Last of the Monster Kids

Last of the Monster Kids
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Tuesday, August 16, 2016


John J. Rambo’s story more-or-less concluded in “First Blood Part II.” When a Vietnam vet defined by his PTSD returns to Vietnam and kills everyone there, what else is left for him to do? Yet a film as hugely popular and immediately iconic as “Rambo” demanded a follow-up. It’s not as if Sylvester Stallone was unfamiliar with continuing the adventures of his characters past their logical end points. “Rambo III” blasted into theaters in 1987. While the sequel was still a sizable international hit, it suffered the indignity of being bested at the box office by “Crocodile Dundee II.” Being not quite as explosive a success as part two put John Rambo into retirement for twenty years. Knowing this, how does the third adventure of America’s favorite super solider stack up?

Following his disappearance at the end of “First Blood Part II,” Col. Troutman has tracked John Rambo to Thailand. His country needs him again. Troutman wants Rambo to assist the rebels in Afghanistan as they fight against the invading Soviets. John refuses at first. When he receives news that Troutman has been captured by the Russians, he changes his mind. Sneaking into Afghanistan, Rambo befriends the Mujaheddin. After witnessing an especially brutal attack by the Soviets, Rambo is motivated even more to rescue his closest friend and aid the revolution.

As I mentioned above, Rambo’s character arc basically wrapped up in the previous entry in the series. The script recognizes this. At story’s beginning, he’s competing in street fights for money, which he gives to a community effort to build a church. Rambo is, as much as possible, at peace. When Troutman shows Rambo evidence of the Soviet atrocities in Afghanistan, he states that this isn’t his war. So the movie makes it his war. As with the deaths of Apollo Creed in “Rocky IV” and Co in “First Blood Part II,” the loss of a personal friend is what truly motivates Stallone’s hero. The capture of Troutman, Rambo’s heterosexual(?) life partner, gets him back in the shit. Yeah, the movie has Rambo being disgusted by the Russian’s actions, furthering his transformation into a freedom fighter. Mostly, though, he’s fighting for love. Sweaty dude love.

The second “Rambo” film was barely concealed Cold War propaganda. Yeah, he killed a shit ton of Russians last time but his personal grudge against the Vietnamese took precedence. Part three dispenses with the “barely concealed” part. The Soviets are comically evil in “Rambo III.” They massacre an entire village, blowing away Afghanis with missiles and machine guns. Inside the secret camps are cages full of women, awaiting their fates as sex slaves. The Russians brutally torture their captives, with beatings and rope bindings. When they’ve gotten everything they can out of the prisoners, they burn them to death with a flame thrower. The reaction the film hopes to breed in its viewers is obvious: “Rambo III” wants you to hate the Soviet Union. It wants you to cheer at the death of every Russian psychopath on-screen.

Of course, reality sometimes has a way of intervening on fantasy. While John Rambo was decimating the Soviet military on the screen, Gorbachev’s policy of glasnost was opening the East more to the West then ever before in real life. The movie’s box office is sometimes blamed on this factoid. Yet other factors make “Rambo III” an even more uncomfortable watch in retrospect. In an early scene, Troutman says that most Americans can’t find Afghanistan on a map. In 2016, this is a less likely scenario. The real life equivalent to the rebels Rambo assist here would grow into the Taliban a decade later. As in, the guys who did 9/11. America covertly supporting its future enemies is an irony not lost on historians. It’s a circumstance Sylvester Stallone and his creative team clearly did not anticipate. It’s certainly makes “Rambo III” a dissociative watch, seeing the most American fictional character fighting along side future terrorists.

“Rambo III” was nearly directed by Russell Mulcahy, the genius behind “Highlander” and “Razorback.” Stallone and Mulcahy disagreed on the film’s direction though, causing Sly to give second unit man Peter MacDonald his first directorial gig. MacDonald hoped to soften Rambo’s image slightly, adding more humor to the script and giving the hero more friends. That humor mostly manifest as a few stray one-liners, which Stallone has no trouble delivering. As for the friends, they’re a fairly unobtrusive lot. Richard Crenna’s Troutman is given an extended role, allowed to blast Ruskies alongside his best bro. You can tell Crenna enjoys being given more to do. Rambo’s main Afgani friend is Mousa, played by an enthusiastic Sasson Gabai. The film even adds a little kid to follow Stallone’s ultimate killing machine around. Luckily, Doudi Shoua’s Hamid isn’t a totally annoying kid sidekick, as he often proves useful. He also exits the film halfway through, before he has a chance to get annoying.

Sequel escalation is a rule Sylvester Stallone definitely understands, as evident in the increasingly high stakes of the “Rocky” sequels. In “First Blood,” we heard about how unstoppable a solider Rambo was. In “First Blood Part II,” we saw how unstoppable he is. In “Rambo III,” he’s somehow even more unstoppable. He leaps into a mounted machine gun, blasting a helicopter apart at point blank range. Later, he one-ups this sequence by blowing up a helicopter with one of his exploding arrows. He beats the main henchmen, pulls the pin on the guy’s grenade, kicks him into a hole, and snaps his neck with a rope, upon which the man explodes. After being run through by shrapnel, Rambo cauterizes the wound by exploding gun powder inside himself. In other words: If you piss off Rambo, he will murder you and everyone who knows you. In addition to his higher body count, Stallone is even more buff then last time too.

For a time, the Guinness World Record book listed “Rambo III” as the most violent film ever made. There’s no doubt that part three somehow tops the previous film’s considerable carnage. The Russian raid on the Afgani village includes countless squibs and dozens of explosions. When Rambo retaliates against the Ruskies, he blows up an entire base. The conclusion has John and Troutman facing down an army by themselves. Naturally, the two have little problem with this. Rambo kills the main bad guy by ramming a helicopter with a tank. Holy shit. You can argue about the film’s aesthetic value all you want but, as far as hard-hitting cinematic action goes, “Rambo III” delivers in spades.

That’s the name of the game. For red-blooded action junkies, the third “First Blood” film may actually satisfies more then any of them. It’s a ridiculously macho experience. For example: There’s not a single named female character. As far as brain dead action fest goes, there’s certainly lots to like. This is, after all, the only movie you’ll see where Sylvester Stallone plays buzkashi. And I do like the movie. But it ultimately lacks the heart of the first and the freshness of the second. Maybe it’s for the best that Stallone would hang up his red bandana for two decades. [7/10]

[X] Frank Stallone or Frank Stallone-esque Inspirational Music
[X] Incapacitates or Kills Someone With His Body
[X] Shows Off Buffness
[X] Social Outcast [Loner Veteran]
[X] Sweaty, Veiny Yelling

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