The run up had developed quite a few mixed emotions with the different writers, directors and stars on board, it wasn’t entirely clear how it was going to turn out.
The incarnation of The A-Team that finally came to the big screen did so with Joe Carnahan directing a final script credited from a number of writers including Carnahan himself, Skip Woods and Brian Bloom. The team consisted of Liam Neeson as Hannibal, once played by the much underrated George Peppard, Bradley Cooper as Face, played by Dirk Benedict in the television series, Sharlto Copley as Murdoch, originally played by Dwight Schultz, and the well known B.A. Baracus played by Quinton 'Rampage' Jackson who was originally played by Mr. T.
A strong line-up of stars to replace the original cast, and with Joe Carnahan at the helm we could be looking at something akin to Smokin' Aces (Filmstalker review), stylish action and some over the top scenes but some strong acting and a good story in there too. We had to wait and see.
When the trailers started appearing three things were very clear. One was that the action was going to be there in bucket loads, and that some of it was going to be over the top, in fact when I saw the scene in the trailer where the tank parachuting through the air is firing on a plane I was astounded. Yes it looked ridiculous, but at the same time I guess it's perfectly feasible, it's just never been done, and that was what the A-Team was all about wasn't it? It was always about the plan, the often over the top and never before tried plan.
The other thing that was hinted at was the connection with the television series. Although this was a standalone film there were a number of strong tie-ins with the series, and I wasn't sure yet if this was for the benefit of the marketing and to hook everyone in early on in the film, only to see it lost later on as the film gained its own identity, or the entire film really was being faithful to the series.
Finally, and connected with the previous, it showed us that there had been some excellent choices made in the casting, and the team looked and felt damn good. Some of the scenes with Copley, Cooper and Rampage looked like they were hitting the mark.
So it all came down to the film, and if I'm being quite honest I didn't want to go and see it, something in my head was holding me back because this four year wait meant a lot more to me than most, could the first story I ever wrote online have turned out to be about a complete dud of a television show remake? Could it amount to nothing and not hit my expectations? I couldn't avoid it forever and so we hit the cinema.
We join The A-Team before they are the A-Team we know. Hannibal is on a chase to save his own life and that of Face and on the way he commandeers a passing truck belonging to one B.A. Baracus, when they rescue Face they head off looking for a pilot who can get them out of Mexico, Murdoch. So we soon discover that we’re witnessing the birth of The A-Team.
Following that we leap into the future, where the team have been together for some time and are just finishing their tour in Iraq, coming off another nigh on impossible mission. However, as they are preparing to leave Hannibal and their commanding officer tasks them on another mission.
However the mission doesn’t play out well, and they end up being framed for crimes they didn’t commit, they receive a court martial and are put in separate high security prisons.
Still, despite the odds stacked against them, Hannibal has a plan. Not only a plan of escape but also to prove their innocence and get their revenge against the people who put them there.
I enjoyed the slow build to the beginning of the film, the one that brings together the A-Team quickly and dropping them right into one of their most bizarre and impossible missions. It mixes a little bit of origin, taking us to the new faces of the A-Team (if you’ve seen the television series), what their personalities and roles are, and how they’re all going to work together.
It also does a good job of showing us how one of the plans builds from the diverse, unconnected threads which all, at some point, seem to come together and deliver just when they need to.
During this opening mission it’s apparent just how well written this film is. Now I know this is going to upset a good few people who think that the film is rubbish, but I disagree. If you remember what the A-Team television series was all about then you’ll see the film in a different light, or at least I do.
The writers and director have done a wonderful job of creating the core of the A-Team, the characters and their relationships in the film, and it’s clear from those opening moments that the team behind the film have caught what the A-Team is all about. That’s a feeling that grew inside me throughout the film but started during this opening sequence and put a smile right on my face.
