a critiQal film review Rambo III (1988)

Plot: A war-weary John Rambo (Stallone) has found peace, so when his old friend and mentor Col. Trautman (Crenna) asks for help on a top-secret mission to Afghanistan, Rambo declines. But, when Trautman is captured, Rambo brings his one-man army to the war-torn country.

Reviewed
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After stumbling across Rambo – The Complete Collector’s Set on sale yesterday during a shopping trip for a new DVD-R while my wife was out watching Sex and the City (2008) with her gal pals, I managed to make it through the first 2 films in the series, First Blood (1982) and Rambo: First Blood Part II (1985).

First Blood (1982) surprised me by being better than I remembered, while Rambo: First Blood Part II (1985) went the other direction, and was much worse than I remembered. How would Rambo III fare? I settled in to find out as I kicked off day 2 of my Rambo movie marathon.

Stallone returns for a third time as John Rambo in the ingeniously title Rambo III (sense the sarcasm?). Much like in Rambo: First Blood Part II (1985), Stallone lets his muscles do his acting for him. Sadly, a repeat of that performance can’t live up to the previous film.

He does try to get a bit of emoting going, but he seems totally out of place among the other characters in the film. As John points out early on in the film “it’s not my war,” and the viewer would have to agree.

When he and Richard Crenna (appearing for the third time as Col. Trautman) finally meet up, the 2 of them have a reliable camaraderie, although it’s based more on audience familiarity than any real acting chops. The audience is used to seeing these 2 together by now, and that acceptance makes the 2 seem to work well on-screen.

Again, Rambo III follows the pattern established in Rambo: First Blood Part II (1985) – violence for the sake of violence – even if it doesn’t make a whole lot of sense. This motto can be seen right from the beginning, as Rambo does a bit of stick fighting (nearly to the death), then retires to his new home in a monastery. When asked about the stick fighting later, John just shrugs and says he does it for the extra cash, which he then gives to the monastery.

Sure, an argument can be made that Rambo is releasing his war-mongering demons by stick fighting – a way of keeping the demons at bay while still believing he’s no longer a fighting machine. But that’s an enormous step for the viewer to make by themselves, and chances are, most probably won’t bother. After all, we’re talking Rambo here – and the audience is just looking for some good popcorn fun.

Unfortunately, Rambo III is one of those films made pre-9/11 that has suffered greatly since. After all, with a movie dedication to “the gallant people of Afghanistan” means something much different now than it did back in ’88.

Chances are viewers will probably be on the lookout for a chance sighting of Osama Bin Laden – and wondering if any of the minor background characters in the film now work for him. And when Rambo ventures into the caves of Afghanistan, well, viewers may be looking at Rambo in a whole different light. Is he fighting for us – or is he unknowingly allying himself with our worst enemy?

Of course, since this is only a movie, chances are none of the above is actually even remotely plausible, but it still leaves a slightly bitter edge that wasn’t there pre-9/11.

The action is over-the-top once again, and now is starting to repeat itself. While this time Rambo has to go up against tanks, he also faces down what seems to be the exact same ginormous helicopter he faced in Rambo: First Blood Part II (1985)…with a Russian once more inside.

Isn’t the Russian thing getting old? He already beat them up in Rambo: First Blood Part II (1985), yet here they come again – and they don’t even know who he is. Surely, word of mouth would have spread John Rambo’s name a bit – after all, he destroyed basically a battalion of troops all by himself. Why wouldn’t they recognize it?

It would have been smarter if the Russians had heard of Rambo from his previous exploits. Heck, they could have made the new baddie a friend of the baddie Rambo killed, with the new baddie thirsty for revenge – making him reckless. Now that would have been interesting – but not having the name mean anything to them? A wasted opportunity if ever there was one.

While it’s true 9/11 has hurt this film in the eyes of viewers, in reality Rambo III was honestly never really that good to begin with.

Rambo III is one of those movies you own because you bought the Series Collection (like I did) – not because you actually like it.

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