The Way of the Word

4. August 2010

Review: A-Team

Filed under: Commentary,general,movies,review — jensaltmann @ 09:43
Tags: , , , , , , , , ,

USA 2010. Directed by Joe Carnahan, Starring Liam Neeson, Bradley Cooper, Quinton “Rampage” Jackson, Sharlto Copley, Jessica Biel. Runtime: 121 minutes

Fair warning first: I’m a fan of the original TV show. So I saw the movie through that filter: how does the movie measure up?

Fair to middling, actually.

As we all know by now, Hollywood loves its prequels, and with A-Team they actually get three for the price of one:

– We see how the four guys met before they became the team we all know and love. (We also discover why BA is afraid of flying.)

– We’re told the story of the mission that ended so desastrously that it got them court-martialed.  The original had the team rob a bank in the last days of the Viet Nam war. The movie has them active during the Iraq war. This change actually makes a lot of sense, since otherwise we would be watching a team of semi-geriatric action heroes.

– We attend their court-martial, see how they break out of the “maximum security prison” and try to clear their names.

The movie ends on a note that makes any fan of the original sit back and be relieved. If you didn’t like this movie, you can pretend it was the series pilot, and the entire cast was replaced by cooler guys.

Izzatso? Not quite, really.

Liam Neeson tried to make the role of Hannibal his own by injecting the character with more gravitas than George Peppard brought to the part. Neeson’s Hannibal is more a military man than Peppard’s was.  He should have stuck to that, because when he actually tries to out-smarm Peppard, he falls way short of the goal.

Bradley Cooper is perfect as Faceman. I imagine he spent a lot of time watching the original when he prepared for this. He goes so deep into Dirk Benedict mode that there are moments when you think it is Dirk Benedict in the part.

Sharlto Copley doesn’t even try to emulate Dwight Schultz. He provides his own interpretation of HM Murdock. It works, and it is by far the smarter choice. Because nobody can emulate Dwight Schultz.

Rampage Jackson does the best he can with BA Baracus. The problem is that Mr T’s portrayal of BA is absolutely iconic. Like Murdock, it’s impossible to come even close. Rampage might have had a chance, though, if the script had let him. Which it doesn’t. On the surface, the idea is cute: BA discovers religion while in jail and wants to stop killing. In practice, unfortunately, this turns badass BA into emo BA. The moments where he’s allowed to be badass, Jackson convinces.

The movie tries to imitate the original’s campy fun, but it falls short because it tries too hard. One of the problems is the movie’s mail villain, CIA-agent Lynch (Patrick Wilson). Lynch fits perfectly into the new breed of action movie CIA villain, in that he is ridiculously over the top. Too much so. Lynch is “too cool for school,” and that is the problem. He doesn’t come across as a smart and dangerous menace. He comes across as a half-wit juvenile who has seen too many Mission:Impossible movies and now plays pretend secret agent. His team of henchmen are equally incompetent. Lynch’s henchman Pike (Brian Bloom) and his Black Forest mercenary team would have made a better villain for this movie. I’m not too fond of evil twin scenarios, but the A-Team facing off against someone who is actually their equal would have been more fun. Heck, even Lt. Sosa’s (Jessica Biel) team of A-Team-hunters would have been a better choice. A hero is defined by the quality of his villains, and if Agent Lynch defines this A-Team, then it’s sub-standard.

The movie itself has several other problems. So many of them that it makes me wonder of the occasional out of focus camerawork is supposed to be innovative and artistic (in which case it fails; in the showing that I attended, it irritated even those who otherwise liked the movie), or simply incompetent. Another problem are effects:

The movie has four major action pieces. One being a helicopter chase, which works nicely. The things Murdock does with the helicopter are improbable, but it doesn’t break suspension of disbelief because if someone as good as Murdock is crazy enough to try it, who knows, they might succeed.

The second action piece, the theft in Baghdad, also works. The only problem is that the CGI is a bit too obvious in several places. But here, the CGI is used to enhance the effects, so it’s not too distracting.

The third piece, an aearial chase sequence that climaxes in a free-falling tank (yes, you read that right) destroys suspension of disbelief. Done entirely in rather wonky CGI, it culminates in the A-Team surviving a crash in a tank that is in almost free-fall from over 20,000 feet altitude. I don’t mind my action being larger than life, but this is nuking the fridge. It requires too much suspension of disbelief.

The final and largest action piece has a hundred or so shipping containers fall off a freighter. Which would have been exciting, if the CGI had been more realistic. The level of CGI used in this movie, sadly, makes it look unrealistic.

