One year ago, an elite commando unit was sent to prison for a crime they didn't commit. These men promptly escaped from a maximum security facility. Today, still wanted by the government, they survive as soldiers for hire. If you have a problem, if no one else can help, and if you can find them, maybe you can hire... 'The A-Team.'
Now that I've set the mood quoting movie trailer voiceover guy punctuated by the unforgettable theme music, I'll let you in on a little secret. When I was a kid, 'The A-Team' was one of my ultimate guilty pleasures. From its debut in 1983 until the four legendary soldiers of fortune drove their GMC Vandura off into the cancellation sunset in 1987, the series created by Frank Lupo and the late Steven J. Cannell (who unfortunately recently passed away in September) was -- at least in my young eyes -- the best thing ever. I watched it faithfully each and every week, had all of the awesome action figures, and didn't care in the slightest that these guys seemed to be in desperate need of target practice. All that mattered was these four wacky characters and the truckloads of over-the-top violence made for an intensely fun show. Add in the corny catch phrases and ridiculous guest stars like Boy George, Hulk Hogan, and even Pat Sajak and Vanna White of all people -- and 'The A-Team' was the epitome of a pop culture phenomenon.
As a one-time diehard 'A-Team' fan, I must say the news of a movie adaptation was bittersweet to me. On one hand, part of me really wanted to see a modernized version of 'The A-Team' brought to the big screen, and if there ever was a director capable of doing so it would've been Joe Carnahan -- the man behind the equally outlandish 'Smokin' Aces,' but then again we haven't seen all that many television-to-film success stories. Chances were we'd just end up getting another 'Miami Vice' that barely even resembles its classic TV counterpart, or a mutilated disaster like whatever the hell 'The Dukes of Hazzard' was supposed to be.
Fortunately, my fears were immediately put to rest when I got my first glimpse of the trailer. This movie was slick, action-packed, and although some necessary changes had been made (the most notable being the A-Team now served in Iraq instead of the Vietnam War), for the most part what was on display faithfully captured the essence and spirit of the original show.
The plot for the movie is somewhat complicated, basically stringing together a series of adventures to form a two-hour film, but I like the episodic structure as it's kind of a nod to the old series. The film kicks off somewhere in Mexico where we first meet Colonel John "Hannibal" Smith (Liam Neeson), and it doesn't take very long for viewers to see that he's a seasoned, cigar-chomping veteran with more than a few plans up his sleeve. Hannibal has to work fast to rescue one of his own -- Lt. Templeton "Faceman" Peck (Bradley Cooper), whose masterful skills at charming the ladies has landed him in hot water with a corrupt Mexican General. But in order to save his friend and get out of dodge, Hannibal will have to enlist the help of B.A. Baracus (Quenton "Rampage" Jackson) -- a mysterious stranger with a real bad attitude and a modified Chevy G20, and Captain H.M. Murdock (Sharlto Copley) -- an ace pilot located at a nearby hospital who isn't exactly playing with a full deck. When the dust finally settles, fate will have given birth to a unique brotherhood -- as well as a certain familiar phobia.
Flash forward eight years and eighty successful missions later, and the highly decorated and borderline insane Alpha Unit, or "A-Team," is now doing what they do best stationed in Iraq. This is where Hannibal is approached by CIA Agent Lynch (Patrick Wilson) to head a covert Black-OPS assignment to recover stolen U.S. Treasury plates and $1 billion in counterfeit currency from Iraqi insurgents. Against the wishes of both General Morrison (Gerald McRaney of 1980s' 'Simon & Simon') and a former flame of Face's, Captain Charissa Sosa (Jessica Biel), the A-Team sees this as a job right up their alley. But when the mission goes awry and results in their convictions, the team will have to find a way to prove their own innocence and set the record straight -- if, of course, they can bust out of prison first.
Casting rumors have been circulating for years, with names like Bruce Willis, Woody Harrelson, and Ice Cube thrown into the hat (for the roles of Hannibal, Murdock, and B.A., respectively), but the final roster Carnahan settled on is a solid one. Bradley Cooper makes the absolute perfect Face, as he infuses his character with the ideal balance of charisma and cockiness. Neeson was another great choice, and I'd wager his recent turn in 'Taken' helped clinch it for him. This time he trowels on the bravado while gleefully hamming it up, and appears to be having a wickedly fun time. And Copley? Man, never in a million years did I suspect that Wikus van de Merwe from 'District 9' would be able to fill the squirrelly mind of H.M. Murdock, but the dude is an almost unrecognizable changeling and absolutely nails the part. The only real iffy performance is from Quenton "Rampage" Jackson who, as a mixed martial arts (MMA) fighter, has the badass look down pat, but his acting chops are still rough around the edges. But even though some of his lines feel forced, it's a huge improvement from his effort in 'Death Warrior,' and let's be real -- the "T" in "Mr. T" never exactly stood for "thespian," either.
The action sequences may also be utterly silly and far-fetched (I challenge anyone to find a flying tank elsewhere!), but the fact is these guys have always been known to "specialize in the ridiculous." Case in point, I remember one specific episode of the old series where Murdock escapes from a maximum security prison by fashioning a makeshift hot air balloon using a chair, garbage bags, an extension cord, and a hair dryer. Up and over the wall he went, but I can tell you right now that this does not work (I know because I've tried it). So when I see certain critiques bitching about the overly cartoonish elements in the movie it bugs me, because it simply wouldn't be 'The A-Team' any other way.
