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Review: Rambo III (1988)

Rambo III (1988)

Directed by: Peter MacDonald

Premise: During the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan, Colonel Trautman (Richard Crenna) aids the Afghani resistance and is captured by a Russian commander. Rambo (Sylvester Stallone) travels into Afghanistan to save Trautman.

What Works: Rambo III is targeted toward the audience that enjoyed the second Rambo picture and it continues many of that film’s strengths. In the second and third films, the appeal of the Rambo character is rooted in his ability to overcome obstacles through sheer will and physical force, and this film plays into that successfully, giving the character plenty of opportunities for physical heroism. As a sequel, Rambo III does its duty to raise the stakes; Rambo’s muscles are bigger, his survival knife is longer, the action scenes are busier, and the scope of the film is larger. This film also steps up the relationship between Rambo and Trautman as the two of them are in action together.

What Doesn’t:The main trouble with Rambo III is its slavish repetition of the plot and scenarios of First Blood Part II. A lot of the sequences, such as the cave fight and the helicopter combat, are taken right out of the previous film. Rambo III also embodies a significant change with the franchise. Between the release of the second and third film, a Rambo cartoon was broadcast on television and its influence can be seen in Rambo III, especially in its hokey dialogue and G.I. Joe-like sense of adventure. Rambo III takes the exaggerated, comic book-like approach of First Blood: Part II to a new level and little about Rambo III or the Rambo character, as presented here, resembles anything in the original film. In some ways Rambo III represents what First Blood was condemning. If First Blood was a pseudo-Western, taking to task the institutions that turn young men into killers, Rambo III goes completely the other way by making Rambo a godlike figure of brutish masculinity. In that respect, Rambo III is no worse than what many other films before and since have done but it’s confusing in the way it jerks around the politics of the series. That discontinuity may have affected Stallone’s performance in Rambo III, which is easily the weakest of his contributions to the series, and the overwhelmingly hawkish attitude of the film robs the character of the tension that gives the other films in the series a heroic charge.

DVD extras: The Lions Gate DVD release has a commentary track by director Peter MacDonald and deleted scenes . Other extras are embedded in the disk as a sort of Easter Egg.

Bottom Line: Rambo III may satisfy fans of 1980s action films but it lacks any of the memorable set pieces of the second film or the lean thriller qualities of the original. This is a movie that is best enjoyed ironically as a piece of 1980s kitsch.

Episode: #290 (May 30, 2010)