Missing in Action 2: The Beginning “explains the rage” behind Chuck Norris’ James Braddock from Missing in Action, but it really should be the first entry in the series. It serves better as a foundation than it does a prequel and is, for all intents and purposes, a much better movie than the first one. This picture was filmed at the same time as Missing in Action and was initially to be released first, but a production decision reversed the plan and this was released in 1985.
Missing in Action 2: The Beginning is directed by Lance Hool, who handles the elements better than Joseph Zito. Menahem Golan and Yoram Globus are still the producers, while the music comes from Mad Max composer Brian May (not the guy from Queen). It was written by Arthur Silver, Steve Bing, and Larry Levinson and once again employs a cast of character actors to fill in the spaces.
The film opens ten years before the events of Missing in Action. Colonel James Braddock (Norris) is heading into battle against the Vietcong and is eventually captured after his helicopter goes down. His team is with him and they endure great distress at the hands of the brutal villain Colonel Yin (Soon-Tek Oh). Yin, along with running a camp for POWs, is growing opium for a French drug runner (Pierre Issot) and puts his new Americans to work.
Yin’s camp is a tidy little space that makes great use of torture implements, including hookers who humiliate some of the men. After enduring more than enough torment at the hands of Yin and his followers, Braddock escapes and sets about rescuing the remaining POWs. This leads to the inescapable showdowns and combat sequences.
Missing in Action 2: The Beginning is framed by an uncompromising Ronald Reagan in newsreel footage speaking about not closing the chapter on Vietnam until there is the “fullest possible accounting of those missing in action.” The Vietcong are set up as “flaunting” the Geneva Conventions, so of course the only thing left to do is for Braddock and his pals to take matters into their own hands.
This broad-stroke treachery is par for the course, although this picture attempts to cast some of the Vietnamese people as victims of Yin’s cruel tactics. For the most part, however, the revisionist history perspectives are alive and well as Chuck gets to set things straight and make Vietnam salvageable in America’s collective national memory.
As mentioned, Missing in Action 2: The Beginning is a better picture than its sorry precursor. It is more absorbing and Braddock’s character is defined to greater effect. His rugged gaze, campy as it is, makes more sense in the context of the camp and his leadership abilities are stronger. Placing this framework prior to the events of Missing in Action would’ve made the first film in the series more persuasive.
There are a number of cheesy action scenes and fights, including the concluding fight that pits Yin against Braddock. And ethical consequences are explored, too, with a “traitor” (Steven Williams) serving the Vietcong in exchange for his life. The soldiers are semi-interesting characters and seem less formulaic than the stale round-up of POWs in the first entry, too.
Missing in Action 2: The Beginning is campy as hell, but it’s less of a drag than Missing in Action and it is more engrossing from a plot standpoint. Neither film is particularly stunning and both are still exceedingly Ramboesque, but at least this delivers the action and anguish with a gleeful degree of '80s panache.
The Blu-ray release presents rich colours and has really cleaned up the picture. This is especially apparent when compared to the grainy and dark quality of the original trailer, the disc’s only special feature. The best high-definition moment comes with the final explosion, as every spark and flame shine through in intense colour. The sound is presented in mono DTS-HD Master Audio and does the trick for an action film of this calibre.