Tuesday, January 3, 2012

The A-Team (2010)

B.A. Baracus, the New Hercules?
by Silence Do_nothing

     I'm curious if ancient Greeks moaned that their dramatists' penchant for adapting previously told tales of the gods reflected a lack of creativity, in the same way that modern audiences complain that all the film industry's remakes points to a Hollywood devoid of ideas. Which isn't to say that I didn't also roll my eyes at The Smurfs (2011) live action trailer, but that was from a strong sense that its only purpose could be as parody fuel for Robot Chicken or Family Guy, not a particular disdain for television-to-movie adaptations. I imagine the Athenians also made their share of stupid garbage. It's just that these would be far less likely to make it through the millennia than the classics which have survived to modern times.
     Falling somewhere between The Smurfs and Aeschylus' Prometheus Bound in the quality of adaptations spectrum is The A-Team (2010) (in fairness, I haven't experienced either of the two I have selected for the extremes, so I can't know for a fact that The Smurfs isn't a work of unparalleled genius which single-handedly vindicates Western culture or that Prometheus Bound couldn't have benefited from the Titans employing a speech pattern which substitutes derivations of the word "Titan" for half of their vocabulary).
     Having only caught bits of the TV series while visiting relatives as a kid, most of my knowledge about the original comes from spoofs. Besides the famous theme song, the only things I directly remembered were that there was an old man with a cigar, a crazy guy, Mr. T, and a black van. I'm as susceptible to 80s nostalgia as the next guy who spent many of his childhood days entranced at the Toys R' Us G.I. Joe section, internally debating for a good hour which figures to spend his saved allowances on (the lineup for 1986 was so strong that I am only half-joking when I state that their cardbacks were works of unparalleled genius which single-handedly vindicate Western culture. But I've also argued that Halloween 3 (1982) was better than the John Carpenter original, so this may merely confirm that I have no shame. Or maybe taste. Or maybe both. I think someone yelled "Or talent." That's hitting below the belt), but this particular title didn't harken back to any warm and fuzzy memories for me. It would have to stand on its own merits.
     Whatever the medium, the plot for an A-Team adventure is never the most important thing in the world, but neither is the excessive amount of snarky fluff I type out, so fairness demands that I give at least passing mention of it. A mission for the Alpha Team, a close knit band of elite soldiers stationed in Iraq, gets them caught between competing conspiracies of rogue CIA agents and private military contracting company Blackforest. Wrongfully convicted of stealing U.S. mint plates, they must use every ounce of daring and skill to clear their names and regain their honor. The story could have worked just as well if it had the A-Team falsely accused of illegally downloading thousands of mp3s, so long as it put them in plenty of precarious situations that allowed each to display his particular talents before Hannibal broke out his victory cigar and catchphrase of "I love it when a plan comes together."
     Fairly inventive set-pieces allow The A-Team to avoid that fun-sapping staleness of many other offerings in the genre which feel like the action has been done a thousand times before. I can't recall the last time I've seen a plummeting tank harness the recoil of its cannon to safely steer its descent or port shipping containers serving as props in a giant shell game to set up an ambush. Team leader Hannibal's (Liam Neeson) intricate planning is intercut with the mission itself, making it easier to follow. None of it was a Matrix sized leap forward, but they were cool twists executed well. Given the relative scarcity of good action movies compared to good dramatic films, I maintain that action is harder to create and, therefore, more impressive (I realize this probably qualifies me for nothing more than curator of a hypothetical Michael Bay Museum of Cultural Artifacts).
     The sense of camaraderie and the casting for the team made them a fun bunch of characters to get behind. Never-mind that Liam Neeson is the only native English-speaking actor who can't do a convincing American accent. He still maintains a commanding presence which fits Hannibal. Lady's-man Face (Bradley Cooper) redeems his narcissistic arrogance through an almost religious faith in his compatriots ability to rescue him from certain doom. Oddly enough, an actor with the nickname of Rampage, the professional MMA fighter Quinton Jackson, produces a more congenial version of a character whose initials are supposed to double for Bad Attitude. This relatively quick to smile or chuckle B.A. Baracus is actually somewhat easy going when you consider how much grief he puts up with. I actually preferred Jackson's take on the character, as his is less cartoonish than having him perpetually scowling and looking for an opening to tell someone to "Shut up, fool!" The one thing that truly scares the brave men of the A-Team isn't the enemy, but what insane and insanely talented pilot Murdock (Sharlto Copley of "District 9" fame) might do. He is the wild card in Hannibal's meticulous plans. Even beneath all the crazy is a deep loyalty to the team and the possibility that he consciously exaggerates his nutso persona to gain an advantage. In contrast to the typical lone wolf action hero, they're all well aware they need each other.
     Going a more lighthearted route for the villainous PMC Pike was a good call. More times than not, these types of films seek too heavy a mood for the bad guy. It ends up clashing with the fun of over-the-top action or falls flat and ends up seeming cheesy. Actor Brian Bloom is good at playing up the humor without turning the character into a joke. Pike isn't shy about his disdain for incompetence and lets it out at inopportune times, like when he scolds and lectures a would be executioner about the proper terminology for the suppressor (definitely not silencer) and instructs the bumbling adversary how to attach it to the gun meant for his head.
     The end result of the movie is something better than just a guilty pleasure for people wanting to re-live childhood memories. It would be nice if all adaptations could be as good as Christopher Nolan's "Batman" movies, but even if they just reach The A-Team level consistently, moviegoers wouldn't be so suspicious of Hollywood's cinematic recycling.
     I think there are many creative works which were failures, but still had potential in more skilled hands. Junk culture is long on cool ideas, but short on talent. It's like inventors requiring engineers and technicians to bring their ideas to fruition.
     The A-Team was closer to what I imagine to be the quality of Prometheus Bound than what I assume to be that of The Smurfs. Whether A-Team characters will be part of the lexicon thousands of years from now is another matter. Maybe if a renowned writer pens an epic poem about B.A. Baracus venturing forth on a perilous quest to rescue his beloved black GMC van from an automotive graveyard.
     One more thing. I was completely joking about only half-joking about the cardbacks from the 1986 G.I. Joe action figures being works of unparalleled genius which single-handedly vindicate Western culture. Of course I wouldn't place them in the same league as Beethoven's "Ode to Joy" or Michelangelo's Sistine Chapel. I just thought it might be a more entertaining way of getting across that I thought they were awesome than simply writing "the 1986 G.I. Joe action figure cardbacks were awesome." I can only hope that I'm not thought less than serious about completely joking about half-joking.

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