Hollywood has been catering to 1980s nostalgics lately. With its recent remakes of and belated sequels to ’80s films, Hollywood has been looking backwards, hoping to capitalize on childhood nostalgia with increased ticket sales.
The latest example of this trend is Joe Carnahan’s The A-Team, and while it might not be the finest film ever made, it certainly typifies a high point for this 1980s revival kick.
The original television series blended the typical case-of-the-week format with parody of 1980s action films. It was a pastiche of the Reagan era, where all-American soldiers would use military know-how and an increasingly larger set of explosives to prevail over the bad guys, usually communists or corrupt officials. Every week the A-Team enters a town, finds problem and confronts the bad guys. After being locked up, the rogue special ops unit cobbles together a weapon McGyver-style, Mr. T’s B.A. Baracus beats someone up, and despite the thousands of bullets expended by both sides, no one ever gets shot. It was silly, over the top and extremely popular.
The film adaptation transplants the characters to the present day and strives for a more serious tone, but stays surprisingly true to the concept. After taking a mission from the CIA, the A-Team is convicted for a crime the members didn’t commit. Knowing the people who set them up got away, they promptly escape from various maximum security prisons to clear their names. Still wanted by the government, they chase after their framers while trying to avoid their pursuers.
Joe Carnahan previously directed the action-comedy Smokin’ Aces, in which an assassination contract leads to weirder and weirder characters showing up and ludicrous fight scenes breaking out, and his over-the-top action style fits the movie.
The A-Team is the kind of film where overkill is everything, and despite the film adaptation’s more grounded approach, the ridiculous is commonplace. There are crazed bank heists, midair battles with a tank, The Fast and the Furious-style car races and a climax influenced oddly enough by an old-school arcade game and Batman Begins. It’s a bit silly, and uses a few too many action movie clichés, but it captures the insanity of The A-Team rather well.
The problem is the plot is very weak. Though the film stays much more grounded than the television show, the actual plot is never sufficiently fleshed out to give the film a thriller element. Even when the bad guys are fully revealed, their scheme is not.
The entire movie feels like a series of gags and fights only loosely strung together by a feeble narrative. Even worse, the government officials pursuing the fugitives take up a good quarter of the film, and every time they are on screen, the film’s pacing comes to a dead halt.
The characters make the film work. Each actor is entertaining in his own right, but its in his onscreen interactions and bonding with other characters that The A-Team really shines.
Liam Neeson plays the team’s leader, Col. Hannibal Smith, a man who revels in being 12 steps ahead of his enemies. Neeson never gets any meaty dramatic moments in which he can really shine, but his gravitas and charisma help to ground the film and center the other characters. Bradley Cooper is the No. 2 man, Face, half protégé to Hannibal, half ladies’ man.
Quinton “Rampage” Jackson steps into the shoes of Mr. T as B.A., and while he is still able to take down numerous enemies with his bare hands, he plays the part with a much more laid back attitude compared to Mr. T’s constant aggression. It surprisingly works, and while his arc in the film is a bit predictable, he contributes a great deal of depth to a one-note character.
However, the highlight of the film is the team’s pilot, Murdock. Played by Sharlto Copley — he previously starred in last year’s District 9 and the short film that spawned it — Murdock is truly insane. Whether it is masquerading as a doctor, changing accents at a moment’s notice or giving color commentary to a fight scene, Copley steals every scene he is in. Even in the background of a scene, his antics are noticeable and entertaining.
The A-Team is not perfect. It is a bit predictable, with a weak plot and hit-or-miss action. This year’s earlier release The Losers did a much better job executing the black-ops-team-on-the-run concept. However, the cast is very entertaining, and Copley’s humor is definitely worth it. Ultimately, the film is a lot like the decade that spawned the television show: a lot of style, not much substance.