Monday, November 23, 2009

Rambo III: The Wrath of Rambo

So, Nat-Wu bought me the "Complete Collector's Set" of Rambo movies. He apparently believes that I am the sort of person who will sit around watching extended editions of Rambo movies I've already seen multiple times, and he is right (by the way...who exactly "collects" Rambo movies?) I chose to kick off this evening's adventure with Rambo III, wherein Rambo travels to Afghanistan to fight the evil Soviets. I have to say, watching Rambo III is an experience rich in irony. If Afghanistan was the Soviet Union's Vietnam, then Afghanistan is our...what? It's easy to cheer Rambo on as he fillets one Soviet soldier after another, until you realize that the little kid he's fighting alongside is the fictional equivalent of today's Taliban commander.

However, that is as much thinking as Rambo III requires, and it only requires that much because of unforeseen changes in circumstance thirteen years after it's making. In truth, Rambo III is not a good movie. Now, I didn't actually think Rambo III was a good movie when I first saw it at the tender age of fourteen. I was naive at that age, but not stupid. But Rambo III basically undoes whatever good was done by the first two movies. In the first Rambo we see John Rambo as a tormented veteran of Vietnam, unable to find a place in a placid and unappreciative American society. In Rambo II he returns to Vietnam, to rescue his fellow countrymen who remain in the hands of the Vietnamese and purge himself of the horrible memories of the war. As Rambo III opens we see that Rambo is living in Thailand, at peace with himself and the legacy of the wars he has fought and the lives he has taken. That is, until his mentor Col. Trautman shows up, attempting to berate him into fighting in another war that really has nothing to do with with by pointing out that Rambo is a soldier, has always been a soldier, and will always be a soldier presumably until he is killed fighting in yet another illegal American combat engagement. Yeah, no awkward hugs and shared tears this time. Rambo, having grown away from the painful experiences of the past, refuses...that is, until Trautman gets his dumb ass captured in Afghanistan and Rambo's loyalty to his comrades is sore abused yet again as he goes on a one-man mission to rescue Trautman from Soviet captivity.

But if you think there's to be any reflection on the horrors of war in this movie, you can forget about it! Rambo wisecracks his way through one harrowing battle after another, coming to peace with the painful memories of his violent past by...creating new ones! Or accepting that he'll never escape them, or something, I guess. Or perhaps war isn't as horrible when it's not being fought against tiny Vietnamese people in a jungle. And anyway, all of that "reflection" and whatnot would merely get in the way of the horrific violence that Rambo visits upon the Soviets, and that the Soviets in turn visit upon the Afghans.

The villain in the movie is Col. Zaysen, a Soviet commander who has utilized notorious brutality in the form of a Hind helicopter gunship that he personally flies around a uses to brutally blow up Afghan women and children and horses. The first thing I noticed about Zaysen upon re-watching the movie is his odd accent, which is explained by the fact that the actor portraying him is in fact French. I have never heard anyone speak Russian-accented English with a French accent before, and I have to tell you that it had me completely confounded as to Zaysen's true nationality. With that name, I thought it was entirely possibly that Zaysen's backstory was that of an Iranian immigrant to Russia who somehow ends up enlisting and fighting in Afghanistan (a backstory ripe for a prequel, I say.) I don't really understand why the filmmakers couldn't find a single actual Russian to portray Zaysen; even in 1988 I'm pretty sure we had more than a few Russians over here doing not much of anything beyond avoiding assassination by the KGB.

Rambo III isn't all bad. Rambo's deadpan style is amusing (he answers every question in the most straight-forward manner possible, which at first seems indicative of a form of autism but actually seems to work for him.) There's plenty of violence if you're into that sort of thing, including a Soviet soldier who is both hanged and blown up at the same time, and various soldiers who are shot and/or blown up with Rambo's signature arrows, or gutted with a knife, or have their necks broken, or are merely hit violently with sticks. Of course the Soviets as portrayed in Rambo III are perhaps the worst military of the late 20th century, but of course if they were any better Rambo would've been shot in the back by a tower guard as he unsuccessfully attempts to sneak into a heavily guarded fort, and that would be a pretty short and disappointing movie.

Anyway, so that's Rambo III. I had kind of hoped that by re-watching Rambo III I could enjoy a little nostalgia upon recalling seeing it for the first time over twenty years ago, but I think that would require me to have actually enjoyed it the first time around. Oh well.


adam said...

Rambo should go back. We need him!

Xanthippas said...

Agreed. And the movie can end in a climactic scene where he shoots with an explosive arrow the militia member he befriended in the first movie. Right before he releases the bowstring, Rambo will have a flashback to their tender moment of friendship in Rambo III, then you will see the arrow hit the now-jihadi and blow him to pieces.

Nat-Wu said...

Nicely done.

adam said...

See, it writes itself!

"First Blood" is really the only *good* movie of the series, but "Rambo" (the last one) was fairly enjoyable. Haven't seen the others in a long time.

Also, did you guys hear the next one was originally planned to be a scifi movie??

adam said...

Xanthippas said...

Huh. I would've preferred to see him spirited into the future to fight an evil corporate conglomerate, but whatever.