In the final days of the Iraq War members of an elite commando unit were sent to prison by a military court for a crime they didn’t commit. These men promptly escaped from four maximum security prisons to take revenge on the man who framed them. If you are having a boring summer at the movies if Sex and the City 2 left a bad taste in your mouth and if you can find a theater playing it you need to see The A-Team.
It’s no overstatement to declare that The A-Team is the first great action film of the summer. Say what you will about Iron Man 2 but the degree and multitude of insane sequences in The A-Team trump the more narcissistic Marvel sequel -- at least in that particular category. It is no innovation that a summer blockbuster would employ action as its primary tool for separating you from your cash but The A-Team does so with an entirely different mindset than most brain-dead popcorn fare.
Instead of assaulting us with nonstop action and then having the audacity to mask itself as being high art The A-Team embraces just how ludicrous the action sequences are and makes absolutely no apologies for it. That’s not to say though the movie has nothing to offer beyond the explosions and midair collisions. In fact what makes The A-Team such a damn good film is the clever underscore that complements every moment of mesmerizing destruction. Joe Carnahan along with the other writers gives us moments that subtly poke fun at the outlandishness of what we’re seeing that not only makes the absurd action forgivable but immediately elevates the material above the typical summer fodder.
Carnahan recognized that given the tone of both the series and his last film (Smokin' Aces) the action scenes needed to flow uninterrupted and here it's very streamlined only pausing briefly to give us hilarious interactions between the larger-than-life characters before diving head-first back into the explosive fray. Until the very end of the film each plan is carried out before our eyes as it is being hashed out to neutralize any lacking in the pace. It would be easy to then accuse The A-Team of being front-loaded given the slow build to the final sequence but I would argue that is merely a nod to the evolution of Face’s character as a leader and that it never really loses steam.
What really sells this film however is its cast. Like the original quartet of chaos each actor brings something fantastic to the table. Bradley Cooper as Face has that inescapably charming swagger and confidence we’ve come to expect from him; Liam Neeson unsurprisingly is the perfect blend of in-the-trenches badass and cool-as-ice leader. Even Rampage Jackson in the role made famous by a guy donning the entire payload of Ft. Knox around his neck (that'd be Mr. T) turns in a respectably tough performance with a few moments of decent hubris. But it’s Sharlto Copley who really steals the show as Howlin’ Mad Murdock. True to his character's moniker Copley cranks up the lunacy and plays Murdock with a hilariously reckless abandon that mirrors the tone of the entire film.
Though not without fault (the less-than-thrilling CG near the end of the film is amateurish at best and many will find the over-the-top action too silly to appreciate) all in all this movie rocks hard. The interplay between our heroes is at the heart of the film's entertainment value and is what you will probably like the most about it. Personally I can’t remember the last time I had this much fun at the movies. The A-Team is far better than it has any right to be mainly because it is as much a four-sided character piece as it is a balls-out actioner.
The year is 2057 and Al Gore be damned global cooling is threatening mankind: The sun is on the verge of death which would equal the death of the planet. Seven years earlier a space mission Icarus I was shot up to deliver a payload that would reignite the sun; nobody has since heard from those aboard all of whom are assumed dead. Now it’s up to Icarus II comprised of an eight-passenger crew of physicists and astronauts led by Capt. Kaneda (Hiroyuki Sanada) and including pilot Cassie (Rose Byrne) biologist Corazon (Michelle Yeoh) and archrivals Capa (Cillian Murphy) and Mace (Chris Evans). As the ship is floating along a blip shows up on the audible radar ostensibly coming from Icarus I. The crew is faced with a difficult crucial decision only to be compounded when a miscalculation by the navigator (Benedict Wong) takes them slightly off course. If they pursue the signal from Icarus I it could unlock key secrets as to what went wrong the first time and provide an extra payload—or it could be a fatal mistake. Either way it’s nowhere near the toughest decision they’ll be forced to make. As a heartthrob who can act Cillian Murphy is precisely the double threat Chris Evans aspires to be someday soon. Maybe that’ll happen on his next movie The Nanny Diaries because Sunshine finds him miscast—and testosterone-y when he’s supposed to be testy. Evans fresh off the more suitable Fantastic Four sequel isn’t quite cut out for the heady stuff in which he must internalize his inner action star. Murphy to be fair is no great shakes either. Clearly he’s now a Danny Boyle favorite but in their last collaboration 2002’s 28 Days Later the doomsday scenario was different and Murphy’s character would’ve been toast if he were half as sedate as his character Capa is in Sunshine. He comes alive towards the end but that’s when the movie comes undone. A possible future Boyle favorite talented Aussie actress Byrne who starred in this year’s Boyle-produced 28 Weeks Later could’ve benefited from more face time—as could have the film. In other words there’s no true female voice. Talented supporters like Yeoh (Memoirs of a Geisha) and Troy Garity (Barbershop) who stars as the second-in-command are grossly underused but Sunshine does need all the Chris Evans it can muster lest bad box office attacks. Just as his actors in Sunshine are our last great hope to save the dying sun director Danny Boyle may be our last great hope to save the sci-fi genre. Accordingly sci-fi fans will definitely love where Boyle’s head is at but the rest of us will think he’s just got a bad case of ADD. Boyle director of beloved movies Trainspotting and 28 Days Later as well as largely reviled The Beach spends most of the movie with proper pacing messages and themes—only to erase it all from our memories with a spastic final act. He takes the ending in all manner of directions and genres after sucking us in with serious quasi-topical commentary on life in general and life aboard a spaceship. It’s too bad. Ditto writer/frequent collaborator Alex Garland (The Beach 28 Days Later) who touches on some fascinating far regions of sci-fi-dom but winds up leaving them in space dust to co-indulge on the ending. The superb cinematography is on par with that of Boyle’s past work but the simpler shots are more entrancing than the complex ones: When the characters sit on an observation deck to reflect on a close-up of the burning sun it’s more profound and impressive than the frenetic special-effects-heavy camerawork at the end. Which is perhaps the best way to sum up the slow-fast dynamic of the film.