This week I decided to let fate decide which 1988 film I was going to watch. It happened to be shown on TV last Saturday so, for the sake of convenience and laziness, I just watched it then. I can’t say that I was really relishing the idea of having to watch the third film in the Rambo series. It’s hardly a franchise that has ever regained the height it reached with its first film. First Blood is a classic action movie and, though it falls apart when you think about it too much, is carried well thanks to it’s main star. I can’t say that I’m a massive Stallone fan but I defy anyone not to find him a little intriguing. He’s had some great and career defining roles. Yes, I can’t say I’ve been queuing up to see his films from the past decade or so but there’ll always be a place for him in the annals of film history. We know that, deep down, I have the same taste in films as a 12-year old boy, so his films do speak to me on some level. Anything with enough guns and explosions is going to keep me somewhat happy. However, I also need there to be something deeper. Something I’m not sure Stallone has always been capable of.
Rambo III has all the hallmarks of a traditional Rambo film. We see Sylvester Stallone take up the role of John Rambo once again and take part in a one-man rescue mission. He starts the film living a peaceful life in a Buddhist monastery. He earns some quick cash by fighting on the side but, for the most part, he is happy to lead a life away from violence. Until his old commanding officer, Colonel Trautman, gets captured in Afghanistan and held by Soviet soldiers. Upon hearing about Trautman’s situation Rambo heads out to save him. He does this with by trying to get the help of some Afghan locals who are trying helplessly to stand up to the Soviet soldiers. Can Rambo save his friend and help innocent people from being slaughtered.
In fairness to this film, I should probably have watched the original film beforehand. It’s been too long since I saw it so I could very well be remembering it through rose-tinted glasses. However, the way I see it, First Blood is a classic film. It has a great hero and fantastic action sequences. It’s the kind of film that, on paper, shouldn’t work but, somehow, it just does. But the third time round? Surely this wasn’t the kind of formula that could just be repeated. I mean Sylvester Stallone isn’t Marvel. He can’t keep churning out the same old shit without people noticing, right?
And it’s true. There is a lot more noticeable nonsense to wade through in Rambo III. It seems to go on for a really long time before John even seems to do anything. By this point, we know what he’s capable of so it shouldn’t matter but it does. I realise that the film wanted to give enough respect to the Afghan people that made up such a big part of its plot but it feels out of place. There is something so odd about a film that will go from a scene where a group of men talk about the awful things the Soviet soldiers are doing to their families to a scene where Sylvester Stallone rides a horse through a cascade of helicopter fire. And the end dedication? I get that the film wanted to make a point about the “gallant Afghan people” by dedicating the film to them but it just feels completely misjudged considering how ridiculous the film is. It’s like making a really shitty production of The Merchant of Venice and then dedicating it to the Jewish people or something.
Because, for whatever else it lacks, and it lacks a lot, Rambo III has everything that you’ve come to expect from these films. There are plenty of explosions, gun fights, violence, and Stallone barely makes a peep. It was, back in 1990, deemed the most violent film ever by the Guinness Book of World Record… according to Wikipedia anyway. The narrative is as stupid as they’ve always been and the whole thing goes on way too long. The tone is all over the place and there is nothing vaguely exciting about the way it is shot. It’s awkwardly put together and feels really disjointed. Everything about Rambo III feels wrong apart from the epic violence. It’s just a massively wasted opportunity.