Film review – The A-Team (2010)

The A-Team: Face (Bradley Cooper), Murdock (Sharlto Copley), Hannibal (Liam Neeson) and BA Baracus (Quinton "Rampage" Jackson)
Face (Bradley Cooper), Murdock (Sharlto Copley), Hannibal (Liam Neeson) and BA Baracus (Quinton "Rampage" Jackson)

The A-Team are an elite military quartet with a reputation for concocting daring and elaborate plans that get the job done. After being set up by another group who are even more covert than they are, the team go on the run to prove their innocence. In this new film the A-Team characters from the original 1980s television series have been updated from Vietnam veterans to Iraq war veterans but they are still essentially the same group of guys.

Liam Neeson is the group’s leader Colonel John “Hannibal” Smith while Bradley Cooper is the smooth talking charmer Lieutenant Templeton “Face” Peck. Sharlto Copley from District 9 provides the most laughs as the crazy helicopter pilot Captain HM Murdock but unfortunately mixed martial arts fighter Quinton “Rampage” Jackson is a let down as BA Baracus mainly because of his poor enunciation. When Baracus is engaging in “witty banter” with the rest of the team it would be far more entertaining if we could understand more of what he is saying other than the occasional “I pity the fool!”

The A-TeamLike the original television series the action is still completely over-the-top with plenty of outlandish scenes that defy the laws of physics and gravity. Towards the end of the film Hannibal claims “overkill is underrated” and this sentiment pretty much defines the film’s approach. And in case you aren’t clear about what to expect from The A-Team film it is also worth noting that Hannibal also quotes Gandhi in order to justify the use of violence.

At first this delirious approach to the action works well and the film delivers plenty of inventive and exciting action sequences even though none of them are remotely believable. A sequence when the guys ‘fly’ a plummeting tank by strategically firing its cannon almost deserves a standing ovation for sheer audacity. However, the action does become increasingly laboured and while the technique of intercutting between the characters making the plans and the characters executing the plans is initially fun, it eventually becomes overly repetitive.

The dumb fun on offer in the disposable action of The A-Team does hold the promise of it being an enjoyable boys-own adventure film, but it is badly let down by so many other aspects. There are a number of points where the film attempts sincerity, including a completely misguided romantic subplot, and all those moments are awkward and ill judged. The relentless chauvinism of having almost every female character, including Jessica Biel as Captain Carissa Sosa, referred to as hot is also tedious. The A-Team overstays its welcome and misses the mark on too many occasions for it to fulfil its initial promise of consistent entertainment. Within its bloated running time is probably about one hours worth of great material, which would have worked wonderfully on television.

© Thomas Caldwell, 2010

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  1. Credit to you for not referring to Quinton Jackson as a ‘cage fighter’ or ‘ultimate fighter’.

    Shame he mumbles through his lines because he’s known for his fantastic interviews in his fight career.

  2. OK, let’s stop for a second. Have you ever seen the series? If so, how can you possibly expect realistic action out of a movie that was born from that series? Hello!! Realism is not the intention here. This isn’t supposed to be Saving Private Ryan or Black Hawk Down. This is supposed to be cheesy entertainment. Please learn to set your expectations based on the material you are watching. This is why I have such a problem with critic’s reviews…

  3. Andrew – Whoops! Thanks for pointing that out. Correction made.

    Jim – You may want to read over my review again. I do mention that the action is unrealistic, because I reckon people will want to know that, but I don’t say that it is a bad thing for being so nor did I say that I expected it to be realistic.

  4. Jim, I’m with you man! This review is simply dumb! I mean, I haven’t seen the movie yet but the series was over the top and action packed. Over the top doesn’t mean what it used to back in the 80’s. They probably had to go even more over the top to keep today’s audiences entertained. If they used the same stuff they used 30 years ago, people would be like “wtf? this sucks!”. I just hope it has a fairly reasonable plot to keep me entertained and the cheesyness fresh.

