They don’t make action movies like they used to. Two decades ago, Sylvester Stallone, Arnold Schwarzenegger, and Jean-Claude Van Damme were movie stars. Now action movies are mostly event films, so they tend to deal with fantasy situations. Comic book heroes using superpowers, et cetera. Or in Stallone’s case, direct pleas of nostalgia. Where the standard action movie – something like Red or The Losers – is considered second tier material (both also based on comic books). Such may explain why Joe Carnahan’s massively entertaining The A-Team was not a hit. Starring Liam Neeson, Bradley Cooper, Quinton “Rampage” Jackson, and Sharlto Copley as the titular team – they are military vets who are set up for a crime they didn’t commit. Patrick Wilson and Jessica Biel also co-star. My review of the Blu-ray of The A-Team after the jump.
The film opens as the four come together. Hannibal Smith (Neeson) is on a mission with Templeton “Faceman” Peck (Cooper), and Smith kidnaps B. A. Baracus (Jackson) to give them a ride. At a V.A. hospital the three team up with H.M. “Howling Mad” Murdock (Copley), who is actually insane but a great pilot. All are Rangers – Hannibal suggests their coming together was fate – so they sync up quick. After this opening mission, they end up working together for the government in the Iraq war. But after stealing money plates on a covert-op for CIA agent Lynch (Wilson), the general they are escorting (Gerald McRaney) is killed and they are accused of masterminding the whole affair. They think it’s the Blackwater-esque mercs (head up by Brian Bloom) who set them up, and Hannibal wants revenge. He breaks them all out of jail, and they’re on the hunt for the missing sheik suspected of having the plates. On their tail is Charissa Sosa (Jessica Biel), while Lynch wants them to do his dirty work and holds out a possible full pardon for everyone involved.
Though The A-Team partly functions as a prequel, and behaves similarly to other franchise films that don’t take many narrative chances with their characters, the thing that elevates this film is that it’s a great deal of fun. Each of the four leads have totally different energies, so it’s engaging to watch them get into situations, while the action director Joe Carnahan stages is big, goofy and doesn’t disappoint (at least until the last set pieces, which just goes a little too stupid). But the movie delivers such a slaphappy sense of pleasure from the cast that its modest missteps are no bother.
Neeson is the straight man, but plays the character as exceptionally smart and talented. Cooper is fun because the film realizes (as did The Hangover) that Cooper is at his most appealing when he’s aware he’s obnoxiously good looking. Jackson isn’t much of a performer, but does manage to get some laughs, and looks capable beating people up, while Copley plays his character as legitimately insane. The guys like him, but he’s barely functional. Copley was considered a trouble-spot for the film, and he never sticks to any one accent for very long, but in context it works, and he’s one of the high spots of the movie. This is the sort of film that is perfect to watch on Sundays, possibly while eating some red meat and drinking cheap beer.
20th Century Fox presents the film in widescreen (2.35:1) and in DTS 5.1 HD surround. The transfer is excellent, and the film is available both in the theatrical version (118 min.) and an extended cut (134 min.) which adds some nice moments, but just bloats the film unnecessarily. The theatrical cut is the better first viewing experience. The film also comes with a digital copy. The theatrical cut comes with a commentary/PIP track with Joe Carnahan. The director not only offers his thoughts on making the film, there’s a pop up icons that lets you look at the weapons in the film, and charts all of the plans that come together in the film (there are five).
The film also comes with six deleted scenes (9 min.) of little importance, a gag reel (7 min.), and an “A-Team Mash-Up Montage” (2 min.) which is just an action highlight reel. “Plan of Attack” (29 min.) is the film’s making of, while “Character Chronicles” (23 min.) offers profiles of the four leads and Jessica Biel. This is followed by a Visual Effects before and after with commentary by special effects supervisor James E. Price (6 min.) and the film’s theatrical trailer.