When we last left Colonel James Braddock, he was shoving it up Vietnamese butt by barging into their press conference about how they didn’t have any POWs with a POW he just rescued. Truly a fairy tale ending, but what about the beginning of the fairy tale?
Isn’t the idea of Braddock’s secret origin even more tantalizing than his by-the-numbers “one man plus M. Emmett Walsh” war he waged against the Nam in the first movie? I know he had a freaking assault raft in Missing in Action, but Missing in Action 2: The Beginning is his most personal mission of all!
Because it’s when he was a POW himself! Which we already saw in sporadic flashbacks in the first movie. So if every time you were watching Missing in Action and Braddock wistfully recalled traipsing through rice paddies, you were like “damn, this is so much more exciting than Braddock brawling in Thailand, killing bad guys in their bed in Saigon, and rising Godzilla-like from the river to pump Commie scum full of red, white and blue lead, Missing in Action 2: The Beginning is the unnecessary prequel you’ll probably force your friends to sit through!
Braddock and some fellow American soldiers have to bail out of their crashing helicopter and end up in a POW camp run by the sadistic Colonel Yin. Yin was obviously valedictorian of his class at the University of Evil POW Camp Directors because his flair for evilness is really the only thing that keeps the first hour of film from being pure torture for the audience.
What’s the point of having Chuck Norris in your movie if he isn’t going to do anything but stare at you with his puppy dog eyes while he and his fellow prisoners are repeatedly mistreated? The movie puts you in the perverse position of rooting Yin on to do even more depraved things because you are assuming that it’s just going to make the inevitable All-American ass kicking Braddock delivers to him at the end of the film that much more apocalyptic. (And it truly was. I suspect they are still finding bits of Colonel Yin in the jungle to this very day!)
Braddock and his men have been held prisoner for something like 10 years, all because Yin is determined to break Braddock and force him to sign a half page document admitting to his war crimes. Yin really comes off as a doofus since his thought process must be something like “so Braddock, you have not cracked in the last ten years, but I have a good feeling you will in year 11. Year 12 tops! At the very outside, year 13!”
And to Yin’s credit, he wasn’t being lazy about it. Ramping up the amateur psychological warfare, he’d tell Braddock’s men that they could all go home if Braddock just signed the piece of paper. He also had a traitor American POW trying to undermine Braddock. (Uh, you are a traitor and Braddock is awesome, so that’s definitely going to work.)
He told Braddock his ex-wife had him declared legally dead and was going to remarry. He even burned a letter purportedly written by Braddock’s ex-wife right in front of Braddock! (Any real patriot would laugh at how stupid Yin was. If she thinks I’m dead, why would she be writing me a letter? And how in the hell did she get this address? Dummy!)
But Yin knows that in any good prison camp, the occasionally bizarre attempts at head games are just garnishment for straight up old school physical torture! While fake executions are a nice combination of both physical and psychological abuse, it’s when Yin had a burlap bag with a crazed rat tied over Braddock’s head while he was suspended upside down, that Yin finally kicks the POW experience into high gear! Admittedly, it didn’t work out like he planned since Braddock killed the rat by tearing out its throat with his teeth, but if you can’t hurt Braddock, the same can’t be said for the other no-name dudes in the camp, right?
Yin proved to be right at least in one thing. Everyone has his breaking point, even Braddock. For Braddock, it was when Yin pretended to give one of his men a shot to treat his malaria, but was really an overdose of opium! And then Yin burned the guy alive! Long story, short – the next day Braddock is gone, the hut full of weapons has been raided, guys are getting their necks snapped and set on fire with a flamethrower (a total of four people get burned up in this movie – a very solid showing), and camp buildings begin exploding.
After a sluggish slog through one hour at the POW camp, the film delivers the Chuck Norris action you signed up for during the last act. It all goes exactly as you would imagine (and no doubt hope) with him sneaking here and there, setting bombs, picking off people one by one, freeing people, blowing up stuff, and staying behind after everyone leaves because he doesn’t believe Yin really died when he grenaded Yin’s hut. Once Braddock suddenly acquires a headband, you know it’s finally go time!
While Missing in Action (shot after this movie, but released first because Cannon Films realized it was better) is the Chuck Norris action movie you dream of with its steady dose of action in a variety of locales, this film is slower and not even in a way that is used to make you care about anyone but Braddock. (One character had a pet chicken and I can’t remember anything else about anyone else.)
But Chuck really delivers in the end, especially in his final feel good showdown with Yin and if Missing in Action 2: The Beginning isn’t a perfect Chuck Norris action movie, it is a perfect Chuck Norris POW movie.
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