  5. Thomas,

    I understand that you said that. However, even refering to it would lead the reader to think that the expectation was reality. With that said, however, I do agree that the action is probably way over the top. It’s just that so maany reviewers set un-realistic expectations of movies without really thinking about what they are reviewing. There are some movies that are made to make you think, and some that are just made to turn off the brain and let yourself be entertained.

  6. “because of his poor annunciation”

    What the fuck ? did you mean enunciation ?

  7. Yep, that is what I meant Mike and I’ve made the correction. Damn. Two major errors in one review – that does suck. Really poor form from me there.

    As for the rest of my review, I’m standing by it so I’d be curious to see what you all think after you’ve actually seen the film. And just to clarify – I have no problem with over-the-top action and that is not my complaint with this film.

  8. When you described Quinton Jackson’s riciting of lines, you used the word “annunciation”, which is a Christian celebration. I think you meant, “enunciate”. Which is the term for articulating precisely.

  9. Cheers Seth and I have corrected it already. Thanks for resisting the urge to give me a hard time while pointing it out but I would have deserved it if you did. It was a really stupid mistake and I am very embarrassed!

    I suppose I could just delete all the comments mentioning it and then nobody would ever know but I don’t mind admitting to being wrong when I genuinely screw up!

  10. Uh guys the review clearly states that the over the top action is NOT the problem at all, and it’s in fact the major good thing about the movie. Sure, it appears there were a few typos and nowadays most people don’t give a crap about even basic grammar, but you guys need to learn to read as well. Jesus. The only thing worse than film critics who take themselves too seriously (not saying Thomas does) are people who REVIEW reviews. And review them incorrectly, at that.

    And just to prove what I’m saying, let’s take a look at this review and do some CAREFUL CONSTRUCTIVE ANALYSIS. Jesus.

    “At first this delirious approach to the action WORKS WELL and the film delivers plenty of INVENTIVE and EXCITING action sequences even though none of them are remotely believable. A sequence when the guys ‘fly’ a plummeting tank by strategically firing its cannon almost deserves A STANDING OVATION for sheer audacity. However, the action does become INCREASINGLY LABOURED and while the technique of INTERCUTTING between the characters making the plans and the characters executing the plans is INITIALLY FUN, it eventually becomes OVERLY REPETITIVE.”

    Oh, and to Armando and “I mean, I haven’t seen the movie yet but the series was over the top and action packed.”

    Again, really now… come on. He DIDN’T criticize that! He complimented it even!

    [moderator edit]

  11. I had a feeling that this movie would be dopey as hell, but I’m still hoping to be reasonably entertained by it. Are you saying that the action gets mediocre and cliche after a while or that the redundancy of the over-the-top scenes makes them quite ordinary after a while? Is it over the top in a good, entertaining way or does it get McG’s Charlie’s Angels bad, because the latter is my biggest fear about it?

  12. Echoing others:

    More and more lately I’m infuriated by reviewers giving out reviews based on flawed expectations. If this turns into another Prince of Persia (panned by the critics because they went into it with the wrong expectations) I will be very angry.

    Learn to critique a movie based on its own merits.. not ones that you force onto it.

    This movies sounds like a blast.. and I hope people will start to learn to ignor reviewers like this.. maybe Persia being so good yet so poorly reviewed will help people figure it ou this time.

  13. Come on people – enough with the name calling and temper tantrums. Seriously, some of you guys are worse than the Twilight fans. I was disappointed with the film. That’s all. Is that really going to impact on your ability to enjoy it? Do you really think I have any influence over whether people see it or not? Some of your responses imply that you do and if so then I’m flattered but it really is not the case.

    @Jim – I’ve deleted your comment because it was just name-calling and offered nothing to the discussion. To be fair I’ve edited out the offending material in Winston’s comment too.

