“Rambo III” holds a very distinguished position within my movie history. It has the honor of being the first R-rated movie I watched in the theater. It was 1988 and I was 16 years-old. My uncle was down for the weekend and offered to take me to a movie. This was a big deal because there was no theater in my small town and going to the movies was a real treat. Being a huge fan of 80s action movie icons Schwarzenegger and Stallone, naturally I went with “Rambo III” when asked to choose. To my surprise my uncle agreed and the rest is meaningless movie history.
For me the Rambo franchise ended after “Rambo III”. Sylvester Stallone attempted to bring it back in 2008 with the profoundly mediocre and generically titled “Rambo”, but it lacked the feel and (yes I’m going to say it) the charm of the original three flicks. For me “Rambo III” is a satisfying way to finish a testosterone-fueled, biceps-flexing, action-packed exercise that fits nicely into the over-the-top 80s action catalog.
The Rambo series will never find its way onto drama school curriculums, but by this time Stallone was pretty in tune with what his character needed. The screenplay (co-written by Stallone) gives us a more grounded John Rambo (aside from the one-man-army awesomeness of course) and Stallone isn’t asked to stretch beyond the bounds of his acting abilities. For example, gone are the schmaltzy end of the movie theatrics he gives us in the first two films. Well meaning but laughably bad scenes and slightly worse acting.
But that doesn’t mean the film is free of cheese. We get plenty of it especially from Richard Crenna who delivers several lines dripping with Velvetta. My personal favorite: (speaking about Rambo) “God would have mercy. He won’t”. This goes hand-in-hand with the film’s attempt to inject a touch of humor. It tries not to take itself too seriously as evident by Rambo’s numerous jokey one-liners, some that work, some not so much.
The film starts by giving us a disillusioned Rambo who has finally found a degree of peace working at a Buddhist monastery in Thailand. His mentor and one true friend Colonel Traitman (Crenna) finds him and tries to recruit Rambo to join him on a special mission. Rooted in the politics of 1988, the mission is to deliver supplies to rebels fighting the Soviets in Afghanistan. Rambo declines, Trautman goes anyway and ends up captured by a brutal Soviet officer named Zaysen (Marc de Jonge). Rambo gets word and sets out on a solo mission against all odds to rescue his friend.
This bromance takes Rambo to the toughest terrain he has faced. Filmed mostly in Israel and a bit in Arizona, the locations offer themselves up to a believable setting and some great action sequences. This also may be Stallone’s most physically demanding performance of the series. Sly runs, jumps, climbs, fights, and unleashes an insane amount of carnage. In several ways he tries to outdo the second film – bigger stunts and bigger action. For me it absolutely works.
“Rambo III” was hammered hard by critics but still made good money at the box office. I can see some of the criticisms now better than before. It is loud, violent, and mindless. Also the film doesn’t have an ounce of strategy or subtlety with its political messaging. Perhaps it’s the jaws of nostalgia tightly clamped on my perspective, but I still have a ton of fun with this film. It’s lighter, the action is energetic, and the cheese adds to the experience. I was the target audience back in 1988 and I had a blast with “Rambo III”. Maybe the ability to still look at it through that lens enables me to appreciate it for exactly what it is.
VERDICT – 4 STARS