Joe Carnahan updates the classic 80s TV series for a new generation. Kev finds out if he’s done his job well…
They’re Back! Foley, Doyle, Tiger, The Jewellery Man: Wanted for a crime they didn’t commit, and now surviving as soldiers of fortune. If you have a problem and if no one else can help, and if you can find them (how did people find them?), maybe you can hire The A-Team. Ratta-tata-tatata – explosions, jeeps flipping, baddies flying all over the place.
In actual fact this isn’t so much about the members of the “Alpha Team” helping out others from the kindness of their own hearts, but more themselves as they attempt to clear their names after being charged and sentenced over the death of their General (Gerald McRaney), the disappearance of counterfeit plates and the destruction of billions of dollars worth of false currency that they were charged to protect. And for the start of what should hopefully follow some sequels in which they can then go onto rescuing kidnapped daughters, putting blackmailers in their place, or protecting land from greedy ranchers, it certainly kicks off promisingly enough.
And let’s face it, it would be pretty difficult to balls up an A-Team feature film now wouldn’t it? It’s not like the series was ever highly regarded for its storytelling. Joe Carnahan’s big budget update, which now uproots early events to Iraq, works its shtick of convoluted twists and turns involving several parties stabbing each other in the back, while the A-Team try to keep one step ahead of the game. It retains familiar supporting names from the series, which is bound to please fans, while the introduction of some new faces, such as Jessica Biel’s disgruntled pursuer/love interest, seems to be a way to appeal to a larger demographic. At two hours in length it does run slightly long on account of the set-up, with a narrative subsequently employing so many familiar plot devices that it’s not too difficult to see the way in which the signposts have been planted.
However, it’s functional as an aid to the undeniably marvellous visuals and the commendable performances based on beloved characters whom it would seem impossible to replicate. That’s undoubtedly where the main feeling of trepidation came from upon the film’s announcement – whether or not 20th Century Fox could assemble a quartet that could match the idiosyncratic personalities of the original series’ heroes, without resorting to all out parody. Here our team seems to revel in its destructiveness – evidenced in the frequent jovial death-defying antics and humorous banter amidst gun fights and explosions – yet despite a few wry smiles and winks to the camera there’s also an inherent respect for what the characters stand for. In a slight departure to the television series, Liam Neeson’s no-nonsense Hannibal Smith and Bradley Cooper’s smooth-talking Face take most of the screen time, being set up early on as the main founders of Alpha Team, while B.A. and Howling Mad Murdoch are drafted in moments later to flesh out its origins. It’s the latter two players who surprise the most. Copley, exhibiting a deft touch for manic comedy which is suitably tailored for the part of an ace pilot who happens to have suicidal/fearless tendencies, has some absolutely cracking lines (including a delightful one which I hope is a deliberate dig at 3-D cinema), while Quinton “Rampage” Jackson has the toughest role in taking on the franchise’s most iconic character. Admirably, despite mimicking some of Mr. T’s most famous catchphrases, Jackson does enough to make the role of B.A. his own, not just on account of his tough as nails exterior, but also in bringing out a touch of humanity and restraint as his character goes through bouts of self-doubt and realization. And, like the series, it’s the overall dynamic of our four leads that keeps our interest afloat.
In bringing The A-Team to a new audience there are some differences; the action is a tad more violent, with an overall cartoon-ish quality. Everything is cranked up to eleven, with dizzying displays of hand-to-hand combat – slightly marred by some choppy editing – and extravagant set-pieces which, naturally, the TV show could barely muster. Yet throughout all of this carnage Carnahan finds time to throw in several nods toward the original series, subsequently injecting some much-needed lighter moments. Sure enough all of the expected traits are here, from Murdoch being busted out of hospital, to B.A. being unwittingly thrown on a plane, and the team putting together some fancy gadgets with limited resources. Alan Silvestri also has the decency to work in Mike Post’s classic theme tune (which would have been criminal not to really) to ensure that those who grew up in the eighties watching the show can come away satisfied knowing that justice has been served.
“Overkill is underrated” utters Hannibal during one of his latest schemes, and that’s about all you need in summarising the entire feature. He’s right, even if it’s considered for better or worse. The action is tremendously epic, dare I say even original at times (come on, a flying tank?!?) and the comedy is quick and sharp, but so too does it feel slightly overlong. Thankfully the cast is well equipped to take on the roles, doing enough to keep us smiling all the way through and crossing our fingers for a sequel.
It’s the end, but the moment has been prepared for…
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