    Now, once again – I have reviewed this film for what it is and I did not bring any unreasonable expectations to it. If you actually read my review properly then I think that is very clear. If not then do read Winston’s comment as he does explain it very plainly so thanks for that Winston.

    @Dennis – You asked me if “the redundancy of the over-the-top scenes makes them quite ordinary after a while”. Nicely put and yes, I just got bored of it all after a while despite mostly enjoying it initially.

    @David – I actually pride myself on critiquing films for what they are. If you read more of my stuff you’ll see that. Maybe have a look at my Prince of Persia review and then tell me if you still think I go to films like this with flawed expectations.

  14. Thomas,

    No worries, it’s your blog. You may keep or delete whatever content you wish. No offense taken. However, I would like to note that I didn’t initiate the name calling, and calling me a d-bag was completely unnecessary. With that said, cheers to you for doing what you think is right.

  15. I’m surprised you have a review of the film. Usually by now there would be a bunch of reviews on-line. Even at AICN, where they have spy reports all the time, they have nothing. I believe you saw it but it’s just weird that you seem to be the only one.

  16. What a crock, the strategically firing from a tank to direct it was ripped straight from a glitch in Grand Theft Auto San Andreas video game, truly a sad day for movies.

  17. ***CINEMA AUTOPSY EDIT – Spoiler alert***

    How is the movie chauvinistic when Face tells the sosa character he believes in her and believes she has the wisdom and trust to be a part of helping them clear their names and escape…they put her…both Face and Hannibal put Biel’s character right in the middle of the story and essentially responsible for their lives and freedom by the end of the movie…

    Sorry bro- the reason you do this and not write films is because your sense of characterization and how it drives plot and story structure is twisted like a clip on tie-

    In the interest of woman and actresses everywhere you have massively missed the mark. the female character in this story is a trustworthy, dedicated, smart, hero(ine) who help save the day, return the stolen goods, arrest the bad guy, both of them, including ‘Pike’. Try to name another movie where that happens even loosely/remotely.
    You do an injustice to a very righteously executed female character.

  18. @Lawrence – Yes it is strange. A few more reviews are popping up around the place now, which is good so I won’t be the only one taking the heat! My review is certainly not the first one to go online but I think it was the first to appear on Rotten Tomatoes. The media screening I went to was last Friday morning and there was nothing said about embargoes so I am surprised that more reviews are yet to surface at this point.

    @Kwenton – It’s still a fun moment but maybe I wouldn’t have been so impressed had I been familiar with that game.

    @KID C – I refute your accusation of having missed the mark. This was my original comment:

    “The relentless chauvinism of having almost every female character, including Jessica Biel as Captain Carissa Sosa, referred to as hot is also tedious.”

    It is chauvinist for every women on screen to be objectified in the way that they are in this film. With the exception of Sosa no other woman even has a named speaking part. That’s hardly unusual for this sort of film but it doesn’t make it OK. I think you are a little bit too easily impressed by the presence of a single female character who still functions in the film as a love interest character and only gets caught up in events rather than actually doing anything of significance. Sosa is a decent character but a tokenistic one. She’s certainly nothing like an Ellen Ripley or Sarah Connor.

    But you know, with my attitudes towards what constitutes a strong female character, and my belief that they should be the norm and not the exception, probably would prevent me from writing a blockbuster Hollywood script. It’s a good think I’m not trying to. Not all critics are frustrated filmmakers.

  19. My earlier statement was not intended to suggest you are a frustrated film maker. Just that, it’s been my observation, and you are not alone in this, that many critics seem to measure a movie like The A-Team to, say, Casablanca. It takes all types of films to create a menu that will address everyone’s tastes. But I do agree that films that feature strong female roles tend to be much more rewarding. The 2 character you mentioned, Ripley and Sarah Connor, are classic examples of strong characters, yet were phenominally successful. (T1 and T2, Alien, Aliens)(Note I left the weaker entries into both franchises off the list…). But what about True Lies? It has a very strong female lead who in fact gets caught up in the action, but is not an essential part of it (Admittedly, the film would have suffered without the character, but still). I don’t necessarily disagree that female characters are all too often written poorly, but I suspect that it’s because the men writing these characters can’t write female pov for spit…

  20. “Nothing significant”…?

