Words: Ced Yuen
'The A-Team' (2010)
Director: Joe Carnahan
Cast: Liam Neeson, Bradley Cooper, Sharlto Copley, Jessica Biel, Quinton Jackson
Entertainment has changed a lot since the 1980s, and updating a cultural icon is a gamble. Modernise it too much and it disappoints the fans. Make it a strictly fan-service affair and newcomers don’t like it. Did they get the balance right? Yes, sort of.
On paper, the TV series and this new film are pretty similar. There is enough here to satisfy any reasonable fan of the original - the four guys; the cigar; the Mohawk; the explosions; silly stunts; that van.
The main characters are re-interpretations, but they remain mostly intact. Liam Neeson’s Hannibal is still cool and calculating, but now he’s all gruff instead of laid-back. Bradley Cooper’s Face is still a cocky womaniser, but now he’s smarmy instead of charming. Quinton "Rampage" Jackson’s B.A. (a passable acting debut) still hates planes and pities fools, but the bling is gone. Sharlto Copley, building on his success from 'District 9', steals the scene by playing Murdock with more nuts and less cheese. The famous theme tune and catchphrases are still there, but underused effectively. It’s still knowingly silly, still all about bullets-spraying mayhem, and still about having fun. The fan in me was smiling all the way.
Only a small percentage of the audience will expect a step-by-step reproduction, and the filmmakers understand that. This is not a slavish repeat. Newcomers to 'The A-Team' (such as my girlfriend/movie guinea-pig) will find a standard action flick that’s perfectly accessible.
As the movie is meant to be a prequel-update (in the vein of 'Casino Royale' and 'Star Trek'), no prior knowledge of the source material is required. There is enough exposition to show who the characters are. Attempts are made to flesh out certain back stories that the original series never even bothered with. The visual style has been adjusted for inflation with the big budget, CGI and flashy cinematography that modern audiences have come to expect. The colour and campiness is gone, replaced with a gritty realism. The dated, people-flying-through-windows kind of fighting has been replaced by flashy martial arts. In fact, director Joe Carnahan makes such a point of making 'The A-Team' his own that there aren’t any traces of the 1980s.
Updating 'The A-Team' does have its drawbacks, and this is where Carnahan fails to keep things balanced. By making these characters realistic, it takes away the childish spirit that came with the original. The occasional appearance of bad CGI tests your ability to suspend disbelief. In upping the number of bad guys, Carnahan confuses ‘complex’ with ‘convoluted’, resulting in a weaker finale than could have been. The ‘Michael Bay Effect’ – the shaky camera, too-close-up shots and rapid-cut editing – is kept to a minimum, but when it does appear, it grates.
'The A-Team' was always about risks, but improvising weapons from junk found in a skip wasn’t anywhere near as risky as adapting the series for the big screen. Some things worked, some things didn’t. 'A-Team' fans will find plenty to like as long as they don’t expect a carbon copy of the original. For everyone else, the end product is a pretty standard action film, no more, no less – just 'A-Team' flavoured.
'The A-Team' is out in UK cinemas now, having been released on July 30th.