Movie Series Review: Rambo III

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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.

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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.

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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.

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I swear Rambo is almost smiling. Rambo doesn’t smile.

 

Movie Series Review: Rambo: First Blood

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I’m going to do a four part series on the Rambo movies. This may seem like an odd thing for a blogger who titles herself a gentle and quiet spirit, but I think women play a significant role as memory holders. I think it’s important for all of us to remember. And, I think it’s important for women to have a heart for warriors because we’re the ones who raise them. Women can make or break the children they have. Many of our best officers will tell you their mothers influenced them the most, and serial killers will say the same thing. Thus, I think it’s important to study these things. Even though I don’t have sons, I do have nephews. On the other side of my love for warriors is the Bible’s teaching about spiritual warfare. We’re at war, as Christians, and it doesn’t do to forget that—whether we’re pastors on the front line or housewives. These are purely the thoughts of an amateur theologian and amateur modern military historian. If any pastors or soldiers would like to weigh in, please feel free.

I found a love for action flicks in the mid-to late ’90s as a teen. I regularly watched Terminator 2 and Predator. For years I disregarded anything and everything Stallone ever made. I constantly thought of him as the Arnold wannabe. For a few years in my early-married life, I moved away from action flicks thinking I should watch deeper and more artistic films. Jason Stathem’s Transporter movies reignited my love of cheesy action flicks, and warrior stories. There’s been no going back since. Once my husband and I started watching action flicks again, he suggested we watch Rambo. I made my usual snide remarks about Stallone being an Arnold wannabe and dismissed the idea. He kept pressing, sighting it as a necessary point of Action Flick Education. Finally, I caved and we got our hands on First Blood.

I was in for a big surprise.

First Blood is not a cheesy action flick.

First Blood is a true and real drama.

It has real people with confused and mixed up morals. It raises interesting questions. It tracks the life of a man abandoned by his country and pushed to the breaking point. First Blood isn’t about big explosions, big guns, or body count. It’s about a part of our society which wasn’t popular than and isn’t popular now.

I’m not talking about soldiers.

We live, thankfully, in a day and age when it’s very in vogue to support the troops. It only took Vietnam for us to realize how much these men and women need civilian support. It only took that war to make us realize how sick a country is that spits on its soldiers. To this day, it nauseates me to think about what our boys—and I say boys because most soldiers are boys—went through in Vietnam and what they went through when they came home. I’m very thankful we live in a society that goes out of its way to show support for our troops.

But I’m not talking about our everyday soldiers.

I’m talking about warriors.

I’m talking about the men who give up everything that seems normal and safe to do all the hard things none of the rest of us want to do. Many of the everyday citizens must appreciate these people or shows like 24, Vince Flynn’s Mitch Rapp novels, and action flicks wouldn’t be popular. I think it’s our media and our elite academia who don’t appreciate these people. How can I say this?

Try reading a novel called Lone Survivor and you’ll see why we lost four of our warriors due to their fear of the liberal media. There I said it. Done soap boxing. Back to Rambo.

So, what happens to a society that pats itself on the back for supporting its troops, but doesn’t understand the blood and guts on its warriors’ hands? What happens when a man is trained to do one thing, wired to excel at that one thing, used to do that one thing, and then told what he did and what he does and what he’s good at is wrong?

What happens to a society when we start doing this at the earliest stages of boyhood? When we teach boys to be gentle to the point of emasculating them? I’m all for teaching boys to control their strength, but I still want boys to be boys. Instead of understanding that boys are uniquely different from girls in the area of physical and mental strength in a way that allows them to go and fight wars, evil, and meet violence with violence, we teach boys that they need to be medicated. We teach them that they need to be safe. Oh safety, you dangerous dangerous thing.

Do we do this only to our men? Nope. We do this to women too. Women are taught that the one thing we do in an amazing and only female way is valueless, or just not that important. Hello! Women have children. We create life in our bodies. We nurture. We sacrifice the ‘best’ years of our lives to raise up the next generation. Could we have a higher calling? Even I, a woman without children, count herself blessed to aid and help women who do. I still believe I’m strongest in my ability to support my husband, cherish life, nurture, and instruct. Just because I haven’t created a life in my own body yet, doesn’t mean I don’t have intrinsic female uniqueness. Same for a man, you may not get called to creep through jungles or fight in the sands of the Middle East, but you are still called to defend. You are still called to use your strength for truth and justice.

Now, back to Rambo First Blood.

John Rambo comes home after fighting in Vietnam. The movie opens with him finding out that the last man in his elite unit has died. Vietnam killed him too. He may have made it home, but he couldn’t escape the long dark reach of war. This information demoralizes Rambo. He hoped to find one of his brothers. Instead, he found he was truly and finally alone.

