As the final chapter of the Rambo series arrives in cinemas, we take a look back at the original trilogy as well as the recent stand-alone film. This is Rambo III, the most expensive film ever made at that time.
Vietnam is over and John Rambo (Sylvester Stallone) settled down, living a quiet life in a monastery somewhere in Southeast Asia. He gets a visit from Col. Trautman (Richard Crenna), who invites him to help fight the Russians in Afghanistan. At first Rambo declines, but he reconsiders after hearing that Trautman has been captured by a soviet Col. Zaysen (Marc de Jonge), known for his brutality in the region. John goes in alone, ready to risk it all for his only friend.
By taking its lead out of Vietnam and depriving him of any trace of PTSD, Rambo lost everything that made him an interesting character. He’s in Afghanistan to save a friend and he doesn’t care about how many men have to die, on either side of the fight. Stallone still manages to make this mindless violence fun to watch, even if his on-screen presence is weaker than ever before.
As mentioned, Rambo III was at the time of its release the most expensive film ever made, with a budget of 63 million dollars. And you can most definitely see that, especially in the large-scale action scenes, some of which seem like Lawrence of Arabia, only with way more helicopters and explosives. There is a lot of explosions in this film and everything that technically could explode, will explode. It is an impressive show of great practical effects and watching whole areas burn up in flames will never not be entertaining. That said, all of the action is a grand, but empty spectacle. There is no connection between the characters and the viewer, or between the characters themselves. Rambo and Trautman are supposed to be best friends, but you wouldn’t say that after this film. Their chemistry is basically non-existent, as they spent majority of the screen time they spend together shooting Russians. If they were two strangers, the film would have worked the same.
Zaysen is painted as a cruel and ruthless soldier in the beginning, but we never actually witness anything that would prove these claims. The amount of screen time he gets is laughably small and he never poses any threat to Rambo, even when he has him surrounded by his entire army near the end.
The biggest fault with Rambo III is that the film thinks making things larger is doing something differently. It’s not. Essentially, this is First Blood Part II but in Afghanistan. There is nothing we didn’t see before and the film doesn’t introduce anything new and fresh to shake up the formula. It just made everything, from Stallone’s hair to the scale of the shoot-outs, bigger.
Rambo III is a shadow of the greatness the franchise once had. It traded all of the compelling characters and political messages for a 60 million dollar set-piece in Afghanistan. Rambo was right when, at the beginning, he said: “This isn’t my war.” It’s not and he should have never been involved in it.