"God would have mercy—He won't."
ODE TO RAMBO
you didn't see the first two Rambo movies (although if you're
reading this the chances of that are nil), Rambo III presents
what a bad ass/good guy Vietnam veteran John J. Rambo is for you in the introduction. Starting
with kids and monks as the company he keeps, Rambo is competing in a
beefcake fest of stickfighting.
Athletic prowess is a huge part of why we love Action Figures. Rambo is the quintessential Action Figure, plus he's noble. He's his own army. It just doesn't
get any cooler.
Rambo gets paid for the fight, although we see he fought just to give the money away to the monks. The fight scene is also definitely a little "rope-a-dope". When you take a beating first, at least the crowd feels they got their money's worth. Also, in a good fight scene, it can't be an easy win—that would seem like a mismatch. It shows you're tougher if you can take a beating, than if you just win easily. That's never truer than in this whole movie.
This first fight scene depicts Rambo's inner battle. He'll fight if he has to (for money), if he's pushed—he's really good at it, but doesn't want to be, because he is trained to kill. Being so good at something evil, which tears you up inside, is the soldier's dilemma. Especially for a Vietnam soldier because their sense of honor, duty, and country, and their sacrifice (what they did for what they believed in), went unappreciated by too many. Rambo is searching for self acceptance and inner peace, but has to fight (literally) to find himself.
Enter Richard Crenna again as Colonel Trautman. This time he has tracked Rambo down in Thailand. Trautman's brought along a field officer, Robert Griggs, from the local US Embassy.
Which raises the question: Why is Rambo still hiding? Griggs explains why they've come to see Rambo. After nine years of fighting, the Afghan Rebels are beating the Soviets except in one region, where they are being slaughtered by a particularly brutal Soviet Commander who needs to be taken out. [It was the popular public opinion at the time that the US was involved in the Afghan civil war because they didn't want the Soviets to gain control of Afghanistan, which is next to Pakistan, which is on the Arabian Sea. [The Arabian Sea connects the Persian Gulf and the coastlines of Saudi Arabia, Iran, and Iraq (oil map) . . . the countries producing the most oil (and Kuwait and the UAE).]
Trautman is there to ask Rambo to go with him on his mission to kill the Soviet Commander. Rambo tells them his war is over, and walks away. End of conversation. But Trautman follows Rambo, and we get to the heart of the matter.
Rambo makes his case for staying put. If you didn't see the first two movies, but knew about how Vietnam Vets were treated, then you would understand why Rambo might want to stay away from America, but until this part of Rambo III, you do not know about the ongoing battle inside Rambo ("You can't just turn it off"). Trautman explains, and even without the first two movies, you understand Rambo's inner struggle.
So Rambo refuses to go. It just seems like more of the same to him. He is hiding from his true nature, that of a fighting machine. As he said: "I don't want it."
Also, if you didn't see the first two movies, you don't know
the strength of the bond the two men have through post-war
events and beyond the bond created by war and the chain of
command, however, Rambo delivers the feeling in a later scene.
[The fact that he doesn't say it now, gives it much more impact
later.] Trautman getting captured also
introduces us to the Soviet Colonel Zaysen and his
(Soviet Mil Mi-24 Hind gunship which features an
obscene amount of weaponry attached), and sinister voice.
Until now, we haven't really seen Rambo in action (unless, again, you saw the first two films and know what he's capable of), although he just looks so damn competent. We've seen him ride a horse, run, shoot, and hide, but the 'party' hasn't even started yet. Now we know the Soviet Colonel is a bastard, and has to be taken down, and Rambo feels he's running out of time . . .
NO TOY SOLDIER
Rambo makes it undetected into the prison area of the fort. All seems to be going as planned, although Mousa and the boy are still outside. Rambo finds Trautman, but before he can unlock his cell, the boy enters and becomes the wrench in the works. All hell breaks loose in a gun battle, and the bombs placed by Rambo and Mousa start to go off. It's fabulous! Something blows up (it seems like) every 3 seconds for the next 3 minutes. I counted over 30 explosions (on screen and off) (fuck-yeah-crazy-awesome Action Scene #1). The boy (who had followed them until it was too late for them to send him back or get him to leave) gets wounded in the leg (by Zaysen, who else), and Rambo and Mousa have to flee without Trautman in order to get the boy to safety.
This sets up another fuck-yeah-crazy-awesome action scene in a movie chock full of crazy-awesome action scenes (like one with more than 30 explosions)! After the boy is shot, Rambo is also wounded by a flying stick of wood from one of the blasts. He snaps it off, and retreats through the sewer (another gun battle, more explosions) to the outside perimeter of the fort, the boy over his shoulder. This is a classic Rambo moment, sprinting with an automatic weapon in one hand, a kid in the other, explosions in the background—he even jumps over flames.
They are met by a villager who brought horses for a getaway (only to get shot for his efforts). Rambo takes out a troop convoy truck with a grenade launcher, and then the three of them escape to find safety in the caves. Meanwhile, Zaysen is taking his anger over Rambo escaping out on Trautman. His anger is mixed with contempt, but a little awe creeps in.
