Identical Spec Ops Movie #2: The A-Team Review

A-Team 2010 poster copyright 20th Century Fox
You will recall, from my review of The Losers that A-Team is one of three action movies coming out this summer with identical premises. The Losers was first to come out, to great acclaim (by me) and utter non-interest (by everyone else). The Expendibles, coming out August 13th, stands no chance of being better than The Losers, because it stars Dolph Lundgren and Sylvester Stallone, but I thought A-Team, with its star power and callback to 80s television, might give it a run for its money.

Looking at the logline:

A handful of operatives known as the best in their field find themselves betrayed and facing impossible odds of survival as they attempt to perform ridiculous feats of physics-defying action to get their lives back and stop a bad guy from doing something really bad.

…will tell us nothing, since both movies have the same premise. The devil is in the details, so let’s delve.

In the action-packed opener, we’re introduced (separately – this part is like an origin story) to four guys: Face (Bradley Cooper), B.A. (Quinton Jackson), Murdock (Sharlto Copley), and Hannibal (Liam Neeson). When you’ve got a team, usually each of the members has a separate skill set (i.e. tech guy, transport guy, weapons guy). While Murdock can fly any type of aircraft and Hannibal is the leader, they’ve all got the same multipurpose attack skills, so the only niches they could be said to fill are demographic:

Face, B.A., Murdock, and Hannibal from A-Team copyright 20th Century Fox

you’ve got the hot one, the black one, the crazy one, and the old one

And just to throw a bone to the audience members that have become more equal-opportunity toward action heroes since the 80s:

Sosa from the A-Team copyright 20th Century Fox

the girl (Jessica Biel)

But you won’t see much of her unless she’s baiting/flirting with/complicating the lives of the male characters.

They meet, we jump forward a couple of years, and they’re at war. Then we begin your standard setup – the A-Team is in-theater….

Face from A-Team copyright 20th Century Fox

just generally being helpful

….they go on a mission that goes bad…

the A-Team and an explosion copyright 20th Century Fox

whoopsie, that one wasn’t supposed to explode!

… a plot important MacGuffin falls into the wrong hands (it’s money-making plates, but that’s irrelevant. It could have been a suitcase full of anything)…

Pineapples of Mass Destruction

you misunderstand, sir – these are pineapples of mass destruction!

….somebody dies….

Hannibal at a funeral from A-Team copyright 20th Century Fox

cue mood rain to disguise manly tears

….they get blamed and sent to jail, where presumably their Army skills will keep them from getting bum raped.

This is the setup. We already know from the trailer that the movie’s about them breaking out of jail to get revenge and retrieve the McGuffin. In The Losers this process took about 15 minutes. In A-Team, it takes half the movie. This is bad story structure.

B.A. escapes from a jail truck in A-Team copyright 20th Century Fox

luckily it’s not boring to watch

The biggest difference is that in The Losers, it’s no big secret who the villain is, so Jason Patric could be as over-the-top as he liked. A-Team’s world is much more serious. The team is presented as the lone source of irreverence in the universe.

Murdock d-fibs an engine from A-Team copyright 20th Century Fox

though pretty much all the jokes in the movie were shown in the trailer

Their villain is cloaked in shadow, only to be revealed at the end as someone from the beginning. Like an episode of Scooby Doo… but without the monster costume.

A-Team villain turns Scooby Doo

And I would have gotten away with it too, if it weren’t for you meddling kids… I mean soldiers

So it’s not as funny as The Losers, but the A-Team is A for Awesome anyway, and I will tell you why.

Reason #1: Mind-Blowing Action Scenes

When I go to an action movie, I want to see explosions and feats of attackery I have never seen before. Whether they are actually possible doesn’t matter. All that matters is that they:
a) look cool
b) at least seem possible if you don’t think about it too much
A-Team constantly serves up amazing examples of the sorts of things soldiers could accomplish if they didn’t have those pesky laws of physics holding them back. Shooting down a plane from a parasailing tank? Totally plausible!

Face shoots a plane from a falling tank from A-Team copyright 20th Century Fox

here’s one for you to try, Mythbusters crew

Reason #2: Technical Unassailability

No, I don’t mean the kind of technical you need advisors for. Real soldiers watching this movie will be rolling their eyes so much they get stuck (even though deep down they’re wishing they really could do all that stuff). I mean in terms of execution. While The Losers is funnier the plot is a mess and it doesn’t end, it just stops. The A-Team makes sense from start to finish, and though it does leave open the possibility of sequels, it’s not depending on one for closure. Though by massive coincidence, they both end in the same location.

Shenzhen Container Port by Bert van Dijk on Flickr

final sequences tied for inventiveness but A-Team wins in the “complexity,” “length,” “over the topness” and “costing a lot” categories

Reason #3: HELICOPTERS!!!!

At the Nova Scotia International Airshow in 2004 I saw a French pilot do a barrel roll in an NH-90 as part of a bid to get the government to buy some. Seeing such a thing (which I would previously have assumed was impossible) may well have been the highlight of my life, and I’ve been waiting for an action movie to use it ever since. It took six years, but A-Team finally obliged.

Red Bull Stunt Helicopter EAA Airventure 2008 Oshkosh by Observe the Banana on Flickr



Go see this movie. It will blow your mind. And then buy the DVD so you can watch it some more. And then buy me a helicopter to say thank you.

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