I have a serious soft spot for Men-On-a-Mission movies. In a lot of ways they represent the sense of fun that I look for in an average summer theater-going experience. With that in mind, I was really pleased to discover that we had three such films coming at us this season, starting with The Losers (one of two films I’ve seen this year that I liked well enough to see twice), working through The A-Team, and closing with Stallone’s The Expendables later in the year. So, in the end, I may not be the best person to voice a wholly impartial opinion on The A-Team, but I’ll try to anyway.
The A-Team isn’t a smart movie. There’s nothing wrong with that, because it really isn’t a stupid movie either. It’s a summer movie and it knows that. It is also just smart enough to know that it isn’t smart. So instead of setting its sights on being an edgy or brooding reboot—that tries to impress by being a hard-edged version of a thing that the audience is already familiar with—it dedicates itself to just being fun.
And it is fun. The A-Team is big, and it is loud, and it is one serious mother of a mover, and it is fun and over the top without ever becoming too cartoonish (I’m looking at you, Transformers) or offensive or stupid (I’m looking at you, Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen). The film very rarely takes a break during its runtime of an hour and fifty-seven minutes, moving rapidly from action sequence to exposition to montage to comedy set-piece with a sort of tirelessness that it commendable for being furious but never tiresome. The action sequences also work well for the most part, keeping with the pace and not relying overly on the use of digital effects. Some of these sequences do get a bit too frantic for their own good, unfortunately; pulling in too close and putting too much emphasis on shaky-cam style shooting and editing. The action also lacks the quietly extravagant style that Joe Carnahan brought into earlier efforts like Smokin’ Aces and Narc.
The film also does a nice job of modernizing the franchise and establishing itself, taking the audience from the team’s original coming together in Mexico to their last mission in Iraq quickly and efficiently without getting bogged down in the political situations prevalent in either country and maintaining a sharp focus on getting us involved/familiar with the characters as rapidly as possible. The story also stays enjoyable and pretty straight forward for the duration, but it does lose some traction towards the end of the second act when it tries to break out a couple of twists and double-crosses. It also never really establishes the stakes. Don’t get me wrong, the audience is told what is going on, and what could happen becomes quite obvious…but the film concentrates so wholly on the characters that it does tend to lose sight of the fact that there’s more at stake than the continued freedom of Hannibal & Company.
And speaking of the team: The casting here solid and occasionally inspired. Liam Neeson works very well as Hannibal, mugging and chewing scenery with the same enthusiasm as predecessor George Peppard. Sharlto Copley is excellent as well, dropping the drama from his turn in District 9 and dialing the neuroticism up to show some serious comedic range. Bradley Cooper continues to do a good job being Bradley Cooper, which is fine in the context of Face. Jessica Biel turns out a surprisingly solid performance that actually holds a decently hard edge. Patrick Wilson’s wannabe CIA Super-Spook/Villain is surprisingly manic and unpredictable. And Quinton Jackson does a good job of trying to put his own spin on B.A. Baracus, even if the script does seem to want him to just pretend to be Mister T the entire time.
So in the end, it isn’t a great film, but it is a good one. It works hard to provide a sense of momentum, giving up some good action and a few genuine laughs along the way, and it hardly even tries to set up a franchise at the end. So, if you like action films or buddy flicks, if you have a sense of nostalgia for the old show or if you just want to spend a good afternoon in the theater, you could do a whole hell of a lot worse than The A-Team.