While most of the characters in these sequences drew a smile of recognition and appreciation, it was Face, played wonderfully by Bradley Cooper, who caught me and the mood of the film. His Face is great fun and approaches everything with a child like excitement and level of fun that is hugely infectious, and that’s just one of the aspects of the original A-Team that comes through in the film.
The other is undoubtedly the plan. Hannibal’s crazy and out there plans always seem to come together just when they’re needed, and they’re well conceived and well edited together, however there are a couple of places where they just get downright silly. The tank scene is crazy, and gets crazier, and while you can forgive and get with the first part of it, the landing just seems a little too much, especially if you know a little about science.
Yet things going too far are reserved for the insanity of the ending, the cargo crates moving, seeing them tumble around a scampering B.A. who never gets hit, these moments are just too much and tip the film over the edge for me. It’s like the moments in the original where the team would shoot a group of bad guys and no-one would die.
Now as an aside that question is handled rather well in the film and addresses one of the biggest aspects of the television show. B.A. goes through a transformation in prison which ties in well with the television show idea of not killing anyone, and later on Hannibal addresses it and through the way the story plays out, it turns B.A.’s story around again. In a way it brings the film to the television series and then turns away on its own path again.
It’s a nice nod to the series, and once again we see the film taking on board one of the major aspects of the television series.
Back to the over the top parts of the plans though, while there were some aspects that were just too much to take and pushed me back from the film rather than embraced me. Yet there are some of the plans that look and work well on screen, just watch the office tower attack or the hijack of the Iraqi truck, these sequences are exciting and as entertaining as the original A-Team.
The story itself plays out on a standard keel, besides the Hannibal plans, but there are a couple of nice turns to it. There’s the twist of the prison stint which takes us on a nice little side step from where we're expecting to go, the way that Face takes over the planning of the last big set-up and worries about if he can live up to Hannibal's leadership, there were a good few moments like these.
Although the idea of planning that last mission was well set-up, the plan itself was insane and resulted in way too much CG and it just went far too far over the top. While the A-Team is all about that, there are still limits to where something moves from being enjoyable and unbelievable to just plain stupid and silly. That's where some parts of the ending took us. I do wish that had been toned down slightly.
I've already mentioned how enjoyable Bradley Cooper was as Face is throughout, but the rest of the team are strong too, Hannibal is well written and played, and much more of a collaborative leader than I remember from the series, playing on the strengths of his team. Quinton Jackson was surprisingly good as B.A., and Sharlto Copley was excellent as Murdoch, just the right side of nuts. The characters, like the story, were very faithful to the original, but at the same time there was a realisation that they were taking a step forward and so they've all been widened in some way and a couple given more depth.
I'm not saying that there's a deep and intellectual story to them, it's just that they're made a little more real, a little less cartoon-ish. One thing is clear though, they do remain very well connected to the television series with feel and references galore, and that for me is the winning part of the film.
Finally, and this is one of these end credit warnings that's far too late for the cinematic release, watch the credits until the very end, there are two further scenes which give the original another great faithful nod. For we get to see two very familiar faces and the scenes really do play well to fans of the series. I was surprised that everyone but us left before the end credits, missing these two excellent scenes. You know you really should stay and watch the end credits of every film, sometimes it does pay off and it shows a degree of thanks to see all those names passing by.
The A-Team is a really fun and entertaining film which is hugely respectful of the original series, referencing the characters and the original themes throughout, it remembers and respects where it's from. At times it's clever with the story, and at others goes far too over the top involving more CG than necessary and swamping the ideas behind the film.
However the sheer enjoyment of what the A-Team was and their wild plans comes through well in the film and it's clear that those involved had a love for the television series, and that shines through in the story and the characters, and if you're a fan and find yourself in the audience, you'll recognise it and enjoy the ride.
Although it does exceed its limits at times, it remains a great fun film. For those that have criticised it I find it hard to believe that they enjoyed the original television show when they were younger and perhaps thought that they were trying to watch something far more serious. It isn't, take it as it is and you'll have great fun watching it.