Speaking of which: a major part of the movie is set in the German city of Frankfurt. One establishing shot of what is supposed to be the Frankfurt Central Station is, sadly, clearly the central station of Cologne, easily recognized by the famous cathedral. Just a goof, but a major one. To use an American comparison: imagine a movie prominently showing the Statue of Liberty, but claiming to be in Chicago. It’s a goof on that level.

All in all, The A-Team wants to be a major summer tentpole actioner and (probably) franchise-starter. For that, it was too sloppily made. As I’ve already mentioned, the blame lies not on the shoulders of the cast. All the movie’s problems can be put squarely on the shoulders of writer/director Joe Carnahan.

Verdict: not recommended



  1. I haven’t watched the original more than a couple of episodes; I know it more through pop-cultural osmosis than direct exposure. In this case, that may have been an advantage, because I went to see it with close to zero expectations. I expected a dumb action flick with mediocre acting, and what I got was a fun, dumb action flick that doesn’t take itself seriously but has some spots of decent acting.

    I agree with most of your assessments in general (in particular about BA), except I found the flying tank bit so over the top it became hilarious. Maybe it’s because I ejected my suspension of disbelief before the movie started.

    It’s far from the best movie ever, even far from the best big dumb action movie ever, but for me it’s a solid 3 out of 5 for pure entertainment value.

    Comment by Anders Gabrielsson — 4. August 2010 @ 22:11

  2. The flying tank thing — it’s why I invoked “nuking the fridge.” if you were able to turn off your brain to the extent that you could enjoy Indiana Jones 4, then I suppose you can enjoy A-Team. For me, the flying tank really was the equivalent of the “Indy survives a nuclear explosion by hiding in a fridge” scene in Indy 4. As in, so over the top outrageous that it kills the movie.

    Check the link. As the Urban Dictionary says, if the hero survives a nuclear explosion, why are we supposed to fear for his life in a fistfight later on? On A-Team, if the heroes are so tough that they don’t even get bruised from the impact of free-falling in a tank from 20,000 feet, how come Pike gets to beat up BA? BA shouldn’t even feel it. (Now, people might say that BA was winded from falling down the side of a skyscraper before that fight. I call bullshit on that. After all, if he didn’t get winded from crashing after a 20,000 ft free fall, jumping off a skyscraper should be the proverbial walk in the park for him.)

    From where I sit, if I had gone into this movie without knowing the original, my review would have been far more scathing. I actually made allowances because I know how over the top and cheesy the original is.

    If you want to see the “tough-guy fighting unit going against the odds action movie” done right, wait for Expendables. That one’s also dumb fun, but it’s very much the most fun movie I’ve seen all year.

    Comment by jensaltmann — 5. August 2010 @ 08:26

  3. I’m definitely planning on watching the Expendables; have been, ever since I first heard of it. That you like it only strengthens that.

    I haven’t watched Indy 4 so I can’t make that comparison directly; however, for me the tank flying worked because it was fun and… I’m not sure what the right word is, but I’m going with “cheeky”, as in “Yeah, this is ridiculous, but you’re having fun, aren’t you?”

    But again, I think it worked for me because I didn’t have any suspension of disbelief to have ruined. I didn’t expect the movie to confirm to reality when it came to the action, so there was nothing preventing me from enjoying the sheer audaciousness of having the characters fly a tank by repeatedly firing the gun. For me it was laugh-out-loud funny in that silly popcorn movie way. Had the movie tried to be in any way serious it would have affected me like it did you, I suspect, but to me the movie treated physical reality the same way the whole way through: as something to play off of to make cool and funny stunts, not something to conform to.

    Comment by Anders Gabrielsson — 5. August 2010 @ 09:12

  4. I don’t mind stuff that’s improbable. Like the helicopter stuff at the movie’s beginning, or the heist in the middle, or even the big showdown at the end. The one thing wrong with the showdown was that the CGI was so bad it looked very fake. What always gets my goat, and it’s not only here but always, is when it goes from improbable or implausible to impossible. “Yeah, this is ridiculous, but you’re having fun” – No. If it gets too ridiculous, then I no longer have fun, because it draws too much attention to itself and pulls me out of the spell they’re trying to weave.

    Comment by jensaltmann — 5. August 2010 @ 09:23

  5. I’m not contradicting you or trying to tell you that you’re wrong; I’m just trying to describe why it worked for me.

    Comment by Anders Gabrielsson — 5. August 2010 @ 09:47

  6. I know. And I’m just explaining why it doesn’t work for me. This does make me want to seek out more reviews to find out how other reviewers think of the scene.

    Comment by jensaltmann — 5. August 2010 @ 09:52

  7. Yeah, it wouldn’t surprise me if it’s one of the main dividers of opinion on the movie.

    Comment by Anders Gabrielsson — 5. August 2010 @ 12:13

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