Rambo III (1988)

Rambo: First Blood Part II marks one of the biggest missed opportunities that I can think of when it comes to the movies. It manages to still make for a mostly enjoyable experience, though. Rambo III comes along and makes even more mistakes than the second installment in the series. It, however, has a greater difficulty overcoming them. Don’t get me wrong, about half of Rambo III is a lot of fun, but you have to trudge through so much junk to get to the fun part that by the time you’re there, you feel defeated.

John Rambo (Sylvester Stallone), hero of the first two films in the series, is finally content with his life. He’s living in Thailand, and has finally made peace with all of his demons, and plans on just living out the rest of his days. Granted, he’s not really just sitting back as a retired man; he’s working and engaging in stick fighting, and all sorts of things. Colonel Trautman (Richard Crenna), the only other actor to appear in all three Rambo films, approaches him with a job. Rambo refuses, Trautman goes ahead with it anyway and gets captured, so Rambo’s new goal is to rescue him.

The film takes place during a war between the Soviet Union and Afghanistan. The villains are the Soviets, and the rebels of Afghanistan aid Rambo in his quest to save the man who seems like he’s Rambo’s only friend. The problem with this story approach is that it takes about 50 minutes — of a 100 minute film — for any real action to occur. Stallone has to carry us dramatically for this first portion, and he’s so dull that this simply can’t work.

Stallone is here for the action scenes. That’s one of the best parts about First Blood Part II: it understood that he wasn’t there to talk; he was there to shoot guns and bows and to stab people with knives. This film wants us to spend 50 minutes with him and some Afghan rebels before any action starts. Stallone can’t pull it off. He has no charisma, no ability to deliver lines, and absolutely no reason to try when he’s so good at performing the action scenes.

The result is two-fold. First, we are reminded that Rambo is one of the least enjoyable action movie heroes ever. He doesn’t crack a smile even once, and he doesn’t show any emotion. He’s just dull. The second is a boring first half of the film. It simply lost my interest. We get a kind of fun stick fighting scene to open the movie, and then nothing until the 50-minute mark. Even that’s not so much action as a slaughter from above with bombs. It still takes a bit from there for Rambo to do anything of interest.

It’s not even Stallone’s lack of acting chops or his delivery; the character is written very blandly and there isn’t even any development during this time. The first two films didn’t really develop Rambo, either, but they didn’t have him sit on a horse for their first halves. Here, he’s given the perfect chance to let us know what he’s thinking, what he’s feeling, and how he’s changed over the films in which we’ve seen him. He could have retroactively grown as a character, actually improving the last two movies. But that doesn’t happen. He says nothing of consequence. Another wasted opportunity.

The action scenes, once they start, don’t stop until the end. It’s relentless, and if I wasn’t so put off by the first half of Rambo III, I probably would have loved them. Once he reaches the place he needs to be, the shooting starts and the film suddenly gets really good. It took a long time to win me back, though, as the first half is so bad. Eventually, it succeeded, and I can’t call it a complete waste of time as a result.

That isn’t to say that the action scenes made me forgive the first 50 minutes, as it was only with about 15 minutes to go that I finally realized I was having fun again, but I can say that it’s not a complete bore of a movie that’s worth skipping even if you love the character (somehow). I was prepared to, but because the action is so good — I might want to say it contains some scenes that are better than anything in the rest of the series — it’s still possibly worth watching. Just be prepared to do something else while Stallone is talking to random people about nothing in particular. I suggest picturing a better actor delivering the lines. Or imagining explosions constantly going off in the background. Explosions improve everything, right?

It was quite nice, after three movies, to finally see Richard Crenna get in on the action. If there’s one reason to see Rambo III, it’s for that. He looks like he’s having fun, and he gets to be in almost every scene after the midway point. He and Stallone make for a decent team, and actually seem to have something similar to chemistry together.

Rambo III contains two distinct halves. The first is one that you’ll have to trudge through, possibly using the visualization techniques you use to make your weekly office meeting more exciting. The second is an action-packed blast with some of the most exciting action scenes in the series. Sure, it’s another missed opportunity, and I don’t know if I can really recommend a movie that’s awful for 1/2 of its running time, but at least there’s a silver lining to the disaster that is the first half.

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