Rambo III: Second Blood Part 2.1: When helping the Mujahidin was cool: rebuttal
For the uninitiated, your should read Bill's review of Rambo III to fully appreciate the genius of the text below.
A Russian helicopter is on the hunt for John Rambo as our hero is trying to stave off an onslaught from a crazed Russian general obsessed with the idea of vaporizing a small Afghan community. John, god-gifted with the predatory instincts of a velociraptor à la Jurassic Park (sans fangs however), gages the direction from which the machine approaches and quickly gathers his weapons of choice to create one of the most objectively awesome weapons in the franchise, if not all of the 1980s: the exploding arrow. Just as the Russian pilot believes to have John right he wants him, Rambo, with the precision and swiftness that would make Cirque du Soleil jugglers blush, finishes off his bow and arrow, raises the weapon in the direction of the oncoming enemy and launches. Dosvedania, you cock sucker!
Yeah, Bill was right when he judged last week that one half of the viewership Rambo III attracts consists of those who love seeing stuff blow up via exploding arrows (the other half being fans of scenes with a sweaty and topless Stallone. By the way, which half are you a part of, Bill?). Much of the pleasure to be had with Rambo III does in fact lie with the ridiculous nature of the film’s multiple action sequences, but also, as Bill also stated, with the numerous corny touches sparkled throughout the movie’s running time. The English subtitles for the Russian dialogue bits are unquestionably bizarre/hilarious, and the tone of several scenes, such as when Rambo decides to partake in a racing game that involves trudging along the corpse of a lamb by horseback, is decidedly comical, if unintentionally so.
As I read your review though, I quickly noticed that the film’s silliness and its will to embrace the ridiculous was the primary, maybe even the only reason why you enjoyed it so much. Now, my film buff instincts did kick in and remind me that Rambo III is loaded with corniness, but my heart and mind were also touched by the movie. Yes, my heart and mind. Where you seem to have only found a fun if ultimately silly action movie, I found one that, while gifted (?) which such qualities, also had a bit more to offer under the surface. The mere fact that the plot, however little there was, took place in Afghanistan, with the locals engaged in a war of attrition against the Russian forces was an interesting move. The Vietnam war haunted Rambo deeply in First Blood, and haunts Americans still today (Right, right, you guys didn’t ‘lose’…) and to see the Rambo helping a side that, in more ways than one, resembles the very same people he was ordered to vanquish only some years ago added some thematic resonance to the proceedings. Rather than the futile slugfest we witnessed in First Blood Part II, I felt that it was in Rambo III that our hero really understood what it was to ‘do good.’ It isn’t openly discussed in the film (albeit a brief comparison is made by Trautman between the Vietnam and Afghan wars), but the importance of Rambo’s role being reversed was not lost on me.
There is a scene, shortly after Rambo arrives at the Afghan camp, when the Russians attack and do a nasty job on many of the community’s members before John can fight them off. There some flashes of women and children being blown away by the explosions, and the aftermath of the attack left a slightly bitter taste in my mouth. It’s at that moment that Rambo realizes his purpose in Afghanistan is more than just rescuing Trautman (although that in of itself is an important reason too), but finally seeing what garbage war leads to. The presence of the child soldier, which I touched on briefly in my review last week, was also of interest. The film doesn’t do much with him, but when the character is given some dialogue, it’s all rather blunt: ‘My family was slaughtered, I have nothing better to do and I’m a little bit obsessed with revenge. I’m going to help you kill Russians.’ That’s harsh, but also a reality in many parts of the world where children are trained to become the last (sometimes first) line of defence and attack. It was a rare case where I actually wanted more of a child character in an action movie because I thought his presence added a grim sense of reality to the story.
It is very true that Rambo III is covered in silly putty, but I decided to look a little bit deeper than what was being given to me on the surface and found something a bit more intelligent and memorable than anticipated. This is not First Blood level of rich dramatic writing, not by a long shot even, but I felt that Rambo III was doing a bit more than a lot of reviews (including yours) gave it credit for. All in all I think we both enjoyed the film equally, if for somewhat different reasons, so I won’t spend any more time than necessary for this rebuttal. Besides, the grand finale is coming up next week and of all the films we’ll have reviewed in this marathon, I’m especially curious to read what your thoughts on Rambo, the one film in the franchise that I had in fact seen prior to the start of the marathon and till this day have some difficulty formulating any cohesive one sentence opinion on.
It’s off to Birma next week! I hear it’s wonderful at almost no time at all throughout the year.