Whatever you think about the 1980’s Tv show The A-Team, there is no denying how rooted it is in modern pop culture and how iconic many of the elements of the show have become. There is the instantly recognisable theme tune that even if you haven’t seen the show you’d probably know it. There is the classic GMC van with the all black and red stripe paint work (which I recently helped a friend recreate, with a Bedford Rascal). And of course there was Mr. T as B.A. Baracus, a role that Mr. T will always be remembered for, with his quotable lines (‘I Pity the Fool!’) and his mohawk, gold chained appearance. It is no surprise then, that a film version should appear now, after many years in development hell. With a huge fan base behind it, yet the task of making a new version for a modern-day audience, the eventual movie version of The A-Team had a lot of pressure riding on it. So how does it fare?
The plot of the movie certainly does a great job of bringing the framework of the show into a modern context. The show was pretty much the same thing each week, which would work for a TV show but not so much in movie format. The direction that the story takes is certainly cinematic enough to give the film momentum and hope that a franchise could be born out of this. The opening of the movie, as well, is excellent at introducing the characters, giving us origins that the show never really developed. We see how the team met each other, creating extra depth for the characters and introducing how certain recurring elements from the TV show started (B.A’s fear of flying for example). It also sets the scene for the rest of the movie, the cast instantly click and the action is slick, fast and very daft. The tone is very well established from the start and the groundwork laid out here does continue to run for the some degree of the movie. The action then moves to Iraq, where we catch up with the team, having just been offered a covert operation in Baghdad to find some money plates and put a stop to the Iraqi forces illegally printing their own funds. But once they think they have succeeded, they discover they have been set up and they’re all placed under arrest and stripped of rank and reputation and placed in Military prison for a crime they didn’t commit. These men promptly escape from separate maximum secruity stockades (see what I did there) and go out to clear their names and bring the men really responsible to justice.
The action in Iraq contains the movies most structured action scenes and features a very impressive set piece which sees the team planning out their moves whilst cutting to the plan being executed. It is once they escape that the plot wanes a tad. The action set pieces start becoming slightly repetitive by maintaining the cutting back and forth between plan and execution. There are some memorable set pieces, namely the tank-flying as featured in the trailer, supplying one of the funniest, craziest and entertaining moments of the movie. The final set piece, although cleverly written, becomes very confused with over heavy special effects, quick editing, and frantic camerawork. The action is a mixture of some very impressive and hugely fun set pieces, yet also featuring some uninspired rudimentary action. Thankfully though, it is the more impressive ones that stick in your mind once the credits begin to roll.
For better and for worse, the film is different in tone and content of the TV show. The action is grittier as people do actually die in this film. But certain elements are not maintained that I feel, and I’m sure many other fans of the TV show will agree, should have been. The iconic van for instance, is only featured in the ace opening sequence and nowhere else, hopefully it’ll occur again if a sequel is done. The theme tune as well does not really occur. The score does feature a 6-note cue from the theme quite a few times, but there is no tool up sequence featuring the theme or a big action sequence featuring some element of it. Instead Alan Silvestri, usually a highly ingenious composer sticks to very ordinary, and frankly bog-standard, action music beats, even nicking cues from James Newton Howard and Hans Zimmer’s excellent score for The Dark Knight. I know the film is trying to separate itself from the series but at the same time staying true to it, and I’m sure many people won’t care about the van or the theme as much as I do, but it is something that I feel should’ve been kept in, I don’t really see much justification in leaving out the two most iconic features of the show. The similarities are quite subtle, maintaining some elements that occurred in practically every episode, e.g. springing Murdoch from the Mental Asylum, getting B.A. on an aircraft by knocking him out, Face’s womanizing. But while they’re quite subtle, they sometimes veer on becoming too gimmicky and a self parody, such as the story element of B.A. having an identity crisis, with the mohawk being a key.
Where the movie is most successful though is in the casting of the main characters. Hannibal, Face, B.A. and Murdoch are all iconic characters thanks mostly to the performances of the late George Peppard, Dirk Benedict, Mr. T and Dwight Schultz. The cast and script writers are very aware of this, but they manage to absolutely nail the balance between staying true to the characteristics of the team whilst allowing the cast enough room to make the roles their own. The living legend that is Liam Neeson is a very domineering screen presence in the role of team leader Hannibal, adapting on his action-man persona he set down in last years Taken, and expertly handles the films more dramatic and daft moments. Bradley Cooper is a real surprise as Templeton ‘Faceman’ Peck, showing great charisma and creating a very likeable character, more so than Dirk Benedict. Quinton ‘Rampage’ Jackson has the harder task of taking on the most iconic character, and he makes his version of B.A. very different to Mr. T’s, showing a more sensitive human side that I think is quite refreshing. Sharlto Copley (last seen in last years brilliant District 9) is scene stealing as Murdoch, supplying the correct amount of insanity and giving the movie it’s funniest moments. The cast click incredibly well, maintaining the male camaraderie that was very prominent in the TV show.
Despite it’s shortcomings, this is a highly entertaining movie. You couldn’t ask for more on a Saturday night out with mates. It doesn’t acquire a lot of attention. It isn’t going to please all fans of the original TV series, but this isn’t the same A-Team. The pace is relentless, yet some uninspired action scenes diminish the effect. But maybe I was expecting too much from this and led myself to be disappointed by the lack of theme tune and other elements from the show. Still, I Pity the fool who messes with the theme tune! The ending of the movie opens it up for a sequel, which appears would follow the format of the series, and I hope they will make more as this film is a lot of fun and it could easily be a great action franchise, only if the cast return as they’re the key element to what makes the movie work as well as it does.