According to IMDb, Rambo III was the most expensive movie ever made at the time of its release. It shows. Enormous sets, lots of vehicles–Rambo versus a helicopter, Rambo versus a tank, Rambo in a tank versus a helicopter. For all the money, it ought to look fantastic–except director Peter MacDonald, a camera operator and second unit director… composes like a second unit director and camera operator. It’s incredibly boring to watch, no matter what’s actually going on. MacDonald shoots wide shots and long shots and close-ups of Stallone. For the majority of the movie, nothing else. His direction drains any energy the film might have.
With this one, Stallone changes it up a lot. Most importantly, the politics are essentially gone and the movie really does try for some humanism by giving a face to the Afghani people during the Soviet invasion. When Richard Crenna goes and calls it Russia’s Vietnam, however, the metaphors and similes get confused (Rambo is siding against the imperialist invader… siding with people who get illicit support from a superpower). But, whatever. They’re trying and, with the exception of the really cute and precocious thirteen-year-old soldier, they do okay.
The second change-up is between Stallone and Crenna. Rambo III is a buddy flick with all the wisecracks and the one or two moments of awkward tenderness between macho men. Crenna’s actually not as bad as usual in this one, the humor making his hammy performance acceptable. And Stallone’s better too… even if he looks out of place and not just because of his poofed out eighties hair. Rambo the character doesn’t transition well from the previous entries, as serious and terribly flawed as they are, to a superhero. There’s an emptiness to the desert landscape–it affects the visual of Stallone in his headband and MacDonald doesn’t know how to adjust for it.
So, the goofy action and the bad puns between Crenna and Stallone and the humanism make Rambo III an okay diversion. It’s a precursor to the bigger, louder Carolco action movies. The movie’s almost all action for the second half–including one good sequence in a cave–which is nice, because MacDonald can’t do tension and whenever villain Marc de Jonge is onscreen, the movie becomes nearly unbearable. De Jonge is something terrible… but the movie itself is nearly okay.