I have long been a fan of the A-Team series. The sort of fan who owns all the DVD box sets, watch episodes ad naseum and extoll the virtues to anyone who will listen, so prepare yourself for a little bias. Providing gentle and amusing passive viewing, with little depth or meaning, The A-Team was the epitome of 1980s television. So I was keen to see if Joe Carnahan and Stephen J Cannell would be able to bring one of the most iconic series of all time into the 21st century.
The plot covers the history of this special forces commando team – starting with their first encounters, their time in Iraq (moved on from Vietnam), to the "crime they didn't commit" through the short incarceration and inevitable escape, the chase for the betrayer and eventually into their future lives as soldiers of fortune. The beginning of their career was never covered in the original series, which ensures the film requires no prior knowledge.
Neeson takes on the role as John "Hannibal" Smith with ease and style, ensuring the true spirit of the colonel is not lost as he cares for the welfare of his team while masterminding the plans he is renowned for. Cooper is Templeton "Faceman" Peck, the ladies man. His interpretation has a harder edge but more depth than Dirk Benedict's smooth, silky persona from the TV series. Copley is excellent in the role of" 'Howling Mad" Murdock, the mentally unstable pilot who can fly anything. The southern accent adds to the kookiness, and Copley ensures that Murdoch remains a much-loved character. The biggest challenge has to go to Jackson, who takes on the formidable role of BA (Bad Attitude) Baracus. There was little to distinguish Baracus and Mr T, the actor who shaped the most recognisable character on the show. With a library of catchphrases and a unique look, the character is one that can not be reshaped easily. The essence is not about words or feelings but about on-screen presence and violence. Thankfully, Jackson sticks pretty much to the line and does a very solid take.
The film is not beyond question though – many of the CGI-driven scenes ("flying" a tank?) are slightly ludicrous and the sub-plot of Baracus transforming into a non-violent member of the team is pointless and adds little the character development. The original series was know for its unnecessary over-the-top explosions and cartoonish violence, which is part of its appeal. Feel good television at its best. The film takes all the original aspects and gives them a modern twist such as discarding cartoon violence for a harder edge to the action and characters. The remodelling ensures the film does not feel like a complete nostalgia trip, though laughs echoed around the auditorium several times at the ever-present sly humour.
The A-Team manages to live up to the promise of bringing the series into the 21st century. Sure, it could be more realistic and the plot a little stronger but it all comes together to weave that feel-good atmosphere that was needed. If you loved the original series, you will enjoy this. If you found the original series corny, the film is not going to change any opinions. Those uninitiated into the joys of The A-Team will find it cheesy and just another summer action flick but for everyone else, they will love it when a plan comes together.