Missing in Action (1984)

*. First things first: let’s try to get these movies in their proper order. You might think, as I certainly did, that Missing in Action was a clone or rip-off of Rambo: First Blood Part II (the one where Rambo goes back to ‘Nam). But First Blood Part II actually came out a few months after Missing in Action. It was, however, based on a script (by James Cameron) that was originally written for First Blood Part II. So Cannon rushed it into production so as not to get sued.
*. You also might think that the next Missing in Action movie (Missing in Action 2: The Beginning) was a prequel. Which it was, but it (The Beginning) was actually made back-to-back with Missing in Action and I’ve read that it was actually the first part they shot. Cannon just decided to release Missing in Action (the real sequel) first because they thought it was a better movie.
*. The only real takeaway from this is that all of these movies came out within a year of each other, basically re-fighting the Vietnam War so that, in Rambo’s words, America would get to win this time. They also sought to cynically cash in on the widespread belief that there were American POWs languishing in Vietnamese prison camps at the time.
*. The question of whether there were (or are) MIAs being held in Vietnam is one that people still argue over. Needless to say, this movie accepts their existence, while also dismissing a trumped-up charge against the American hero Braddock (Chuck Norris) of war crimes. So it’s a political movie, playing out along pretty well-worn lines. I won’t get into that here. It’s the kind of story that was criticized in some circles as a dangerous right-wing fantasy, but I guess some people found it comforting or cathartic. Norris wanted to “instill a positive attitude” about Vietnam, and was pleased to see audiences standing and cheering at the end. It was huge at the box office.
*. As for the movie itself, it’s not very good even at being generic. The one oddity is that the two chief villains are killed off at the end of the first and second acts, leaving Norris free to just blow things up in last half hour. Buildings explode into fireballs. Bad guys can’t hit anything with their rifles and mortals but good guys drop bad guys while running and shooting from the hip.
*. Norris himself had by this time settled comfortably into what was his one role: a soft-spoken tough guy characterized by beard, blue jeans, and beer. M. Emmet Walsh goes along for the ride and gets to die a hero’s death (after curiously telling Braddock that he will see him in hell).
*. As with most of Norris’s efforts, Missing in Action is characterized mainly by its blandness, a quality its star projects, if not personifies. Aside from its political angle I can’t see where it’s of much interest at all. Since I don’t want to enter into its politics, I’ll just leave it at that.

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