The opening sequence of The A-Team is geeky, cheesy, corny, preposterous—and completely wonderful. I couldn't stop smiling. And I think I'd feel that way even if I hadn't been a child of the '80s and a fan of the TV show. It wasn't just the nostalgia (The van! The helicopters! The dramatic cigar lighting! Pity the fool!) that pulled me in. Instead, this goofy action movie's first minutes establish a natural charisma, chemistry, and style even before the giant "A" is shot off the screen.
While the movie's overall execution and quality fades as it goes—and the clunky plot increasingly crowds out some of the fun—it's all still big, silly fun (wasn't the source material, too?).
That the cast is made up to look ridiculously akin to the original Hannibal, Face, Murdock, and B.A. Baracus is just the surface. That the writers lovingly wrote those same characters—down to the smallest traits and quirks (like Murdock's affection for hand puppets) lends authenticity. But what makes the whole movie tick is the chemistry, interaction and dynamic between these four friends and comrades. They make the movie fun because they are a blast to hang with.
The movie opens mid-action as this crack team of commandoes' leader Hannibal (Liam Neeson) is on mission with his number two, Face (Bradley Cooper). They soon meet and recruit driver/mechanic B.A. Baracus (Quinton "Rampage" Jackson) and pilot Murdock (Sharlto Copley) onto their team. The film then skips eight years to put us into the current plot, which is basically: Going to jail for a crime they didn't commit, escaping, and clearing their names. The actual events center on a MacGuffin which various parties are chasing. Unlike the TV show, in which the A-Team was all about helping people in need (when no one else would help), these guys are all about revenge—and they're willing to (and even seem to prefer to) kill to get it.
Mr. T, the original B.A. Baracus, isn't happy about that change in tone. "People die in the film," he said. "When we did it, no one got hurt. It was all played for fun and family entertainment." He's right; the original show never showed anyone dying—they just got shot at or knocked unconscious. While the film is not bloody or overly violent by today's standards, it does have a different feel than the original show. I'm not as bothered by the killings as Mr. T, but I am bothered that Hannibal and Co. seem to be aiming to kill their targets—and in one scene even relish and celebrate it. Still, this is not to the level of 24 or Bond films. And while there is a lot of gunplay, much of the action comes in the form of big audacious adventure-type scenes.
The action never stops and requires a double-dose of suspension of disbelief. If you can't hang with a movie where a tank safely parachutes from a plane—and shoots planes on the way down—you will get annoyed. But what makes it all work is that it doesn't insult your intelligence. It knows it is big, loud, dumb action—and has fun with it, embracing ludicrous Bond-level (or nuttier) sequences that are total eye-candy fun.
But there are some threads of themes too. Hannibal's classic love of a plan is extended into a belief in a bigger plan. He says, "I don't subscribe to coincidence. No matter how it looks, there is always a plan." When things get murky, the team struggles to see a plan amidst their struggles. While bent on revenge and saving face, the team holds honesty, truth, and justice at a high commodity—and they will risk everything to uphold them. Also, the movie tries (sometimes too hard) to set up some interesting contrasts: self-reliance vs. teamwork, military vs. mercenary, being in the trenches vs. merely calling the shots, having a plan vs. the unpredictable variable.
On one front, the movie tries to be smarter than it really is. Baracus undergoes an unspecified conversion and vows to live a life of tolerance and compassion. He will not kill, and he talks of keeping a clear conscience. While it's a great theme to put in a violence-filled movie, it's used only as a cheap means to build to a big moment. In addition, a conversation between Baracus and Hannibal about B.A.'s vow leads to a horrible mangling of Gandhi's teaching principles and unintentional laughter.
But it's the only time where the laughter is unearned. The rest of the laughs come thanks to the fun ride. (And if you're a fan of the original, be sure to stay through the closing credits.)Discussion starters
- How do you react to the revenge angle in the film? How do your thoughts about revenge differ? What does the Bible say about revenge?
- B.A. quotes Ghandi in saying: "Victory attained by violence is tantamount to a defeat, for it is momentary." Do you agree? Given how B.A.'s story ends, what do you think the movie is saying in regard to this idea?
- How do Jesus' teachings correspond with Gandhi's adherence to total non-violence? Is there ever a time where violence is permissible for a Christian?
- Hannibal quotes Gandhi saying: "It is better to be violent, if there is violence in our hearts, than to put on the cloak of nonviolence to cover impotence." That is only part of the full quote. It goes on: "Violence is any day preferable to impotence. There is hope for a violent man to become non-violent. There is no such hope for the impotent." What does this quote mean to you? Is it used correctly in the film as a rebuttal to B.A.'s vow? Do you think B.A's conviction was based on his cowardice or his strength?
- Hannibal and B.A. talk about having a peaceful conscience. How would you define being at peace? How does one's conscience find peace?
- When all looks murky in life, how do you see God's plan?
The Family CornerFor parents to consider
The A-Team is rated PG-13 for intense sequences of action and violence throughout, language and smoking. The movie is wall-to-wall action and violence including much gunplay, little blood but a pretty high death toll. The profanity includes middle fingers and several instances of taking God and Jesus' name in vain. There's very little sexual content except for two scenes of flirting and kissing and a conversation about a man who had sex with another man's wife. (Though Mr. T said the movie has "plenty of sex," those scenes have apparently been cut.)
Photos © 20th Century Fox
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