    ***CINEMA AUTOPSY EDIT – Spoiler alert***

    Thomas…she (Sosa) arrests both bad guys in the movie. She chases them and tracks the team to Germany, she gets ahead of the CIA and beats them at their own game…eventally arresting both bad guys. She returns the stolen goods, she goes toe to toe against her boss as well Face…she puts him in his place right from jump…she goes at the General in the tent and in the end she helps them escape.

    [moderator edit]

  21. KID C – I am so happy to discuss this with you but I am going to edit out insults. I don’t mind being challenged but your comments are becoming increasingly spiteful and vitriolic. It doesn’t bother me but I don’t want my other reader to have to put up with that sort of crap. There are plenty of other places online where you can indulge in that sort of thing if you want but it’s not welcome here.

    To address the point that you do make – I believe there is a lot more to it than what the character does. Issues of representation and context play a very important part and despite Sosa doing all the things that you mention, she is still overall a subordinate character and that’s got a lot to do with the overall objectification of women in this film.

  22. Well Thomas, It seems we, meaning you, have come a long way from ‘chauvinism’ and landed at ‘subordinate character’, which by the way is true to the 105 episodes the work/movie is based on only Sosa is ten times more story critical than the 50 odd damsels in distress the original characters rescued, saved and otherwise squared away…except in the movie, this ‘subordinate character’ actually SAVES them- I think my work here is done.

  23. I am glad you feel vindicated KID C. However, my original comment is still this one:

    “The relentless chauvinism of having almost every female character, including Jessica Biel as Captain Carissa Sosa, referred to as hot is also tedious.”

    Moving the discussion from that to an examination of the role the Sosa character plays was something you did (commendably) and that’s what I was responding to in my last comment.

    You know, we could have had a really good discussion about this and I am genuinely interested in your perspective, which is clearly different to mine. Another time hopefully.

  24. You’ve been very kind Thomas!! 2.5 stars is very, very generous of you! :)

    I don’t think I’ve lost my ‘focus’ as much in a cinema since that damn Rocky and Bullwinkle movie with De Niro a few years back. All I remember is an overwhelming desire to slit my wrists after seeing that!

    Anyway, after the opening scene of The A-Team I had a very bad feeling and the feeling just never went away. I think quite a few of the people contributing to this thread are proof why the film will probably make a squillion anyway.

    It’s all well and good to insist that critics who trash something either don’t GET it or are arrogantly comparing everything to Citizen Kane. But regardless of how mindless you think a film will be, you’ve still got to have SOME damn standard, surely? And The A-Team fails them all. Tossing any pretension of any reality out of the window for every single second of its duration is just an insult to people’s intelligence. But then again I liked The Losers, and someone told me that it’s guilty of the very same things I’ve accused The A-Team of.

    Damn, I think I may be a hypocrite. ;) Or is that, hypocritic?

  25. I had a bad feeling even hearing that a movie was being made—these movie re-makes of TV series tend to work poorly. (But I will reserve final judgement until the day I have actually seen the movie.)

    I too, however, would like to question your statement “The relentless chauvinism of having almost every female character, including Jessica Biel as Captain Carissa Sosa, referred to as hot is also tedious.”—starting with the fact that a chauvinist is a staunch nationalist…

    More to the point:

    o This group is supposed to consist of macho men in a macho-man sub-culture. They work with men, they fight with men, and they deal with “male” interests (e.g. guns and cars) for the most part. Women naturally tend to occur only as the odd damsel in distress or romantic/sexual interest.

