“In 1972, a crack commando unit was sent to prison by a military court for a crime they didn’t commit. These men promptly escaped from a maximum security stockade to the Los Angeles underground. Today, still wanted by the government, they survive as soldiers of fortune. If you have a problem, if no one else can help, and if you can find them, maybe you can hire… the A-Team.”
– Opening narration to the A Team
The A- team was one of those classic 80s series with cheesy effects, overacting but a really good theme tune and enough energy to carry you to the point where you really wanted to know what was going to happen this week. As with a lot of reboots, the film took most of this and carried it through, but with the extra violence that marks modern action films. Personally I think the film is a bit underrated – it’s not a brilliant film, but it is very good in many of the ways that matter. I’m not sure that Liam Neeson is the best person they could have picked for Hannibal, but the casting of the rest of the team is impeccable, Sharlto Copley, in particular, playing Murdoch with brio.
The film is clearly a reboot, with an update of the events surrounding the disgrace of the team moving them forward from Vietnam to Iraq, but it also serves as something of a prequel – the film lays out all the gory details of what went wrong and why they are on the running, finishing with an updated version of the quote that used to mark the beginning of every tv episode.
One of the things that marks out the A Team as a military force is that they would much rather con an enemy than shoot them – or con someone else into taking action. They are a small group, and whilst they are not non-violent they know that the best way to get what they want is to get someone else to do the heavy lifting (ideally the villain of the weak) and then get someone else to tidy up the loose ends (usually the police).
This is one of the themes which carries through into the film, with several set pieces being based around long cons. The finale (spoiler alert), needs them to try and trade a dead man for their lives and liberty. Slightly problematic is that they don’t even have the body of said man, since the reason he’s dead is that he got blown up in a (rogue) CIA mandated airstrike… Now the deal is, as ever, an elaborate bluff upon double bluff wrapped up in an enigma and so on. They know that the CIA man they’re dealing with is rogue, but he thinks he’s been too clever and so he just wants to clear the playing pieces away and move on. He needs to be put in the spotlight and Face comes up with a plan. But this plan requires that thy have something to trade, or someone – General Morrison –whom they do not in fact have (did I mention that he was dead?). They want to show the world the CIA man killing Morrison, so they need some kind of double, ideally in a way that means that the double doesn’t get hurt. I know, Murdoch’s a bit unhinged anyway, why doesn’t he pretend to be Morrison – it’s ok, we’ll give him a bullet proof mask! Whoah, whoah – hang on a second there. Bullet proof mask? Yes, it’s simple, we’ll melt down some Kevlar and recast it as a mask…*
Kevlar is a trade name for one of family of complex aromatic polymers called aramids. These are related to nylons, and the aromatic part comes from the fact that they have lots of benzene rings in the structure. Aramids are used in armour applications because they can absorb a lot of energy quickly, and are strong and durable. They are usually turned into a fibre and woven into cloth, sometimes being used to reinforce a polymer matrix and sometimes being left ‘dry’ and as a result more flexible. Unfortunately, you can’t melt them down to reform into something new – they’re reasonably heat tolerant, for plastics, but they start to degrade when you get up to the sorts of temperatures that can make them deform. Myth busted, to coin a phrase – and sadly, there is no ‘Plan B’.
* I have seen a statement which suggests that they actually ‘melt’ down the ceramic plates from body armour – but that makes even less sense!