While I had a blast with this movie and thought it was one of 2010's better summer blockbusters, there's one thing holding it back from greatness. It's obvious Carnahan was aiming to go out with a bang and goes for broke with the grand finale, but I felt it may have been a little too ambitious for him. I mean, what transpires is a bat-shit crazy stunt that feels right at home in the A-Team's bag of zany plans, however as movie magic it didn't seem to be executed as well as it could've been.
'The A-Team' is best summed up as pretty much the antithesis of every action flick that takes itself too seriously. Sure it's bigger than big, dumber than dumb, and likely the only thing you'll learn from watching it is that what you usually see on TV or in the movies most certainly isn't real -- but it's also one of the few fun rushes of foolish entertainment that doesn't need anyone's pity.
The Blu-ray: Vital Disc Stats
'The A-Team' arrives on Blu-ray in Hong Kong courtesy of 20th Century Fox International and Deltamac a good two months before the North American release. This version comes on a dual-layered BD-50 Blu-ray Disc housed inside a standard blue keepcase. My copy also came with a cardboard slipcover. Both the packaging and menu are very English-friendly (actually the menu is entirely English). There are three forced pre-menu trailers for 'Knight and Day,' 'Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps,' and 'Unstoppable.' Following the advertisements viewers are prompted to select either the 119-minute Theatrical or the 133-minute Extended Cut of the film. The new footage in the extended edition includes a segment with A-Team doppelgangers among a few others, and those end-credit cameos with Dirk Benedict and Dwight Schultz (the original Face and Murdock) have now been integrated into the movie. To be honest, the additional fifteen minutes is mostly disappointing junk that just hinders the flow of the film, so I personally prefer the theatrical cut. The disc is also reported to be locked to Region A/B compatible machines.
'The A-Team' utilizes the slick and stylized template of many action flicks as of late, and the 1080p/AVC MPEG-4 (2.35:1) encode of this Blu-ray shows it off beautifully.
As one would expect, this a high-gloss presentation, yet the image still retains a hint of grittiness. The picture has a thin sheet of grain and the grain levels only really spike briefly in two scenes by my count, otherwise they stay relatively consistent. Colors are bold, bright, and slightly oversaturated due to the overblown contrast, but not as extreme as some other recent releases. Whites run hot obviously, and as for blacks, they're generally nice and stable. Depth and fine detail are strong and facial close-ups are impressive. Everything from Cooper's stubble to Neeson's crow's feet reveals great definition, and Jessica Biel's zit practically pops off the screen as if to spell out the letter "A" in Braille.
If this transfer does have any issues, there are sporadic bits where things do get a tad on the soft side. The action also can be so frenetic at times that the image tends to become blurry, although in all fairness it was like this in theaters and seems to be greatly reduced on Blu-ray. Some edge enhancement may be applied as well, though it's difficult to say with all the heavy blue screen usage. But even if the visuals on this Blu-ray aren't considered pitch-perfect, on the whole most should still find them pleasing nonetheless.
It's worth noting that the movie does have a few language translations which are properly displayed within the active image.
Good morning! No modern-day action blockbuster is complete without a rock-em, sock-em sound design, and few will be able to top the rip-roaring madness of the lossless DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 enclosed on this Blu-ray.
Dynamic range is sharp and expansive, with smooth pans that plant viewers square in the middle of the chaos. The rear channels never let up -- as choppers come from behind and zip overhead, vehicles zoom from one side of the listening area to the other, and a hailstorm of bullets litter the soundstage. The score has a light airiness that spreads wide across the channels and subtle ambience is rendered nicely in the handful of quieter scenes. The dialog is also mostly well prioritized, though a few lines can get pushed to the wayside just by the sheer amount of other sounds effects vying to tantalize your eardrums.
It's the bass that's the MVP, however, as the seemingly infinite supply of explosions and cannon fire will shake the walls, rattle the windows, and send shockwaves rolling across the floor. Put it this way, I'm sure some pleasure-seeking females will be calling dibs on the seats next to the subwoofer for this one.
The Blu-ray also includes additional DTS 5.1 soundtracks and French and Italian, Dolby Digital 5.1 soundtracks in Spanish and Portuguese, and optional English, Traditional Chinese, Spanish, French, Portuguese, Italian, Danish, Norwegian, Swedish, and Dutch subtitles.
The Hong Kong Blu-ray comes packed with bonus materials, though most of them are high-definition exclusives and therefore are located in the appropriate section below.
'The A-Team' is an action-packed, adrenaline-surging adventure that does a superb job capturing the spirit and corniness of the original series. Joe Carnahan's movie is fun, wild, and is easily one of the most entertaining retro TV show revivals to date. The Hong Kong Blu-ray sports strong video, outstanding audio, and a decent array of supplements (most of which are HD exclusives). However, since this version is a bit pricey, it's really tough to recommend over the U.S. release. Collectors may still want to grab this disc, though, so let's file this one under "Plan B."
Portions of this review also appear in our coverage of Dunkirk on Blu-ray. This post features unique Vital Disc Stats, Video, and Final Thoughts sections.