When 100 years pass, will people regard the 1980s as an incredible treasure trove of intellectual property that got ransacked during the 2000s because Hollywood couldn’t come up with an original idea to save its life? I would like to think that those of us who were conscious during the ‘80s already recognize this to be true, but I fear this trend is merely the tip of the iceberg. Between adaptations and remakes, Hollywood does not have a whole hell of a lot of fresh ideas. But every now and then a license gets revived with just enough mix between the original and reinvention that makes it worth at least one viewing by you, the audience. The A-Team (2010) is such a film.
When the original TV series debuted in 1983, the concept of painting the government, specifically the military, as the “big bad” was nowhere nearly as popular as it is today. Of course, this was the era of Iran Contra so distrusting the government to such an extent was still new and with a few circumstantial differences from the original show, the big screen adaptation captures the same level of the “us versus them” factor in The A-Team. Bear in mind, one does not have to be well versed in the original show to enjoy this action film, but even those who caught random episodes here and there on Saturday afternoons will appreciate all the Easter Eggs riddled throughout.
Writer/director Joe Carnahan collaborated with Brian Bloom and Skip Woods to produce a script that is very much up to speed with the state of contemporary armed forces, yet still maintains the original spirit of the show without seeming dated in any way. To most people, a war film is a war film, but there are two key elements that place The A-Team in a slightly different category. The first is the blatant, over-the-top nature of the action. Building the team’s credibility in the audience’s eyes requires a certain number of seemingly impossible situations to overcome. The reason for this not only places emphasis on the uniqueness of the team, but also provides the engine for most of the comedy outside of any moment where Murdock isn’t featured in dialogue. The second key element is the camaraderie amongst every character on the team. Developing character is something that your average action flick is really not interested in because it takes screen time away from explosions. Focusing on character gives the audience an opportunity to get emotionally invested and although this film does not provide opportunities to bawl like a baby, the collective and individual interactions among Hannibal, B.A., Murdock and Faceman really makes you give a damn about them. And rest assured, the original character types have not been altered in any way. Hannibal is still confidant and in charge, Faceman is still smooth and dashing, Murdock is still crazy and B.A. is, well … B.A.
One cannot get good character through solid writing alone and the actors’ performances do not disappoint. Naturally one would think that the alpha thespian being Liam Neeson on this particular production would deliver the most impact. Well, if by impact you mean one of those huge magnums that Harley Quinn or Joker uses that produces a small flag that says “BANG,” then yes. Neeson’s depiction of Hannibal Smith was not exactly terribly flat, but suffered for two very important reasons. First, the performances by the rest of the cast were so spot-on that he stood out like a fat kid on The O.C. Second, the original performance of George Peppard as Hannibal on the TV show was so iconically American, severely underappreciated and unabashedly cool.
It was difficult trying to ignore the intermittent breaks in Neeson’s “American” accent throughout that I just kept picturing Rob Roy leading the A-Team the entire time. It seemed as though his heart was in the role, but let’s face facts: Neeson’s talent truly shines when he has one other alpha to play off of (see: Nell, 1994) or he is solely featured in a narrative (see: Taken,2008).
If The Hangover (2009) was not Bradley Cooper’s coming-out party, then The A-Team certainly was because it created the perfect opportunity for him to showcase his natural comedic timing as well as a general moxy for the rigors of an action film shoot. If my man crush were not already reserved for Mr. Hugh Jackman, Mr. Cooper would be a close second and here’s the reasons why, at least coming from this film. Faceman having been played by Dirk Benedict in the original show was never called upon to really get his hands dirty during the fighting/shooting scenes. This is NOT the case for Cooper in this film because he tore up the weight room for this role and being more physically imposing was required to display a more proactive Face. Despite Jessica Biel’s consistent ability to produce the chemistry of a dead fish on film, Cooper was able to generate sparks on his own as the abandoned lover. The relationship between Cooper and Biel’s characters is by far the most complex as the audience is left pondering her allegiance to him (and vice versa) until the end of the film. Casting an actress able to produce more than eye-candy-hotness on screen would have been nice, but then Biel’s Charisa Sosa was never an integral part of the team in the first place.
You may have remembered Sharlto Copley (Murdock) from his very successful debut film as the lead in the thought-provoking sci-fi drama, District 9 (2009). As opposed to Liam Neeson, Copley is quite capable of discarding his South African accent in favor of a very quirky American-ese that never breaks and is quite fitting for the exceedingly eccentric Murdock. An obvious engine for comic relief and other on -screen antics, Copley’s character is not afforded much screen time, but when he is featured, he steals every scene. If anyone had doubts as to the casting of any of the characters, Quinton “Rampage” Jackson of UFC fame would have been a curious selection for the role that Mr. T was born to play. Jackson will never equate a performance anywhere close to Mr. T’s B.A. Baracus as his timing with Dwight Schultz’s Murdock on the TV show will never be reproduced. Having said that, B.A. Baracus on the big screen is a much rounder character than the television incarnation and he requires more than biceps and busting heads. Although Jackson is a natural pugilist on screen, it is the serious moments of soul searching that he shares with Hannibal that produces a humble sincerity one would not believe a professional cage fighter was capable of producing. Jessica Biel, please take notes.
The A-Team is an all-around fun experience with plenty of action and character interplay. The special effects throughout were well done, but certainly nothing an experienced action aficionado hasn’t seen before. The quick cutting techniques used during some of the action scenes were very frustrating because it does not give the audience a moment to actually see what was happening. The overall story is fairly convoluted, but if you appreciate on-screen camaraderie akin to the original Star Wars cast arguing, bonding and poking fun at each other, you will love The A-Team.