The A Team (2010)
Directed by: Joe Carnahan | 121 minutes | action, comedy, adventure | Actors: Bradley Cooper, Liam Neeson, Jessica Biel, Sharlto Copley, Quinton ‘Rampage’ Jackson, Patrick Wilson, Omari Hardwick, Gerald McRaney, Maury Sterling, Brian Bloom, C. Ernst Harth
Overkill is underrated. One of the many mottos that Colonel Hannibal Smith throws around in his daily brilliant plans as if they have no chance of success without such insightful wisdom. A motto too, which director Joe Carnahan took to heart when making ‘The A-Team’. This approach is precisely the reason why the project can be called such a successful action spectacle; there was simply no other option than completely and uncompromisingly exaggerating. After all, film adaptations rarely meet the expectations created by the source material. Whether it’s based on books, comics or true stories, despite all its extra features, the film usually falls short of the high standard that led to the cameras rolling in the first place. This is no different when it comes to translating TV series to the big screen. Despite the presence of Michael Mann, ‘Miami Vice’ fell seriously short of the youth-sentimental feel of the series, and the cult status that MacGuyver has enjoyed since the 80s has been almost punishable by the recent farce ‘MacGruber’. What would have happened with a series like “A-Team”, which objectively has an even greater status among several generations who grew up with it, or perhaps still has it on reruns today? That could hardly have gone wrong. In a world that – 25 years on – is so significantly different, the underpaid and hopelessly dated crazy missions of the four fugitive heroes would have been out of place in today’s cinemas.
The reincarnation through Carnahan, on the other hand, avoids many of the pitfalls that come with a sequel of an outdated format. The director has brought the well-known premise of the series to the present. Vietnam has been replaced by Iraq, and Bosco Baracus’ bad attitude isn’t the only thing that makes the foursome dangerous: the huggableness of the team that rarely or never killed itself has been replaced by an attitude that looks a lot better on a group of elite soldiers. What is especially striking is how good the cast is in their roles, and with how much fun they do it. Understandable, because Carnahan has also been blowing up nicely in the characters. In the hands of Liam Neeson, Hannibal is admittedly not as charismatic as George Peppard, but at least as sufficiently ‘on the jazz’ if a dangerous situation can be enjoyed at all. Templeton ‘Faceman’ Peck, in Bradley Cooper’s version, delights in seducing both women and all kinds of tools even more than his predecessor Dirk Benedict, and Quinton ‘Rampage’ Jackson gets a philosophical depth from the script into his signature attitude – and its evolution thereof – in the BA 2.0 version. The acting skills of the professional martial artist leave something to be desired, but you have Mr. T. was never blamed at the time either. He also played the gold-chained, mohawk-wearing powerhouse with a fear of flying like an over-enthusiastic student in a school musical, always looking at the next person who is allowed to say his lines before the word is spoken. The greatest fun, however, is in Howling Mad Murdock in the performance of ‘District 9′ phenomenon Sharlto Copley, who turns the endearing moron into an even more deranged madman – even to the point of suicidal. His absolutely inimitable flying skills, Murdockian excesses (sock puppets and the interaction with BA for example, who inherited his fear of flying from Murdock in the 2010 edition) and especially the imitation of Mel Gibson in ‘Braveheart’ – including hobbyhorse – are therefore the main asset of the movie version.
Then the script. The plot, which demands a lot of tinkering and rustling and ingenious planning from the four fugitive soldiers, and then delivers extraordinary action feats – as implausible as it is entertaining – is more than a whipped-up episode of the old series stretched to a running time of two hours. You could call it a cross-section of five seasons, if you omit the recurring missions the mercenaries took on – they might save that for the sequel. There is a lot of borrowing from existing storylines from the source material, whether or not adapted to the new universe of Carnahan. The film opens with a spectacular introduction to the veterans, set ten years earlier – only Hannibal and Face are trusted comrades, BA and Murdock have yet to cross paths – and in which the foursome establish themselves as the Alpha team that will make history. has started. Of course there is also an important supporting role for the black GMC Van, who is impossible to imagine as a fifth party. A jump to eight years and eighty successful missions further, when the operation that scapegoats the team arrives. The bank robbery in Hanoi has been replaced by the hijacking of a truckload of counterfeit money in Baghdad, senior General Morrison has remained. The CIA is also present, in a possible set-up for a sequel in which Hannibal’s unit will carry out assignments for this organization, such as under Stockwell (Robert Vaughn) in the fifth season of the series. The plot builds on the aftermath of the runaway heist, with supporting roles for Captain Charisa Sosa (the distractingly attractive Jessica Biel) and CIA man Lynch (Patrick Wilson, ‘Watchmen’).
Hannibal’s crack commando unit must pull out all the stops to clear her name in an adventure that offers absolute top entertainment at times. That is, if you are prepared to assume that the tank with parachutes from the trailer, in which the foursome escape from an exploded plane, can be maneuvered fine in the air and landed with the aid of the on-board gun. There are plenty of situations that demand quite a bit from your empathy and “insanity”, but as said, that is exactly what this film adaptation asked for. ‘The A-Team’ has thus become a spectacle film pur sang, which manages to bring active entertainment at a high level. The cast is happy to do an excellent job with the catchy adventures and the narration is full of references to the 80s hit on which it is based. The story falters left and right and the credo ‘overkill is underrated’ is perhaps taken a bit too far, but that can be written off as a logical consequence when you put the direction in the hands of the man behind ‘Smokin’ Aces’. In any case, it cannot be ruled out that this popcorn frenzy of his hand will soon get a sequel.