    As a consequence, a focus on how hot women are would often simply be a realistic depiction, and why should we make a depiction less realistic in this aspect? (Notwithstanding that the overall realistm is likely to be low.)

    o Watch a few chick-flics, and you will find that there is a lot of objectification and sexism coming from fictional women too—and I, in turn, find it very tedious that all objectification done by men is considered offensive, while that done by women is not. (Speaking of the general debate, not your, unknown, overall take.)

    o We should be careful not to cater to the overly-PC or gender-feministic crowds: Let boys be boys.

  26. wow! I enjoyed reading the comments section more then the movie review! Bravo to Thomas for having the balls to defend himself! ……….

    although I do agree with the commenters about your chauvinism angle. I think it is a real cop out to bring up the lack of a strong female lead, when from just that kid c spoiler I can easily see that Biel’s role is much stronger then any female lead that was represented in the tv series. Based on your comments you seem to have watched an episode or two and you really have no business attacking the movie for being chauvinistic.

    Why didn’t you attack Sex in the City 2 for being chauvinistic? Not one strong male lead. But thats okay, because the audience has the common sense to know that the movie is made for women and those women watching it don’t want to see a man control the film for any major length of time.

    The character name of Mr. Big is sexist. Did you see anyone in the A-Team movie called Mrs. Tits?

  27. @David O’Connell – Wow! I just re-read your review and you really did hate it:

    “A genuine leading contender for the worst film ever made.” Ha ha!

    @Michael Eriksson – You’ve raised some good points so thanks for that. My main reply is to say that there’s a difference between depicting chauvinist characters and having aspects of a film perpetrating or endorsing that chauvinism through presenting it as normal or even a bit of good ol’ harmless fun. Not that The A-Team is even that bad and I never said it was. Its treatment of women as predominantly anonymous babes is as cartoonish as the action. I just got bored with it all.

    @jj – I’ve got every right to critique this film regardless of my familiarity with the television show. I tell the Twilight fans the same thing – a film has to stand up on its own merits regardless of the source material.

    The final point for me to make today is that the “women objectify men too” argument doesn’t wash with me because it does not happen to nearly the same degree and it doesn’t make it right anyway. You’re going to have to come up with a pretty amazing counter-argument to convince me otherwise on that point.

    By the way, I haven’t seen either of the Sex and the City films because I’m pretty sure that I will hate them. So I can’t comment on them because I’ve got no right to. Based on my love of action films – especially ones from the 1980s – I thought I would enjoy The A-Team but despite the film getting off to a great start it lost me. Hopefully that experience will be different for everybody else who is really wanting it to be a film that they will like. Fingers crossed.

  28. @Thomas/jj

    Your comment lead my thoughts down two paths:

    o To what degree is objectification wrong?

    I have never managed to find a clear definition of this term (in fact, its use is typically very unspecific and seems to be used as an ipso facto “argument” to ban portrayals of naked or near-naked women, irrespective of context); however, I would try something like “focusing on one particular aspect of a human, without deeper concern for his/hers internal life.”.

    In a next step, we simply have to look at how we behave in almost any context: By this standard we objectify actors, chefs, garbage men, singers, bus drivers, …, almost all of the time—and there is nothing wrong with this. On the contrary, life would be extraordinarily impractical if we did not. There is only room for so many deeper relationships in so much time and with so much effort. There is no reason why it would be worse to objectify a beautiful (wo-)man by e.g. an admiring look (but the situation would be different in the case of e.g. a spouse). In fact, many a deep romantic relation has started with a thought of purely sexual and impersonal nature.

    Thus, objectification is usually perfectly in order. The problems start when objectification is treated differently depending on e.g. the sex of the involved parties. (Say that women are allowed to do it, but men are not.)

