johnlink ranks RAMBO III (1988)
So I have been living a lie for the past dozen years. I thought I had seen all three Rambo films from the 80s. Would have bet money on it. But in the course of watching the third RAMBO film, I realized that either A) I had never seen it before or B) had only seen it on a day I had suffered a concussion and had no recollection of it. I literally did not recognize a single thing about the film. I am going to go ahead and call this a first viewing.
I watched RAMBO III (1988) on 1.28.13. It was, as well as my brain can recall, my first viewing of the film.
Something strange happened as I watched this movie.
I liked it.
I’m trying to balance that with the fact that it is not on the same level as the original film. But RAMBO III is undeniably better than the second installment. With this third film, it was as if they realized what the movie needed if it was going to be an action film. What does RAMBO III have that RAMBO II does not?
1) A villain worth hating. Sure Rambo gets tortured in the second movie, so he has to kill that guy. But the third movie gives us a villain up front, someone we can hate from the beginning. It isn’t glorious and it does not reinvent the wheel, but it is effective.
2) Sympathetic ‘others’. If you want to make the case that Rambo, himself, was ‘other’ in the first film, I could walk down that road. This is really a comparison between films two and three. In RAMBO II, the bad guys speak, literally, no English and are there to be slaughtered. ‘Other’, in RAMBO II, must die (even in the form of the one sympathetic character who becomes the love interest). RAMBO III, to my amazement and surprise, makes an effort to have the ‘other’, in this case Afghanistan freedom fighters, given a voice and a powerful presence. Not only do they garner Rambo’s sympathy, but they save his life.
3) The introduction of Colonel Trautman (Richard Crenna) as a player in the story. In the first film he informs Rambo’s adversary. In RAMBO II (which I know I am not calling by its official name, but I have no desire to continually write RAMBO: FIRST BLOOD PART II over and over again), he is merely the catalyst to action. In RAMBO III, he is the reason Rambo has to go back in behind enemy lines. Sure, you can absolutely pick apart the fact that a Colonel is riding around war-torn Afghanistan in a lightly guarded Jeep in a quest to do some basic reconnaissance. But the fun factor of RAMBO III outweighs the giant plot holes, at least in my humble opinion.
RAMBO III is the story of Rambo going into Russian-occupied Afghanistan to save the captured Trautman. The Afghans just want to save their country, and I was impressed with just how much respect this film has for the Afghan people. Especially for a series which has, previously, questioned anything non-American (and things American as well), I was taken aback by how much screen time is given to the problems of the Afghans.
Now, this isn’t HOTEL RWANDA or anything. This is still a RAMBO film which features plenty of action, and the unrealistic appearance of just about any weapon anytime you need it. I’m still not sure where the bow-and-arrows came from. But, coming off the heels of a weak second film, I found myself going along for the ride in RAMBO III. Heck, they even introduced a standard 80s meme and gave Rambo a little kid as a sidekick, and they managed not to totally screw up the movie in doing it (mostly because Rambo usually keeps him out of the action, unlike Short Round).
There is some nice cinematography showing the deserted landscape. We are privy to some able direction in the action sequences. The one-liners are more funny than cheesy. The interaction between Rambo and Trestman feels like the culmination of three films worth of build up. Sure, the acting isn’t particularly good, but it does not need to be in a movie like this. It is all just surprisingly effective.
I also have to point out how funny it is that professional wrestling worked itself into the culture of this film. Six years after Stallone squared off against Hulk Hogan in ROCKY III, he finds a way to introduce Rambo as a sort of action-performer by starting this thing off with a stick fight in a Thailand arena. The entrance and the atmosphere is not unlike a wrestling introduction. The comparison is pretty easy to drag through the film as Rambo continually utilizes backdrops, clotheslines, and the like. It was just sort of funny to see the incorporation of some standard wrestling moves into a film series which had never delved into that particular genre of fighting style.
I can’t believe that I actually liked this movie so much. I also can’t believe that I’ve written so much about RAMBO III. I mean, the final score still comes out to only slightly above 6 out of 10, but the score which really matters is the MOVIE score. The fact that both the FILM aspects and the WRITING aspects come in over 5 is a miracle for an 80s action film.
FILM: 6; MOVIE: 9; ACTING: 4; WRITING: 6
FINAL SCORE: 6.25