Should I Watch..? Rambo III
What's the big deal?
Rambo III is an action war film released in 1988 and is the third film in the series featuring the eponymous character. The film once again sees Sylvester Stallone return as disturbed Vietnam war veteran John Rambo who is forced into action after his friend and mentor Colonel Trautman goes missing in Afghanistan. The film was released shortly after the dissolution of the Soviet Union had begun and the film - with its resolutely anti-Communist tones - was perceived as being out-of-touch and led to a suspension of the franchise until 2008's Rambo (1). Despite the mixed reception from critics, the film still earned more than $189 million worldwide. It is notable for "winning" Stallone yet another Razzie award for his acting as well as its uncomfortably political standpoint in light of the recent War On Terror in Afghanistan and other countries.
What's it about?
Colonel Trautman once again tracks down his old Vietnam buddy John Rambo, who has finally find peace living and working in a remote monastery in Thailand. Trautman tries to persuade Rambo to join a CIA-backed mission to supply anti-Soviet fighters in Afghanistan but Rambo refuses, having finally turned his back on violence. Despite this, Trautman proceeds with the mission but quickly finds things turning sour. Ambushed by Soviet troops near the border, Trautman's men are killed and Trautman himself is taken prisoner by sadistic Russian Colonel Zaysen.
Back in Thailand, Embassy official Robert Griggs visits Rambo and informs him of Trautman's capture. Knowing that the USA won't launch a rescue mission for fear of increasing tensions in the region, Rambo demands to undertake a one-man mission to rescue his friend. Immediately travelling to Pakistan, Rambo contacts local arms dealer Mousa Ghani and together, they set off towards the nearby Soviet base on a seemingly impossible quest...
Col. Sam Trautman
Marc De Jonge
Sylvester Stallone & Sheldon Lettich *
Release Date (UK)
26th August, 1988
Worst Actor (Stallone)
Razzie Award Nominations
Worst Picture, Worst Supporting Actor (Crenna), Worst Director, Worst Screenplay
What's to like?
There's no denying that the producers of Rambo III know exactly what their target audience like - big guns, huge explosions and lots of dead enemies of Uncle Sam. Sure enough, the film offers a grim reminder that the Rambo character has completely deserted his origins as seen in First Blood (2) and has now become an unstoppable killing machine. Which is fine for viewers only tuning in to sate their bloodlust but for everybody else? The film's story is as predictable as its outcome although the film-makers must be given credit for shooting in what look like pretty inhospitable places (mostly Israel and Arizona instead of Afghanistan).
The film's political statements, something always just bubbling underneath the surface of any Rambo film, is once again lost amid the bullets and knife fights. Stallone certainly looks and feels the part of Rambo but there simply isn't enough character there for audiences to get behind and root for. Crenna, as Trautman, finally gets the chance to show off his acting chops and does so to the best of his ability. Limited by the lousy screenplay, Crenna gives Trautman a sense of humanity that the film badly needs.
- With its budget estimated at $63 million dollars, this was the most expensive movie ever made at the time. Part of Stallone's pay involved supplying him with a Gulfstream private jet at a cost of $12 million dollars.
- Crenna would go on to spoof his role in this film in Hot Shots: Part Deux (3) in 1993. In that film, he would also journey to the Far East to recruit the hero and wind up getting captured by the bad guys.
- The scenes shot at the monk's temple were filmed at a genuine temple in Thailand undergoing renovation at the time. Many of the extras were real monks paid to appear to those scenes. Director MacDonald was pleased to give money to people who needed it instead of people who had too much of it already.
What's not to like?
Even at the time, with the Soviet Union dying a slow death on the world stage, this film was outdated and shamelessly jingoistic. Stallone and Crenna are the only two actors you remember as the Russian characters simply sneer whenever they are required to before getting killed. The unlikely alliance between the Stars-and-Stripes Rambo and the Mujahideen is even more preposterous these days seeing as they've spent the last few years taking pot-shots at the UN troops still stationed there. This film is the violent wish-fulfilment of Republicans everywhere with Rambo gunning down anyone who stands in his way on the flimsiest of excuses.
Because of its very predictable nature, the film offers little in the way of excitement or tension that most action movies provide. Stallone is just too indestructible to give the film any sort of balance and like I've said, anyone who enjoyed First Blood will be thoroughly annoyed at how far from the character's origins the films have strayed. There are some odd moments in the film too such as Rambo cauterising his wounds with gunpowder as if to prove just how tough he really is and the almost impossible use of one-liners once Rambo and Trautman begin their escape. A character as disturbed as Rambo would never try to joke about anything, let alone violence. The whole thing just made me feel depressed about the state of the world and angry at myself for watching it.
Should I watch it?
Only if you enjoyed the equally ultra-violent second film Rambo: First Blood - Part 2 (4) which was only mildly less ridiculous than this. But I cannot really recommend Rambo III unless you're in the mood for mindless action and little more and even then, there are plenty of decent alternatives (see below). It will satisfy action fans but this out-of-touch outing feels more out-of-time than ever before. Its repetitive and remorseless use of violence feels weary and unhelpful - no wonder it took them so long to reboot the character in 2008.
Great For: Republicans, gun-nuts, militants, steroid abusers
Not So Great For: politicians, Russian viewers, fans of the first film
What else should I watch?
OK, say you simply want to satisfy your craving for cinematic bloodshed after a bad day in the office. You haven't got a games console so what do you watch? Personally, I'd start with Desperado (5) which sees Antonio Banderas blow hundreds of baddies away with his guitar-case full of toys. It also has Salma Hayek looking as sexy as she ever has, humorous cameos from Steve Buscemi and Cheech Marin and an evocative soundtrack from Los Lobos. Or what about Crank (6) or its equally bonkers sequel where Jason Statham runs around like a video-game character causing mayhem wherever he goes? It's not especially brilliant cinema but trust me, it will do the trick. Of course, Stallone fans will probably stick to the most recent Rambo which is just as violent and bloody as this but even more depressing somehow as it has a grim, fatalistic tone that does little to entertain.
Away from such mindless carnage, there are some films that offer a smidge of brains to go with the brawn. The Matrix (7) offers dazzling set pieces along with a gripping story and a style all of its own. The ageless Terminator 2: Judgment Day (8) is straight up one of the best sci-fi action films of all time which never fails to entertain while even 007 has caught up with recent films like Skyfall (9) offering all of the thrills alongside the usual Bond clichés. Finally, as a very predictable choice, might I suggest the original Die Hard (10) - well, why not? It has action in spades, a winning performance from both Bruce Willis and Alan Rickman, a gripping story and feels much more plausible than this film ever did. Plus, and you probably already know this, it happens to be one of the greatest action movies of all time.