Film Review: Rambo III (1988)

Also known as: Rambo: First Blood Part III (Malaysia)
Release Date: May 25th, 1988
Directed by: Peter MacDonald
Written by: Sylvester Stallone, Sheldon Lettich
Based on: character by David Morrell
Music by: Jerry Goldsmith
Cast: Sylvester Stallone, Richard Crenna, Kurtwood Smith, Marc de Jonge

Carolco Pictures, TriStar Pictures, 102 Minutes, 87 Minutes (heavily cut VHS version)

Review:

“Yeah, well, there won’t be a victory! Every day, your war machines lose ground to a bunch of poorly-armed, poorly-equipped freedom fighters! The fact is that you underestimated your competition. If you’d studied your history, you’d know that these people have never given up to anyone. They’d rather die, than be slaves to an invading army. You can’t defeat a people like that. We tried! We already had our Vietnam! Now you’re gonna have yours!” – Colonel Trautman

While I will love any Rambo movie by default, there are some that aren’t as good as others. From memory, this one was my least favorite but I also hadn’t seen it in about fifteen years. Now that I’ve seen it again, it is pretty damn awesome even if it is the worst of the original trilogy of films. But out of the three, someone had to lose.

That being said, it is a damn solid ’80s action movie that is unapologetic, out to splatter the balls of lesser men and just a great conclusion to the Rambo story arc. Well, that is until we were allowed to check in on him twenty years later with 2008’s Rambo, a film no one ever really anticipated, as Hollywood wasn’t resurrecting everything under the sun by that point.

Anyway, this movie shows us that John Rambo has been living in Thailand where he is a pit fighter that whips ass for money. Granted, he gives the money to the nice monks that let him live in their monastery, where he also does some handyman work. Colonel Trautman then shows up with a new mission that will help free a region of Afghanistan from a Soviet tyrant who is pretty damn sadistic.

After September 11th, 2001, this plot was looked at as somewhat controversial, as Rambo aided the mujahideen, a group that was associated with Osama bin Laden in the real world. The ending of the film even had a blurb of text that said the film was dedicated to “…the brave mujahideen fighters of Afghanistan.” Since 2001, the film has been altered to say that it’s dedicated to the “…gallant people of Afghanistan.”

Apart from that issue, which really isn’t an issue when you consider the history of the United States, the Soviet Union and the politics of the Soviet-Afghan War, this is one badass movie. In fact, once Rambo gets going in this flick, he is a killing machine and the action only stops long enough to give you a breather a few times.

My only real gripe about the film is that it takes too long to really get to the good stuff. There is a great action sequence early on, which sees the Soviets in a Hind-D helicopter attack an Afghan buzkashi match but after that, there is a lot of talk, planning and scenes of Trautman (and later Rambo) in Soviet custody. The film isn’t overly slow in the first two acts but they probably could’ve lobbed off ten or fifteen minutes and made it flow at a better pace.

Out of the original three films, however, this has, hands down, the best climax. We get to see Rambo, driving a tank, play a game of chicken with the Soviet Hind-D helicopter. It’s fucking glorious and is one of the most masculine moments in the history of cinema. While the final sequence here doesn’t beat out the final sequence of Death Wish 3, it has made me develop a theory that the big finale of the third film in action franchises will always be tremendous. Ignore Lethal Weapon 3, though, otherwise it destroys my theory like a balsa wood house in a fire… like the one in the final fight in Lethal Weapon 3.

Rambo III is a spectacular action flick, a product of its time (a great time, mind you) and it stars one of the best actors of the action genre, in his prime, playing his second greatest character. Seriously, what’s not to love, here?

Rating: 7.75/10
Pairs well with: the other Rambo movies, as well as other ’80s and early ’90s Stallone movies.

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