Rambo III stars Sylvester Stallone, Richard Crenna, and Sasson Gabai and was directed by Peter MacDonald. It continues the story of ex-soldier John Rambo, played by Sylvester Stallone, this time following him to Afghanistan as he conducts a solo rescue mission to save Colonel Trautman, played by Richard Crenna, from the Soviets. The Rambo franchise is an odd one. Based on a novel by David Morrell, First Blood introduced a dark and thematically-heavy character-driven action movie.
First Blood Part II was a serviceable sequel, but dropped the majority of its depth in favor of more outlandish action. By the end of that second film (or even arguably the first film), it felt like Rambo’s story had been told. But then came Rambo III, a film that draws the story even further away from its origins. Of all the Rambo movies, this is the one that truly feels unnecessary. The story is so far-removed from its predecessors, that it’s incredibly obvious this was a film made to capitalize on the success of Rambo, rather than to further his character or story in any sort of meaningful way.
The Vietnam War has always been integral to this franchise, whether we’re talking about the psychological impacts of it like in First Blood or the setting and direct aftermath like in First Blood Part II. But here in Rambo III, there’s no true connection. Gone are the jungles of Vietnam, replaced instead by the rocky deserts of Afghanistan. It’s an okay setting for a movie like this, but it really doesn’t feel like Rambo. The movie is all over the place. Everything from the story to the characters to the tone just feels cobbled together in this weird mix. Rambo’s war is over, but the film starts him off in a confusingly weird place. And obviously with his experiences in the past few movies, he’s not too keen on getting involved with the Soviet-Afghan War.
Much like First Blood Part II, this film centers around a rescue mission, only this time it’s the only person that Rambo cares about. Although the basic plot is a little weak, that motivation could’ve resulted in an emotionally compelling story. Unfortunately, it all devolves into a repetitive and boring plot, sporadically enlivened by some decent action. The action here is more in-line with the previous film than with the first movie, so it takes the more bombastic over-the-top approach. There are some good moments, but nothing is extraordinarily iconic or unique other than perhaps a certain moment of first aid.
The very choppy editing style certainly hampered the action a bit, but the biggest thing working against it was the pace of the film. It was surprisingly slow, staccatoed by only brief moments of excitement or humor. Perhaps it could’ve worked had it had a more solid underlying story, but unfortunately not even Rambo’s crazy action was enough to save this one. Alright, let’s talk about the pros and cons. For me, the only real pro of this movie is the action.
It’s not a spectacular movie, but it does have some decent moments of over-the-top bombastic 80s action. The compound breakout sequences are really pretty enjoyable, but the movie does have its fair share of ridiculous action too, like the overlong stick-fighting sequence that opens the film. On the con side, this film’s biggest issue is its story. It’s this weird balance of generically predictable and super contrived. As a rescue mission military extraction story, this hits all the major beats you expect it to and really nothing more.
That in itself could be fine, but this is a Rambo movie and so the Rambo character is shoehorned into this story. His presence makes very little sense and that’s where the contrived aspect comes into play. My second con is definitely a bit more subjective, but I just found this to be a very dull movie, especially when compared to the other Rambo films. And that’s a weird thing, right? To have a Rambo movie be dull and boring? I mean, it has its moments of excitement that are all tied to the action, but there’s so much downtime in between those moments that it just becomes really tedious and feels like a much longer movie than it actually is. I’m gonna give Rambo III 2 out of 5 paws.
The Rambo franchise consistently delivers on action and this movie’s no different in that respect. Unfortunately, that’s all it has going for it and it’s really no surprise that this was the last Rambo movie for two decades. I would recommend Rambo III to big fans of Rambo and that’s about it. If you love the character and the rest of the franchise, you’ll get some enjoyment out of this.
Colonel Trautman has a bigger role in this than any of the other movies, so if you really like his character or his relationship with Rambo, then that might be a draw for you here. If you liked Rambo III, then I would recommend Rambo: First Blood Part II since it’s the closest Rambo movie to this one, not only chronologically, but also stylistically. If you want to see another movie about the Soviet-Afghan War, I’d recommend that you check out Charlie Wilson’s War.
It’s not an action movie, but does explore the political and financial side of the US’s involvement in the war. And if you just want another ridiculous Stallone action movie and didn’t quite get enough of his rockclimbing skills in this franchise, be sure to check out Cliffhanger.