Monday, June 14, 2010

Can YOU Find the A-Team?

On Friday, June 11, the '80s returned in a box office brawl of rock 'em, sock 'em proportions, pitting the Karate Kid against my beloved A-Team -- and based on the weekend's ticket sales, America prefers kids beating each other up over fugitive soldiers of fortune. Despite my bias as an A-Team super-fan, I totally understand -- until now, The Karate Kid has been a four film franchise (and that's generously including The Karate Kid 3 and The Next Karate Kid), which entails much less commitment from an audience than The A-Team's five seasons' worth of television. Children of the '80s are more likely to have seen a Karate Kid film than an episode of The A-Team, by proxy of time and availability, so nostalgia for the former will trump any interest in the latter. Plus, The Karate Kid is a family film, which always take the gold. So, like I said, I get it. These trends speak for themselves.

I just don't have to like it. The A-Team is still an awesome franchise, and wholly misunderstood, and the new movie only makes it more so. Here's why.

First of all, the original A-Team series was among the last of the hour long dramedies (comedy + drama) that didn't require fanatically faithful viewership. Fans of Lost know what I'm talking about -- miss one episode, and you'll never know why the smoke monster is a manager at McDonald's in a parallel dimension. Everything you needed to know about the A-Team, you heard in the first twenty seconds of any given episode: "In 1972 a crack commando unit was sent to prison by a military court for a crime they didn't commit . . . Now they survive as soldiers of fortune." Any questions? No? Okay, let's start blowing stuff up.

Sure, this new film falls into the prequel/reboot trap, like Batman Begins, Casino Royale, and Star Trek before it, creating the illusion of contextual substance, but therein also lies the promise of a baggage-free cinematic experience. You already know how it's going to end! Bruce Wayne becomes Batman, Kirk becomes the Captain, and the A-Team, despite 90 minutes' worth of righteous fury, will still be on the run from the government. If they weren't, they wouldn't be the A-Team! So, as is the case for these origin tales, the fun isn't in the destination, but the journey. Since so many films are twist-ending oriented nowadays, predictability is almost as unpredictable, and equally appreciated. I'll call it painless predictability. Sometimes people just need structure.

Unfortunately, the critics expected too much of it. As connoisseurs of the cinema, surely the likes of Roger Ebert understand that The A-Team isn't Shakespeare. It isn't based on a true story, or even inspired by real events. It is, as a movie, inspired by a television show and should be judged accordingly. So, the burning question is, does The A-Team accomplish in 90 minutes what the original series did in 100 episodes? I think so, and since I own all five seasons, I think I trump Ebert and company in this category. This contemporary A-Team could've easily exaggerated its roots in military espionage, making a statement about corruption at all levels of power, but it didn't. It remained a live action cartoon, where tanks can fall out of the sky and drive away, and men can kick attackers clear across a room.

This is the A-Team -- superheroes, sans spandex. No, they have gold chains and flight jackets, instead -- costumes all the same. Sure, their dramatic catchphrase, "I love it when a plan comes together" is much less convicting than, "With great power comes great responsibility," but it's a little less barbaric than, "It's clobberin' time!" They have a specialized vehicle, even, one they drive in the light of day despite their status as government fugitives -- and they never get caught. They made cannons of air conditioner tubing and shot lettuce heads at corrupt land barons. These rules don't apply to films like, say, The Hurt Locker, or Saving Private Ryan, or even McHale's Navy. The A-Team was never meant to be M*A*S*H. Bugs Bunny is more like it, with the army their babbling Elmer Fudd. These "critics" should relate. For all their sophosticated analysis, the A-Team still eludes them.

So more than any crime they didn't commit, what haunts the A-Team now is time. As heady as it seems, perhaps a post-9/11 world can't understand the A-Team, and how the potential corruption of the military offers a backdrop for goofy, violent vigilante justice. Its core audience has aged, too, and with kids in tow would favor the more family-friendly fare of The Karate Kid. As it was, my friends dropped their kids off with a babysitter to catch the midnight premiere with my girlfriend and me. Thankfully, I can rest assured, that the spirit of the A-Team will always be around . . . as long as someone is willing to find them.

No comments: