Rambo III (1988) (part 1 of 4)

SUMMARY: Rambo goes into Afghanistan after his only friend and mentor is captured by a Russian colonel. Oh, and there’s some stuff about the plight of the Afghan people thrown in, too. You know, just so it’s not an all-out slaughter fest.

Rambo: Action icon of the ‘80s, a testament to brazen machismo and mindless patriotism, and the one thing in his acting career besides Rocky that Sylvester Stallone can look back on and feel somewhat good about.

Rambo III (1988) (part 1 of 4)

In 1982, Sly starred in a little film called First Blood. It told the tale of John Rambo, a decorated Vietnam War veteran who’s abused by small town sheriff Brian Dennehy and his deputies. He engages them in a guerilla war, which is only ended when his former commanding officer is able to talk him down.

The film was a surprise success, not to mention a solid action movie, so it led to the mega smash hit sequel Rambo: First Blood Part II, which made the character a national icon. There were even toys and a cartoon series. Not bad for an R rated action movie.

The sequel was a big, loud, dumb action epic, with a nicely over the top turn by Steven Berkoff (his third action movie villain role in as many years), and it ended up being one of the most successful films of 1985. It also garnered several Razzie nominations, and even won for Worst Picture.

In addition, it took the relatively realistic Rambo character and replaced him with a comic book action hero. Gone were most of the faint traces of humanity, replaced by grunting, yelling, the occasional line of dialogue that had only a 30% chance of being coherent, and of course, Stallone’s bulked up physique.

With that much success, another sequel was inevitable. But then Stallone and company whizzed it all right down their legs trying to duplicate the previous film, and killed the franchise for twenty years.

By 1988, the Cold War was thawing, and the Soviet Union was no longer the evil empire, and action movies were beginning to look elsewhere for villains. Unperturbed by this, Stallone set the next Rambo adventure in Afghanistan, which had been embroiled in a war with the Russians for quite some time.

Unfortunately for the filmmakers, by the time the film came out in May of 1988, the war in Afghanistan was over, and the Russians were pulling out. Rambo III was dated before anyone even got the chance to see it. At least the James Bond film The Living Daylights, which also took place partially in Afghanistan, had the good fortune to come out in the middle of 1987 when the war was still going on.

Rambo III’s box office was less than spectacular. It was completely overshadowed by a little film called Die Hard, and it ended up being nominated for a ton of Razzies, but only won Worst Actor for Stallone. Bear in mind, this was also the year the Tom Cruise film Cocktail was released, and while the Razzie folks may tend to go for the most well-known actors and films, they’re smart enough to know that a film that’s essentially “Top Gun in a bar” is far worse than Stallone running around with no shirt on, grunting and killing people.

I have to agree; this is hardly the worst movie I’ve ever seen. But then again, I did watch Wild World of Batwoman willingly, so your mileage may vary.

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Ed Harris

A fan of less than great cinema since childhood, Ed divides his time between writing scripts, working an actual paying job and subjecting himself willingly to some of the worst films society has produced.

Multi-Part Article: Rambo III (1988)

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