Once in the caves, Rambo sends Masoud and the boy away, and now is truly all on his own.
Fuck-yeah-crazy-awesome Action Scene #2: He removes the piece of wood, pours gunpowder in the wound, then lights it on fire! Oh yeah. And he screams. (How did they do that?!)
He recovers and the next day he goes back for Trautman. Not the easy way. While dozens of commandos are combing the countryside looking for him, Rambo scales up the side of the cliff to drop back into the prison area in the nick of time, as they were just about the barbeque Trautman. The two of them break out, bringing along with them the rest of the prisoners. I love how the encampment looks all burnt to shit as they easily leave the enclosure through a huge gap in the blackened fence. In a classic move, Rambo steals Zaysen's helicopter right from under his nose after he lands it from his unsuccessful manhunt for Rambo. Zaysen was probably headed straight to take it out on Trautman, but surprise! Zaysen's men are laid out and Trautman's gone.
Rambo's group all escape but the helicopter gets shot up (yeah, Zaysen is PISSED) and Rambo has to crash land it. (Awesome heavy object through wind sound.) There's another death as one of the prisoners falls out the open 'copter door and dangles until Zysen shoots him in the back. Rambo blows up a lookout tower that is firing on them. The helicopter makes it over the edge of the cliff and falls into the valley. Rambo crash lands safely and they get out just as the helicopter blows (no, Rambo does not look back at the explosion—'cause cool guys don't look at explosions). The group splits up. Rambo and Trautman are heading for the border. Now, the manhunt is on! (I wondered why Rambo didn't use any of the heavy artillery the helicopter had on the fort before he left but maybe he didn't want to hang around and put the passengers at risk.)
HIDE AND SEEK
Here's where 'the party' starts. Now the essence of the Super Solider that Rambo is comes into play. In another spectacular shot (the helicopter getting taken out by an arrow is still burned on your corneas), the exploding barrel blows up and rains liquid fire down into the drop hole where Rambo is still descending on the rope to take cover. The cave half fills with fire and incinerates the rope. Rambo drops the rest of the way and has to roll as a shower of flame hits the ground right behind him. He sprints through fire(Stalllone does this stunt!) to seek cover with Trautman.
Now it's really cat and mice as the commandos pour into the caves from above, rappelling on lines as a trail of dust follows them—the dust trails beautifully illuminated in shafts of blue light against the jet-black darkness. One by one, Rambo picks them off as only he can in a variety of lethal ways. The first Soviet soldier Rambo takes out (with his bow and arrow) is the one wearing the night vision goggles who is in contact with Zaysen. Not for long. The radio sounds. Zaysen was no doubt calling his man to see if had spotted Rambo, but the spotter was already dead. Guess who answers.
The look on Zaysen's face is shock and fear. So satisfying.
Rambo picks off the rest of the commandos in the cave except one that Trautman shoots (saving Rambo's life) and, apparently, a walking wall of muscle known as Kourov. Kourov must have climbed out after he survived one of Rambo's exploding arrows by using one of his own men as a shield. Rambo climbs back up the rope hand over hand (bad ass doesn't even use his legs) to reach the surface where Trautman is already scouting around. Apparently Trautman missed Kourov because he grabs Rambo and hoists him out of the hole by his neck. Rambo fights back but then gets squeezed in a bear hug which no doubt hurts like hell from the wound he has. Rambo finds a grenade on Kourov's jacket and pulls the pin, at which point Kourov lets go.
What happens next is fuck-yeah-crazy-awesome Action Scene #3: With a roundhouse kick, Rambo sends Kourov flying backward, where (thanks to the slippery nature of sand) like a golf ball he 'rolls into the cup'. The rope that Rambo had wound around Kourov's neck a couple times is still attached and it keeps Kourov from falling to the cavern floor (it's tied to a large rock topside) but tick tock tick tock . . the grenade! It looks like he was blown to bits. It's a big explosion (how big is not captured below), but just at the end you see the body dropping in flames. (again-how did they do that!) (see it here @1:47) (I don't know if it was the first time they ever killed someone like this in a movie but it was the first time I ever saw it.)
Rambo and Trautman have about :20 seconds of thinking they got away until the entire Soviet Army shows up: tanks and hundreds of troops in an assortment of vehicles, and of course, at the front, Zaysen in his helicopter (the only remaining helicopter) braying out orders for them to surrender over the loudspeaker. Rambo's decision? Fuck-yeah-crazy-awesome Action Scene #4: "Fuck 'em!"
In a little Butch-and-Sundance moment, Rambo and Trautman take on the whole Soviet Army. This time, they have someplace to hide: As they start shooting, they jump into a ditch. [Zaysen looks uber annoyed. It's great! ("Inconceivable!" from Princess Bride comes to mind—that they did not surrender.)]
