hand holding the gun, Early's haircut, "I wouldn't care if the whole damn department was queer", the hi-jacking. Certainly a lot better than the 'oh, another nutter' episodes that came later. To my 37-yr-old-eyes, it's also dated a lot better than Rambo, which while good when it came out was quickly exposed as far-too-serious by the likes of Commando.
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