The A-Team (2010)
[Note from the Author: This is the final A-Team piece I plan on writing. Apart from having other things I’d rather write about, I simply have very little left to say about the original series. So in the interest of not letting things get stale, I’m pulling the plug on the series, at least for now.]
Last summer saw the release of the big budget adaptation of the ‘80s cheese ball television classic The A-Team. Given the rather underwhelming reception it received at the box office, I think we can safely say there won’t be a sequel, so this is as good a time as any to examine what the filmmakers got right and what they got wrong.
I really don’t want to recap the entire movie, so here’s a relatively brief (for me, at least) summary of the extended 133-minute unrated cut.
The movie is an origin story, of course; I blame comic book fans for this trend. In the show, you got all the backstory you needed from the opening narration, but in this movie, we actually get to see how the A-Team is formed. Also, the backstory has been updated from the team being Vietnam veterans on the run, to soldiers stationed in the Middle East. Which is a good choice, seeing as the movie wouldn’t work with four guys in their sixties. (Though there are some cases where that works just fine.)
We begin in Mexico, with Hannibal (Liam Neeson) saving Face (Bradley Cooper) from a corrupt general whose wife he slept with, while picking up B.A. (Quinton “Rampage” Jackson) along the way. All the guys get cool intros, with B.A. taking the cake with a great fight scene. In a nice nod to Mr. T, he even has the words “pity” and “fool” tattooed across his knuckles. Well, I think it’s nice, at any rate.
Face is also given a great intro, where he’s about to be barbecued by the aforementioned general. He’s a much bigger smartass than he was in the show, but it works fine for the character, so I can’t complain.
They escape, during which we’re introduced to the classic van. We’re also introduced to Murdock (Sharlto Copley), posing as a doctor in the usual hospital setting.
We then get the setup for the animosity between Murdock and B.A. (sadly, it comes at the expense of the Van), as well as an explanation for B.A.’s fear of flying. After some decent aerial action, the film proper begins. And all this takes us through the first 21 minutes or so of the film.
Cut to eight years (and 80 successful missions) later in Iraq, where the team is currently stationed.
We get some character building stuff between Face and Charissa Sosa, a fellow soldier and former lover of Face’s, played by Jessica Biel. Biel’s character is rather useless, but then again, that applies to most of the female characters on the original show.
Making this an actual problem is the rather unpleasant performance Biel delivers here, which makes the character just plain irritating. Granted, she’s supposed to be the one hunting down the A-Team, but it’s entirely possible to play this sort of villainous role in a likable manner. Biel does have one or two amusing moments, but the Sosa character could have used a lot more work.
The team is recruited by a CIA man code named “Lynch”, played by Patrick Wilson. Lynch wants the guys to stop a counterfeiting operation being run by some of Saddam Hussein’s former men.
After the mission succeeds, a rather convoluted series of events transpires, during which the plates used to print the phony bills are stolen by Pike (Brian Bloom), leader of a black ops team called Black Forest (any resemblance to Blackwater is purely coincidental). The A-Team ends up being framed for the theft and get court-martialed, but unfortunately, it seems General Morrison (Gerald McCraney), the only man who knew their covert operation was authorized, got blown up shortly after the mission.
The team is convicted, and we get some scenes of the guys in their respective prisons. Hannibal is visited by Lynch, who wants to find Pike and the plates. He also has a photo of Pike with a mysterious Arab man. Hannibal escapes with Lynch’s help, via a ruse with a cigar and a trip to the morgue. Though, I’m fairly certain dead prisoners aren’t just thrown into the incinerator without anything like an autopsy.
Meanwhile, Face is living a life of relative luxury in a low security prison, having arranged for a big screen TV and exercise equipment to be installed in his cell. And then there’s a brief scene in a steam room that features a cameo from Dirk Benedict. (This was tagged onto the end of the theatrical version, as was a scene between the two Murdocks, which also gets cut into the 133-minute version.) Eventually, Hannibal manages to break Face out of prison with ridiculous ease.
The other two team members are also rescued, but it seems B.A. has grown his hair back and has renounced violence… or at the very least, killing. After breaking Murdock out in a rather amusing escape sequence with a 3-D gag, the team commandeers a plane carrying a tank. A gloriously over the top action sequence ensues, as the plane is disabled and the team makes their escape in the tank, using the gun to decrease their speed of descent.
The movie’s not content with this, however, so there’s some combat with aerial drones thrown in, making this the second best action sequence of Summer 2010. (And if you’re wondering, first place goes to the end of The Expendables. You can’t beat a guy throwing a huge bomb around like it’s a goddamned football.)
From there, the team pursues Pike, and as it turns out, Lynch is in cahoots with Pike. They all end up in Germany, where we learn the mystery Arab man in the photo is actually General Morrison, who’s alive and well and also in on the plot. Like I said, the story is quite convoluted.