    Obviously, the above may need revision depending on the exact definition used, but I suspect that any sufficiently fitting definition would lead to more-or-less the same conclusion.

    o I have not seen the Sex and the City movies either, but I have five of the TV seasons on DVD—and find them quite enjoyable. The interesting thing is that the show points to the flaws of women to a very high degree. The result is that, while the show is mostly told from the women’s POV, it is the women that look worse. Yes, there are many male freaks and idiots, but none of the recurring characters look as bad as the four women. Arguably, none of even the one-episode men looks as bad as Carrie.

    Would not a clear-headed woman look upon a highly macho film or TV show in a similar way? Would she not have a laugh at the silly macho men, rather than go off in a huff and write a letter to her senator complaining about the sexist attitudes displayed in Hollywood movies? (Note that I am not saying that all women, or men, actually are clear-headed.)

  29. Good review, it lets me know what to expect from the movie. Liam Neeson seems like a really weird choice for the George Peppard role, but maybe when I see it, I’ll get used to it.
    The template for this movie should have been the tone of the season 4 finale – completely different from the rest of the series. BA gets shot in the arm, the guest star (a recurring character) gets shot and killed, and the other guest star is a vet’s Amerasian teenage daughter, played by – Tia Carrere!
    They go back to Vietnam, all of them deal with memories of the war (in a black and white montage set to the tune “Eve of Destruction”), it was really a slightly more adult approach but still with characters who had personalities that were over the top.
    Watch it online and you’ll see a very different A-Team, just for that one episode.

  30. Look. action movies are watched by EVERYone. It’s stupid in the year 2010 to think that women only watch “chick flicks” and men only watch “action movies”. Yes, the tv show had no strong female characters (i watched the show religously as a kid). But need I remind you that it’s almost 30 years later? If you’re going to update it, update it so that it reflects the modern military which is chock full of strong women (and men, of course) who are fighting and dying for love of country and bc it’s their duty. I haven’t seen the movie, but I’m just responding to some of the sillier comments on chauvinism on this site. Funny that that has provoked the most conversation as it seems to be the very least of the movies problems. I don’t see why they needed to include a “love story” in the first place. And more than one critic has complained about the frenetic pacing of the action sequences that make them hard to follow and not so satisfying. And while I don’t need a movie to be completely realistic, you want it to be BELIEVABLE. and when i saw the trailer with the tank in the air, i saw no reason to think this movie would be worth watching at all. I also thought the Charlie Angels movies were crappy and I hate Transformers films for the same reasons I stated that this looks bad, so… I don’t understant why filmmakers seem to have forgotten how to do just a good old action flick. Like Die Hard, for example. You could understand everything that was going on, there was good action, a few things that were slightly unrealistic, but i still believed that it was POSSIBLE. And I don’t think that’s too much to ask for from a movie- yes, even an action one.

  31. @another jj – Brilliantly expressed. I couldn’t have said it better myself. Thanks for taking the time to say all that so concisely and rationally.

    And yes, Die Hard is sensational. I think more people need to revisit old-school action films like that to be reminded how short-changed we often are today.

  32. @another jj and @thomas
    You both hit the nail on the head as far as Die Hard. The movie was brilliant. Action (lots of it), comedy, outstanding dialog, maybe the best action villain ever, and it turned Bruce Willis into a mega-start. Too bad some of his follow ups were Hudson Hawk and Die Hard 2 and 3. And I don’t expect that out of every action movie, btw. It’s too much, Just like the first Lethal Weapon. But, I hope that when I see A-Team (And I plan on seeing a “bargain” matinee at 6 dollars), I am not so disappointed that I count this movie with Hudson Hawk or Ishtar among the worst movies ever made. I really hope that. Because that was some serious badness.

  33. The TV show was crap. The trailer looks like a crappy movie based on a crappy TV Show. You can’t polish a TURD.

  34. [Moderator: This comment has been substantially edited, however, the main point of the comment is still intact.]

    To all of you arguing at this nonsense freakin’ reviews, well … you don’t even know how to appreciate what an individual wrote.

    Well how about this, you guys write your own movie reviews and then we will put nasty comments on it …

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