This year’s silly season saw two muscle-bound ’80s throwbacks slugging it out on the big screen.
In the red corner, Sylvester Stallone’s The Expendables – a no-holds-barred actioner featuring a who’s who of celluloid ass-kickers.
In the blue corner, The A-Team – Joe Carnahan’s souped-up remake of the cult TV show.
Incredibly, given its limb-chopping carnage, Stallone’s film won the box-office bout, waving its $256m worldwide haul in the face of Carnahan’s familyfriendly reboot (itself only managing $177m).
But, as this home-ent rematch confirms, numbers aren’t always the best measure of success…
Sold as the action movie to end all action movies, The Expendables sees Stallone’s Barney Ross and his team of mercs – Jason Statham, Jet Li et al – pitch up in a fictional South American country to save the locals from a ruthless dictatorship.
As you’d expect, the hackneyed plot is little more than an excuse for Stallone and his gang of legendary bruisers to blow up some serious shit.
Trouble is, without the giddy excitement of a cinema full of punters pumped to see their heroes together on the big screen, you’re left with a decidedly average Friday-night flick that would have headed straight to DVD had it not been for its fantasy casting.
Cruising on nostalgia and failing to deliver even on its own mission statement, the film suffers from dull, seen-it-all-before set-pieces, bland performances (save for Mickey Rourke’s standout turn as a haunted ex-Expendable) and a crippling lack of chemistry between the eponymous teammates.
None of which can be said about The A-Team, a modern-day update which sees Col. Hannibal Smith (Liam Neeson) and his ‘alpha unit’ – Bradley Cooper’s Faceman, Quinton Jackson’s B.A. Baracus and Sharlto Copley’s ‘Howling Mad’ Murdock – framed for a crime they didn’t commit.
Cleaving close to their small-screen counterparts, the four leads approach the testosterone-rinsed mayhem with charm and brio. And while the film is far from perfect (weak villains, convoluted plot, shaky CG), it does manage to translate the camaraderie and humour of the much-loved TV show into a satisfying – and fun – origin story.
It also boasts some gloriously bombastic set-pieces, which throw up everything from flying tanks to grandiose sleights of hand that even David Copperfield could only dream of.
Ludicrous? Yes. Seen it all before? Not bloody likely. In terms of Blu-ray bonuses, the opponents are pretty evenly weighted.
The A-Team gets both theatrical and extended cuts – the latter giving more screentime to Jessica Biel’s tenacious, fugitive-hunting army captain – while both discs contain picture-inpicture commentaries and plenty of behind-the-scenes featurettes.
To see what really makes The A-Team the undisputed champ, though, you need only look at the gag reels: the Expendables fail to raise a chuckle even when they’re cocking about, while Neeson and co’s comical corpsing exemplifies their film’s banter-fuelled drive.
In fact, Sly could do worse than take a few notes from the lads for his already planned sequel; just maybe, he’ll finally bring us the action extravaganza he promised.
Better late than never, eh?
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