“If you’ve got a problem, if no-one else can help, and if you can find them…maybe you can hire , The A-Team.” Those immortal lines mean so much to a generation. They stood for action, adventure, intrigue and just plain old good fun. With the benefit of hindsight the show was remarkably stupid and clichéd, but to kids in the 1980’s it was the essence of cool. That iconic theme, the unshakable self-belief, the explosions at completely random times, and Mr. T…what more could a child want? Joe Carnahan has a lot to live up to having assembled a brand new A-Team for the 21st century. The kids of the 80’s are now fully-grown adults, the so-called alpha consumers, and a lot more demanding that their younger selves. A whole new generation has taken their place and they too are a lot more savvy to the distinction between good and great entertainment. How then did Carnahan get on?
We meet the guys individually in an opening sequence that shows the formation of the team and instantly establishes their characters. Hannibal is the natural leader, a fine military strategist, calm under pressure with a penchant for cigars; Face is the ladiesman, a charmer with a quick wit and a lust for danger; B.A. is the soldier, hard as nails but with a soft side; and then there’s Murdock and he’s just crazy. Following the breezy opening we quickly flash-forward 10 years and 80 missions later to find the team fast friends and the go to guys for the military’s more daring, utterly reckless, missions. It’s Iraq and the occupation is in full force, warned not to go on a mission they simply can’t resist the team find themselves the victims of a set-up and are brought in front of a military court. Convicted, stripped of rank and ordered to serve 10 years in separate maximum security prisons, they promptly break free and set about exacting revenge.
The actors in a movie like this are always going to get compared to those that occupied the roles before them so lets get that out of the way. Liam Neeson is a fine Hannibal, but suffers from the comparison to George Peppard‘s cigar-chomping, scenery-munching portrayal in that he just doesn’t have the same gravitas. Quinton ‘Rampage’ Jackson too puts in a good performance, but no-one can ever take the place of Mr. T. who was B.A. Baracus. Correctly he goes for a less shouty, more grounded version of the character and it works well. Dirk Benedict wasn’t a great actor so that gave Bradley Cooper a great chance to stamp his mark on Face and boy does he. This new Face is all vim and vigour, with killer abs and killer one-liners, he’s the heart of the team. The stand-out though is Sharlto Copley as Howling Mad. So well does he inhabit the skin of Murdock that you completely forget that Dwight Schultz ever played him…and he was the best one! Jessica Biel does little with a limited role while Patrick Wilson is an effectively smarmy bad-guy but lacking in any real depth. In fact all of the supporting characters suffer from the same two dimensional design. There is one really nice cameo near the end, but then this really is a story about the team so who cares about anyone else.
Joe Carnahan should be applauded for keeping the breezy tone of the original series although it does lead to the movie having a focus more on the action and humour than developing any real story. What story there is works well through the first 2 acts as it zips by at a blistering pace, but it descends into anarchy towards the end. A lot of the stunts and effects are of the highest quality, even that impossible flying tank scene works, but again that third act is a disaster. There’s a great humour in the script and an easiness amongst the actors that allows the film to homage but never parody the TV series. The tongue-in-cheek sensibility works extraordinary well in the hands of Cooper and Copley, who use the straight men of Neeson and Jackson to great effect. It’s just a shame that everyone allows that climatic scenes to get away from them. Another big missed opportunity is in the score, which fails to utilise that iconic theme tune in an effective manner. In fact it barely uses it at all!
Ultimately The A-Team is a fun, light-hearted, enjoyable escape of a summer movie. Even that horrible end cannot stop you from enjoying yourself. However it’s not as quotable as it should be and the action at times feels very generic. These two things stop it being a cult-classic and render it almost instantly forgettable. For those of a certain age it’s a welcome trip down memory lane filled with nostalgia, fond memories, and just enough differences to make it new and yet familiar. Kids will get a kick out of the silliness and explosions, but the significance of it all will be lost on them. For everyone else it’s just another popcorn summer action movie.