The funny thing about 'Missing in Action 2: The Beginning' — and it's not the only one — is that it is technically neither a sequel nor a prequel. The movie was actually filmed alongside its supposed predecessor and was always intended to be released first, showing Col. Braddock's (Chuck Norris) escape from the POW camp often referred to in the first movie. It's also meant to provide a deeper appreciation for the character's stubborn determination to return to Vietnam and rescue his fellow soldiers, not that we really needed one. But when the filmmakers realized that the sequel turned out to be the better movie, the decision was made to reverse the order. Unfortunately, what was already considered bad by its creators nearly thirty years ago seems even worse today.
It's not a matter of the film not aging well, as in the first movie. That would at least provide a few moments of unintentional comedy. The problem comes from the production as a whole feeling as if it were made for television, which becomes quickly apparent in the opening credits. With Brian May's chintzy musical score playing in the background, which fails to capture a sense of excitement but distractingly exaggerates the drama, we see Braddock attempt a quick rescue that goes wrong and is the reason for his men's capture. As each soldier jumps from a crashing helicopter, there's a freeze frame, followed by their name and rank with the superimposed stamp stating "Missing in Action." For a minute there, I thought I was watching some forgotten movie episode of 'The A-Team.'
In the next scene, we find a few years have already gone by and the camp has dwindled from over thirty American soldiers to about five. The last of those men are either suffering from malaria (John Wesley) or starting to lose their minds, as in the case of Mazilli (Cosie Costa) and Opelka (Joe Michael Terry). Much of the dialogue in these scenes are meant for dramatic effect, but only come off as ham-fisted and mawkish. Braddock, of course, remains vigilant, healthy as an ox and tougher than ever. How tough you may ask? Well, so tough that he can wrestle a hungry rat to death with his mouth while hanging upside down and wearing a dirty burlap sack over his head. That's how tough he is, and don't ever question the mighty awesomeness that is Chuck Norris ever again.
That torture scene with the rat, as well as all the others, is orchestrated by the sadistic Colonel Yin (Soon-Tek Oh), the leader of the camp who makes deals with the French drug runner Francois (Pierre Issot) to use the prisoners as opium growers. Yin is your standard stock villain with no other personality beyond being perceived as pure evil, but Oh does a great job in the role with several conniving grimaces and delivers such lines as "You lose" with terrific, involuntary comedic effect. Professor Tanaka plays one of his henchmen but sadly not given enough screen time. Steven Williams of '21 Jump Street' fame also stars as Captain Nester, who finds life in the camp easier when playing by Yin's rules, which also applies to something as clichéd as this script when he eventually redeems himself.
From director Lance Hool, whose only real movie of note is when he served as executive producer to Tony Scott's 'Man on Fire,' 'Missing in Action 2' tries desperately to be seen as a serious piece of war drama but only ends up coming across as a big-budget made-for-television feature. The tension between Braddock and Yin escalates at a decent pace, culminating in a funnily memorable martial-arts showdown that surprisingly manages to satisfy everything preceding it. But whereas the first movie is a cheaper version of 'Rambo II,' this prequel imagines itself as some sort of 'Bridge on the River Kwai' drama with aspirations of 'The Great Escape' style of action. In the end, the producers of both films were right to deem the sequel as the inferior of the two and part one as vastly superior.
The Blu-ray: Vital Disc Stats
MGM and 20th Century Fox Home Entertainment bring 'Missing in Action 2: The Beginning' to Blu-ray as a Region Free BD25 disc inside a blue eco-vortex keepcase. At startup, the disc goes straight to the movie without trailers or a main menu window. Menu options are retrieved by pushing the button on the remote, which then pops up along the bottom of the screen.
'Missing in Action 2' makes its way unto Blu-ray with a 1080p/AVC MPEG-4 encode (1.85:1) that's on par with the first movie, although I would give this one the slight edge for being a bit more consistent. Looking as if taken from a new remaster, primaries are vibrant and cleanly-rendered, making the presentation feel fresh and rejuvenated. Contrast is spot-on and fairly bright without ruining the rest of the picture. Black levels are sturdy and mostly accurate with only a couple instances of murkiness in the deep shadows. Fine lines around the lush jungle forest and the bamboo prison camp are very well-defined and distinct. A few sequences are poorly resolved due to age but don't distract too much from enjoying the rest of this strong high-def presentation.
As with the video, so too the audio. While I wouldn't begrudge having the original sound design on any home media, I am somewhat hesitant when that presentation is not at its best. I'm also not expecting some kind of faux surrounds or even a stereo remix, but this DTS-HD Master Audio comes off noticeably lacking and pretty narrow. Dynamics are terribly limited with a couple of bright moments, and the higher frequencies, like gunshots and especially explosions, are distorted with lots of distracting, hissing noise in the background. Speaking of explosions, action sequences are completely devoid of any bass whatsoever, sounding very flat and dull. The only real good in this lossless mix are the well-prioritized vocals. But aside from that, the audio quality is pretty average.
As with the first movie, only the theatrical preview is offered.
'Missing in Action 2: The Beginning' is technically neither a sequel nor a prequel, but it likes to pretend it is, showing Col. Braddock's (Chuck Norris) escape from the POW camp often referred to in the first movie. With a bad made-for-television feel to it, the war drama features a so-called traitor in Steven Williams and a stereotypical, sadistic villain in Soon-Tek Oh's Colonel Yin, but fails to be as equally entertaining as its predecessor. The Blu-ray arrives with a very good picture quality but an average audio presentation, making this bare-bones release worth picking up only to fans.