The merits of an intellectual elucidation of Joe Carnahan’s 21st century revamp of the mid-1980s absurdist TV show about a team of disgraced Army Rangers-turned outlaw mercenaries are negligible at best. To engage in such an endeavor would neutralize the only conceivable reason to watch the film at all. Which is why I love it.
Superficially, “The A-Team” seems to fit in nicely with other incomprehensibly stupid machismo-fueled explosion-fests like the “Fast and Furious” films or the abomination that is Michael Bay’s “Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen.” Merely a cursory examination of these films, especially the latter, reveals a startling thread of anti-humanity that only becomes more deplorable the deeper the analysis. But “The A-Team,” ostensibly the same, is actually altogether different. Movies like this often get a pass from critics if they show some signs of self-deprecation — that is, if the film is stupid, it’s okay as long as the film “knows it’s stupid.” I accept that philosophy to a certain degree. An element of self-awareness is always welcome in a film that seems so blatantly ridiculous. And “The A-Team” surely fits that profile, but its successes transcend that narrow condition. The joy I experienced watching this film isn’t rooted in the exploitative wish-fulfillment nonsense of the movies mentioned, but comes from an entirely separate sphere of sensibilities. In fact, “The A-Team” probably doesn’t even belong in the same genre.
Howling Mad Murdock (Sharlto Copley), B.A. Baracus (Rampage Jackson), Hannibal Smith (Liam Neeson) and Faceman (Bradley Cooper) are the greatest special ops team in the world. After 80 successful missions in Iraq and elsewhere the revered team find themselves disgraced and incarcerated after being framed for the murder of their superior and the stealing of an especially valuable contingent of rare US currency minting plates. They bust out of jail and immediately hit the pavement to try to clear their names and take down the real culprit(s).
“The A-Team” is not an action film. It is laden with gunfights, explosions, wildly exaggerated aerial battles, unnecessarily complex operations and a non-stop high-intensity shaky-cam style — but it is not an action film. Understanding this is crucial. “The A-Team” is a comedy. Need proof? A tank — a TANK! — that has fallen from a destroyed cargo plane thousands of feet in sky is successfully flown to safety using blasts from the vehicle’s own large caliber gun as a propulsion system to not only negate the effects of gravity on the 60-ton machine but to accurately navigate through the air. This is the funniest thing I have seen in years.
That wacky sensibility is consistent throughout, legitimized by a lack of graphic violence or gratuitous sex. The mood is pure fun. And the entire cast does a fine job giving the audience likable and unique characterizations to carry us through some of the more muddled plot details. Sharlto Copley and Liam Neeson stand out as a deranged pilot and a cigar-chomping commander, respectively, and Patrick Wilson is a delight as the seedy CIA agent whose loyalties are never quite clear.
“The A-Team” isn’t looking to quench the adolescent American male’s thirst for inconsequential violence, high-octane explosive action and soft-core porn. “The A-Team” is looking for laughs, and it got plenty out of me.