The sheriff picks Rambo up on the side of the road and encourages him to stay out of his town. Sheriff Will Tease is not a completely evil character. Imagine the whirlwind of emotion he struggles with as he does what he thinks is right for his quiet little town only to have it blow up in his face. Repeatedly, he gives into his own pride even at the cost of his men, but he does try to do the right thing. He tries to keep his men under control so Rambo isn’t killed. He tries to patch things up with Colonel Trautman. The Sheriff tries multiple times to do the right thing. He’s not a flat character. This movie could easily be told from his POV with him as the underdog hero instead of Rambo.

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Rambo gets pushed by Sheriff Tease and he pushes back, but it’s the moment he’s arrested that clicks Rambo’s training into high gear. In a way, Rambo looks for this fight. He could have avoided it. He could have kept walking and just shrugged the Sheriff off. But without hope, he goes back to the only thing he knows: fighting. Unfortunately, the Sheriff’s men don’t realize who they’re dealing until they’ve already shed first blood. They’ve already fired the first shot. If the Sheriff had kept his men in control, done a little research on the drifter they picked up, and had a little less pride on the line, Rambo could have been defused easily. Blinded by their arrogance, and the spirit of the day and age that hated both hippies and soldiers, Rambo’s training is switched on. The treatment Rambo experiences in the county jail makes him flash on his time as a POW. Escape becomes paramount in his mind.

The situation escalates. Rambo tries at one point to diffuse it after the first civilian dies. The Sheriff’s men open fire on him settling in his mind that he is at war.

The tension continues to build with the civilians bumbling around, Trautman trying to explain that it is the Sheriff and his men who are in danger not Rambo, and Rambo doing exactly what he was trained to do: fight.

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Then you reach the end. This is the moment you realize this movie isn’t an action flick but a real drama. When Rambo’s about to kill the Sheriff, Trautman finally stops him. Rambo yells at him, “It’s never over.” And then, surprise of surprises, this great warrior breaks down in tears.

Why?

He’s alone. Rambo’s terribly and horribly alone. None of his friends made it out of the war. The nation he sacrificed so much of his humanity for does things like throw him in jail, rough him up, deny him food and work, shoot at him, and tries to kill him. They don’t honor, respect, or even care what he did. (Christian-colored Glasses: Many pastors face the same thing. They battle. They fight. They seek to defend their churches. And many times they aren’t respected, loved, or supported.)

I think this is why we see so many soldiers in our special forces go back. They go back to where they’re respected. It may be hell on earth, but for them it’s where their families are. It’s where their skills are used. It’s where they can do what they were made to do.

The question posed by Rambo, that I think we’re still asking ourselves today, is what do you do with the warriors when the war is over? Where do you put them? How do you utilize their skills so that they’re respected and honored?

What do we do with our warriors?

I found this video very interesting. Every mother, especially if you have sons, should watch this: Why do Veterans Miss War? https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TGZMSmcuiXM

This video asks a similar question to Rambo First Blood. I don’t believe, as a Christian, that by understanding war can we eradicate it. War is a result of sin. We can help our warriors, or soldiers, return to civilian life in a healthy way, giving them a chance to use their skills instead of telling them that what they do is unimportant or downright bad, if we understand that they were made to do this and that part of them loves doing it.

Watch First Blood. It is a well-done and amazing movie.

It made me finally place Stallone over Arnold. I’ll take a Stallone movie any day! Join me tomorrow for my thoughts on Rambo 2.

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Movie Quotes:

Trautman: Company leader to identify Baker Team – Rambo, Messner, Ortega, Coletta, Jurgensen, Berry, Krakauer confirm! This is Colonel Trautman. Talk to me, Johnny.

Rambo: They’re all gone Sir.

Trautman: Rambo! Are you all right?

Rambo: Baker Team. They’re all dead, sir.

Trautman: Not Delmar Berry, he made it.

Rambo: Berry’s gone too Sir.

Trautman: How?

Rambo: Got himself killed in ‘Nam, didn’t even know it. Cancer ate him down to the bone.

Trautman: I’m sorry, I didn’t know.

Rambo: I’m the last one Sir.

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(Language warning!)

Rambo: We were in this bar in Saigon and this kid comes up, this kid carrying a shoe-shine box. And he says “Shine, please, shine!” I said no. He kept askin’, yeah, and Joey said “Yeah.” And I went to get a couple of beers, and the box was wired, and he opened up the box, f–king blew his body all over the place. And he’s laying there, he’s f–king screaming. There’s pieces of him all over me, just…

[Takes off his bandolier]

Rambo: like this, and I’m tryin’ to pull him off, you know, my friend that’s all over me! I’ve got blood and everything and I’m tryin’ to hold him together! I’m puttin’… the guy’s f–kin’ insides keep coming out! And nobody would help! Nobody would help! He’s saying, sayin’ “I wanna go home! I wanna go home!” He keeps calling my name! “I wanna go home, Johnny! I wanna drive my Chevy!” I said “With what? I can’t find your f–kin’ legs! I can’t find your legs!”

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