There’s always been this funny stigma around TV shows that get turned into movies. You have to be constantly trying to take the feel the show gave on Television and stretching it to a 90 minute+ format and, like any other property, have to find the line between making the fans happy and satisfying the general public. It’s always been a balancing act with many times it going terribly wrong more than right.
The prospect of Hollywood finally making an A-Team movie had me feeling like they were the five year old that finally broke into the sweet shop after hours. It isn’t even that it’s a treasured property; it’s just an easy film to make. The characters don’t need much of a background, they just need to get out there, shoot things and blow them up. Hollywood’s been making films like that for years for properties that didn’t need them, Transformers being the big recent one, and causing fuss to fans, critics and box office figures everywhere. For this situation, it’s not only the most faithful adaptation of a TV show to the big screen I’ve ever seen but also one of the most enjoyable action films you’ll probably see this year until Stallone and Co arrive as The Expendables.
The plot is ridiculously easy to get if you’ve ever watched any of the opening of the 80s mega hit TV show with some slight modification. Instead of being a crack commando unit of ex United States Special Forces soldiers, it has a much more modern setting being set somewhat around the first Gulf War. The four, Iraq War veterans with ’80 successful missions’ together, get arrested for, you guessed it, a crime they didn’t commit. And they go to Maximum Security Stockades. And they promptly escape. It doesn’t go into much nitty gritty apart from that it kind of goes into a double agent story with Patrick Wilson playing Lynch, who is involved with the said crime but it never feels complex or contrived and flows really well from one scene to the next. The origin only takes up the first bit of the movie which some might consider rushed and kind of feels like a ‘Hey, it’s (insert guy here)!’ kind of origin all linking with one minor thing, but it wouldn’t have been interesting to know the deep back story of every character or else the audience would have pleaded for the film to get going.
For those of you who watched the TV show, there are plenty of nods to get you satisfied. The theme has prominence in a few scenes and everyone has a chance to do what they do best, whether it’s Hannibal uttering the immortal phrase (you know the one), B.A. calling someone ‘Foo’!’ and not wanting to get on planes and ‘Mad’ Murdoch being…well, mad. Heck, even Corey Burton, original announcer of the TV show, has a presence at the end which gives you the same amount of manly awesome as the show always did. Whilst it does make a few references, it never feels as though that’s all its relying on and keeps things going with the action and pace that you might even recognise from episodes of the show itself. It also really helps that one of the creators and writers of the show, Stephen J. Canell, is on as an Executive Producer and was very adamant on getting the film into a modern setting despite it being in the works since the show ended in 1994.
The cast was something of a talking point as this film was finally getting together last year and I doubt you’d be able to assemble a better cast without taking a time machine to 1983. Liam Neeson is suave and collected playing Hannibal Smith but at the same time inserting the trademark Liam Neeson presence that has made him so prolific in his wide film career. Former UFC Light Heavyweight Champion Quentin Jackson, despite not supporting the gruffness, presence and bling Mr T brought to B.A. Baracus, more than keeps his own and makes it exactly what you would hope a big screen Baracus would act like, which is especially shown when he goes into B.A’s trademark anger bursts. Bradley Cooper, playing Templeton ‘Face’ Peck who seems to either be playing himself or trying to have his own version of Dirk Benedict. Either way, it works to his advantage and his performance is good enough to keep viewers interested in him. Sharlto Copley, playing “Howling Mad” Murdock, who in particular seems to fit the role like a glove making a dramatic change from his first role in the Oscar winning District 9 last summer and some of the funniest and most enjoyable moments of the film include him firmly front and centre.
Chemistry has been something that’s bounced around in the critiquing circles about whether it is there or not. It does seem as though there is more chemistry between Jackson and Chopley and Cooper and Neeson then there is with any other cast members but at the same time, it’s not like as though there is nothing when they get together, it’s just that the two combinations are better together. I didn’t feel there was a problem with how they interacted and would have brought them as a team who had been with each other through a tonne in 8 years. Another issue, one brought up by cast members of the original show, was the violence factor. Yes, unfortunatly, people die in this movie but the kill count isn’t ridiculous enough to put you off watching it until the end. Kind of surprising considering that it was one of the bigger aspects in the film’s promotion but having said that, bullets still fly from the guns of The A-Team and they still miss the soldiers. Just like the TV show.
In the supporting cast front, Patrick Wilson seems to have fun taking on the lead villain role and makes it firmly his own and Brian Bloom, playing the Private Merc ‘Pike’, takes a very sinister edge and makes it one of the more interesting characters in the film. Jessica Biel, though, just kind of feels there and not particularly standing out as DCIS Captain and A-Team chaser Charissa Sosa but is unfortunately needed to progress the story along so it’s not even like she’s unbearable, it’s just not up with the rest of the cast.
Joe Carnahan, director of Smoking Aces, takes the helm for this and he does a very good job keeping close to what made the show great but also putting his own spin on it. The action scenes are absolutely crazy to watch and most of the time, you get a sense of what is going on. The dialogue, which Carnahan had a hand in writing, really fun to hear it being read and whilst some of it is cliché, it manages to somehow feel different and you don’t have time to really pick at it even if it sounds ridiculous.
There are problems, though. Some of the editing is weirdly positioned and, even with some of it linking to one another in some points, you do wonder about why one cut was placed there and not somewhere else. Some of the action scenes, in particular nearer the end, are jumbled or confusing to focus on what’s going on and sometimes can drag the overall scenes down even if you follow it really closely. Also, despite how much I enjoyed Quentin Jackson’s take on B.A. Baracus, he is a tad inconsistent sometimes in the tempo of his character opting for a sometimes calmer approach when it doesn’t suit the character.
Flaws aside, it is probably the most faithful adaptation we have seen, or may ever see, of a television show as iconic and well known as The A-Team getting exactly why people loved it and placing them on a much bigger screen. If you are willing to let yourself get lost in the atmosphere and stupidly crazy action sequences, it’s a very enjoyable and fun action film. If you weren’t a fan of the TV show or crazy action scenes, it will not convert you. For me, though, it did exactly what I wanted it to and I didn’t expect anything more than that.
The A-Team is out now.
P.S. The Orange A-Team advert they show in the cinema. Great phone advert or GREATEST phone advert?