This is my least favorite of all the Rambo movies. When you take all four of them as a whole, this one sticks out like a sore thumb. Not only does it step away from dealing with Rambo’s Vietnam history, it adds so much cheese that it’s like watching a different story entirely. I mean, shockingly Rambo has a sense of humor in this movie, which isn’t even close to appropriate in the other films.
First Blood I and II and Rambo (4) all have this overarching sense of sorrow to them. They’re the story of a broken man trying to sort his life out. First Blood I and II show his struggle with his history and other people. In Rambo (4) he finds healing and peace with himself. Rambo III is supposed to be the part of the story where Rambo realizes that the war is not out there but within. They hint at this in the opening of the movie when Trautman tells him he needs to come full circle. The Army didn’t make a warrior. Rambo is a warrior. The Army just honed his skills.
Until he accepts his own warrior-ness the war inside him won’t stop. If only they ran with this idea in the movie instead of sending him to Afghanistan. In fact, Rambo (4) does this so effectively it makes Rambo III unnecessary. The haunted tone that lifts First Blood I and 4 above the normal cheesy action flick, and even First Blood II, fades into the distance as Rambo goes to save Trautman from the Russians.
In a post 9/11 environment, I approached this story with great distrust and questions. I have no problem fighting Russians. (I did grow up in the 80’s after all.) But, I had a hard time working up an emotional connection with the brave Afghan people. I need to do a little more research. These might be the same people who helped Marcus Luttrell escape the Taliban, but I still view them with a hint of suspicion. If I understand my history right, these are the same people who later attacked us. I am also struck, yet again, by how much of the earth’s history has been caught up in fighting over the sand of the Middle East. We’ve been over there so many times, Not as Americans, but just as human beings. And it’s not just invading white colonists. When we’re not fighting over there, they fight themselves. And they’re doing it again.
Anyway, how’s that for a rabbit trail?
The cheese level of Rambo III is up there with some of the most cheesy movies of all time, like Commando. In First Blood II, the cheesiest part of the movie is the idiotic sound effect they use every time Rambo shoots his bow. They have this whip cracking noise go off and it’s distracting and annoying. Bows don’t sound like that, and Rambo uses it because it’s silent. In Rambo III, you can enjoy cheesy lines, humor, and if your DVD tries to supply you with Russian subtitles, you can giggle at the completely stupid conversations going on in the background. I don’t think the Russian was ever supposed to be translated . . . or maybe whoever did the subtitles did a really bad job. It is awful. I got to a point where I had to stop reading them altogether. Russian soldiers greet one another with questions about dinner only to get answers about the dogs, or guard duty. At one point, they yell “Charge, charge, charge” in a scene where charging made no sense and no one was charging. You can tell that the director just wants Russian background chatter and never intends (or, shouldn’t have intended) for anyone to actually know what the Russian soldiers talk about.
There are some themes in Rambo III that echo in Rambo (4) just as there are echoes of First Blood II in Rambo (4). We see the concept of a rebel uprising against an abusive tyrant in both III and 4, but Rambo (4) uses this idea to much greater effect.
In many ways, this is the movie that could have been left out. The only application that can be made from it is no man left behind, even if that means going in alone. But that’s just an outflow of self-sacrifice. If I may make a suggestion? Skip this movie. They had plenty of room to show us Rambo’s inner battle and set the stage for Rambo (4) but this gets lost. What could have been another powerful film in this saga, turns into a cheese fest worthy of Mystery Science and the Riff-trax.
Next up . . . my favorite movie, not just of the Rambo series, but of all time: Rambo 4. The story, and Rambo, come full circle.