Less than a minute later,
the rebel cavalry rides in. Now, it's a party. I love how
Rambo would not accept defeat. He and Trautman just starting
shooting and jumped in the ditch for cover and kept on fighting.
It might be a miracle, it might be luck or fate, whatever you
call it, that they stayed alive long enough for help to arrive. Re-energized,
Rambo charges into
battle on foot (fuck-yeah-crazy-awesome
Action Scene #5) as the Soviets turn turn to face the approaching
rebels. Rambo and Trautman, now at their flank, do all the
damage they can. Rambo takes out 10 guys in :10 seconds from a truckbed-mounted
In a truly magnificent Rambo moment (fuck-yeah-crazy-awesome action scene #6), he mounts a horse, takes off, is passed a lit Molotov cocktail, and riding all out, explosions behind him, while screaming, charges a tank! It's Rambo III's version of the Rambo: First Blood Part II's scene where Rambo fires into the air screaming after shooting up the command station. Meanwhile, Zaysen, still flying too low as he makes passes, strafes Trautman in the shoulder.
Zaysen takes a shot at Rambo on the horse, but is wide right and he has to circle and come back. He watches as the tank fires at Rambo as he charges, but it's a little short and the horse throws Rambo. On the next pass, Zaysen's gunman gets Rambo in the leg, but the helicopter has to pull up because it's too near the tank. Rambo recovers the Molotov cocktail, rolls out of the way so he won't be run over by the tank, and throws the bomb at the rear of the tank as Zaysen circles to come back around.
Now it's a race for Rambo to take cover before Zaysen can return. Between the Molotov cocktail that hits the back of the tank and a rocket that hits the front (launched by a villager and the boy), the tank fills with smoke, stops, and the two men inside try to escape. Rambo shoots them both, and under the watchful eye of Zaysen makes it inside the tank in time to be safe and get it moving again. Zaysen flies so low you think he wishes he was in a tank instead of a helicopter, and he blasts the tank. Next, Rambo takes out the other tank and charges after the helicopter. It's like Zaysen just can't believe it when Rambo takes out the other tank. Trautman's still in the game and, as Zaysen swings around, Trautman blasts the Soviet helicopter gunman and riddles him with bullets. By now, Zaysen has swung around again into position and is flying back.
And here comes fuck-yeah-crazy-awesome Action Scene #7: The helicopter and the tank are playing chicken!! It's the sickest thing to see a tank at full speed racing toward a helicopter flying low. Rambo tries several times to blast the helicopter but the explosions all land behind it. Rambo switches to the machine gun and takes out Zaysen's copilot. At this moment, if Zaysen was sane, he would have pulled up but he doesn't, probably there was no time anyway. A second later Rambo starts screaming after the copilot kill and Zaysen starts screaming out of hatred and insanity. Then Rambo peppers Zaysen with bullets and the two vehicles collide head on. It's awesome to see the tank's long gun pierce the helicopter. KABOOM! The helicopter is blown to bits. The tank just stops dead. Rambo's beat up (and still has a bullet wound in his leg), but the tank is still in tact and he's all right and manages to climb out.
In the next scene, Mousa, Masoud, and the boy see the bandaged and cleaned-up Trautman and Rambo off. The boy asks Rambo to stay but he says he has to go. It's time.
As they drive away there is a message onscreen:
"THIS FILM IS DEDICATED TO THE GALLANT PEOPLE
OF AFGHANISTAN" and you can't help but wonder, how did we end up
being enemies? (If you're interested, please read
The Rambo movies, especially this one, would not be as good
without their attached historical ties. The fact that Stallone
gave a damn about something and used real events in these movies
is a tribute to his character. It informs and enriches
the fictitious character, and he has our empathy. We feel
for John Rambo because we felt for the Vietnam veterans, and we
felt for the Afghan rebels too at the time. Still, if you know
nothing about these events, this is still a
fuck-yeah-crazy-awesome Action Movie! It more than satisfies all
Action Movie Essentials.
Historically, the Afghans have been undefeatable in war. A point well made in the movie. The Mujahideen say they brought down the USSR, not the US (damn straigh!). And, at a high price—after 9 years of fighting—these are the figures From Wikipedia:
Estimates of the Afghan deaths vary from 100,000 to 1 million. 5 million Afghans fled to Pakistan and Iran, 1/3 of the prewar population of the country. Another 2 million Afghans were displaced within the country. In the 1980s, half of all refugees in the world were Afghan. Along with fatalities were 1.2 million Afghans disabled (Mujahideen, government soldiers and noncombatants) and 3 million maimed or wounded (primarily noncombatants).
COMING FULL CIRCLE
3 From IMFDB: "[T]he star of the Rambo films, Rambo's knife is a survival knife with a screw open hilt butt filled with a suture needle and thread, a compass, and has gnarled teeth to cut barbed wire. It is so sharp it can cut paper like butter. The knife for this movie, and its sequel Rambo: First Blood Part II were designed by famed knife-smith Jimmy Lile."
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