With the cult of Chuck Norris still flourishing, MGM is setting out to debut on Blu-ray some of the action icon’s most beloved films, and in the first batch released earlier this month, his blockbuster Vietnam films Missing in Action and Missing in Action 2: The Beginning are expectedly the main attractions. Filmed back-to-back (but released in reverse order), the first two Missing in Action films are set squarely in the Rambo tradition: We get to go back to Vietnam, and what’s more, we get to win this time.
Indeed, there is more than just a faint resemblance to the concurrent Sylvester Stallone franchise: Missing in Action was based on the James Cameron screenplay that would ultimately serve as Stallone’s foundation for Rambo: First Blood Part II. Like that film, Missing in Action sees Vietnam veteran and former POW, Colonel James Braddock (Chuck Norris), returning to his old war haunts in search of missing American soldiers. Where Missing in Action deviates from Rambo: First Blood Part II is in its farther-reaching political scale. Stallone kept his film within the ranks of the U.S. military, while Norris and his creative team (including writers Arthur Silver, Larry Levinson, Steve Bing, and James Bruner, producers Menaheim Golan and Yoram Globus, and directors Lance Hool and Joseph Zito) sought to depict the continuing clash of cultures between U.S. and Vietnamese soldiers and politicians.
Like fellow action/martial arts icon, Steven Seagal, Norris’ most popular and financially successful film, Missing in Action (just like Seagal’s blockbuster hit, Under Siege) was strangely his most straifghtforward shoot-em-up actioner, featuring the most minimal use of his famed martial arts prowess. While, in terms of story construction and plot development, Missing in Action is undoubtedly the more mature and more intriguing film, Missing in Action 2, with its superior action and greater focus on Norris’ fighting abilities, is the more satisfying action film. Advertised as a prequel, seeing how it was put on the shelf to allow Missing in Action to premiere ahead of it, Missing in Action 2 takes place entirely during the Vietnam War when Norris and his fellow soldiers were imprisoned by Colonel Yin, (Soon-Tek Oh) for whom breaking Braddock is his life’s mission. The characters are a lot stronger in Missing in Action 2 and the dynamic in the POW camp between the soldiers as they suffer the torture administered by Yin before ultimately banding together and rising up makes for great viewing. The best part, though, is the finale, wherein Norris, having gotten his men to safety and annihilating the camp and its personnel, puts down his gun and uses his hands and feet to pay Yin back for all the pain he’d caused Norris and his men (and he paid him back with interest, of course).
Ultimately, these films do not transcend their B-movie actioner status, but then, that’s not why we watch them. We watch them because they promise to deliver exactly what we expect, and they do not disappoint. Norris—his stoic, bearded, hairy-chested, gun-toting, feet-flying self—is thrown into seemingly insurmountable situations and, with the American flag in one hand and a massive machine gun in the other, sends the bad guys to hell where they belong for himself and for his country.
Boasting proud and patriotic action from the heyday of the “Vietnam: Take Two” era, Missing in Action and Missing in Action 2: The Beginning are exciting and enduring hallmarks of action cinema of years past.