Sosa finds out the team is innocent, and it all leads to a shootout at the Los Angeles harbor, which ends with the team on the run again after Sosa helps them escape. And yes, the little matter of them escaping from prison is still an issue at the end of the film.
The movie is fine as a silly, over the top action movie. Performances are generally good, with Cooper, Copley, and Wilson as standouts. Wilson is especially amusing as Lynch, playing things cool and casual.
But how does it work as an A-Team movie? Let’s take a closer look.
Neeson does well enough in playing the character of Hannibal, and is fine in the action scenes, but I think the filmmakers tried a little too hard to make him look like George Peppard. The other three characters are cast in such a way that you’re reminded of the original performer, but not to the extent where you look at them and actually see the other guy.
That aside, Neeson does a good rendition of the character, throwing in a little more depth while still being Hannibal. Peppard had a better sense of humor in the role, but then again, the show was never marketed as a heavy-duty action series. Given the nature of the movie, it makes sense for Neeson to go for a more intense, pissed off attitude. It works for the film, but not necessarily for the character.
George Peppard really made the character his own. He brought a sense of style to Hannibal. Neeson is plenty tough, but he comes off a little too much like the typical hard-boiled platoon leader.
Cooper gives probably the best performance of the four leads, going in an almost completely different direction than Benedict. While both Faces are compulsive womanizers, Cooper’s version is considerably more gung-ho and ready for action. Hell, in this movie, he might just be more of an ass-kicker than Hannibal!
As with Hannibal, there’s a bit more depth, as we get much more of a father/son dynamic between Face and Hannibal. There’s also a sort of maturation the character goes through, as he’s the one who comes up with the plan to foil the bad guys at the end. I’m not sure that was really needed, but it works fine enough in the film.
As for which Face is better, I’d say that Benedict was a good small screen Face, while Cooper serves up a perfectly good big screen portrayal. It’s about even for me.
Copley does a great job emulating the nuttiness of the character, along with Murdock’s essential competence, as well as making you think he’s just putting everyone on with the whole “crazy” routine. He’s easily the humorous highlight of the film, from his oddball cooking skills, to insane flying stunts, to indulging in the same strange riffs Schultz would go into from time to time.
Also amusing is how occasionally, Copley will lapse into his natural accent (the man is from South Africa originally), which is a nice, funny touch. He comes close to the surprising depth Schultz gave the role at times, but mostly, he’s the comic relief.
This is probably the most difficult role to fill, since so much of the original character came out of Mr. T just, well, being himself. Jackson is great in the fight scenes (with an MMA background, one would hope so), and he even manages to do well with the ethical dilemma the script saddles B.A. with. Jackson only imitates T a little bit (his repeated uses of “fool”) and generally makes the character his own.
Here’s where a major motion picture budget can really enhance things. The opening action scene is great, as is the tank sequence. Director Joe Carnahan doesn’t go all Michael Bay on us, but lets us actually see what the hell is going on, and I wish more action directors these days would follow his lead.
The final action scene on the docks is also well done, with some nice explosions, and a fairly decent fight between Hannibal and Lynch. My only real beef is that the film does sort of shoot its wad with the tank scene midway through. I can see how they might not have wanted to even try to top that, but it still makes the ending sequence feel somewhat small scale and anticlimactic.
But my biggest gripe, outside of the aforementioned finale, is that there wasn’t a beefed up version of the standard truck roll stunt. That being said, the action is top notch.
Faithfulness to the Series:
On this subject, I’m fairly liberal. I’ve never been one of those purists who throw a fit whenever a filmmaker tries to make a property his or her own, at least to a certain degree. True creativity comes from taking what’s there and putting your own stamp on it.
Overall, I’d say the film does fairly well in this respect. The characters don’t stray too far from who they were on the show, and the level of ridiculousness is well in line with what the series gave us on a weekly basis, only on a much larger scale.
The B.A./Murdock dynamic is a little less antagonistic and more brotherly, and while there are a few fatalities here and there, for the most part the action scenes still end with all the bad guys alive and well. Battered and bruised, but still alive.
I also dug how the filmmakers approached the whole montage element that the show excelled at. We cut between the plan being formulated and the early stages of it being carried out, and it works quite well. It’s much more dynamic than what we got on the show, which is a good thing when the end product is being shown on a sixty-foot screen.
The film was about as good as it could have been, once they decided to make it an origin story. The action is great, the performances are good, and while some things could have been done better (personally, I could have done without the Classic Van being totaled, but it’s still a funny scene), it’s a pretty good overall interpretation of the series. Still, it might have been nice to just have the team already together at the start of the film. Oh well.