Because he was far too young and his dad wouldn't let him watch before, Kraig Taylor-Bryant finally gets to grips with very strong and offensive language and Team America: World Police...
There’s a film that I kept hearing about growing up, not one that I ever considered watching, and I certainly wasn’t going to be allowed to watch it when I was the age when I first heard about it. It was also a film which I heard had a similar puppet style that the original Thunderbirds TV show had. And that’s really what threw me off to begin with; I’m not saying that the Thunderbirds TV show is bad, it just seems like a generational thing where some people from younger generations can struggle to appreciate some styles of telling a story, such as through the original animation style of the original Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles or the Transformers original TV show. But after years of thinking about Team America, I saw the TV show on Amazon Prime, and thought that since I hear about the film so often, especially on my film course in college, it must be worth watching. So since I can for free, thanks to the wonders of digital streaming, I might as well…
It’s strange to think that this show was done by the same people that made South Park. Both follow completely different ways of portraying a character and the genre in general seems fairly different. Team America tells the story of an actor, who is chosen by a corporate funded organisation to pretend to be a terrorist in order to find out intel on their movements and where they’re planning to attack next, whilst uncovering another conspiracy. And yet South Park is a series of separate stories based around a group of kids, which is comedy, so is similar in that sense, but completely different otherwise.
What really made me want to write about this film, was the way that the fight sequences were done. When they’re intentionally made to look like a joke, it does, and when they want it to look like an actual film, it's really realistic (for puppets I mean). But the best part of Team America is the deep meaning behind the film, whilst keeping the humour present in the moment, so that it fits with all the stereotypes of genres of American film and cultures throughout. The film works on the level of many forms of humour (mainly offensive) but the film itself works as a film that is a clear joke in itself, as the offensiveness it uses is about even America, which is no doubt where this film was made. In fact, a lot of the parts of this film that make it more offensive to America than anywhere else are the typical elements of film that are incorporated into many scenes. So you’ll see your typical small nods to Star Wars that you often saw in older films, usually through the Wilhelm scream, but this film is a little different. And parodies of other typical events of film, like main character deciding not to join the team, then something convinces him to come back and join.
The start of the film, seems to have a very generic and patriotic intro, that you would often see in a lot of war films, a good example of it being used in other films would be in Heartbreak Ridge, so in a way, this film is linking to their typical war films as well. This leads into the happy peaceful atmosphere that we often see in other films, before it is interrupted by a terrorist attack. What gives this scene a twist, which is seen often in this film, is when it gets to Team America showing up, and one of them ends up in a fist fight with a terrorist, and its purposely done to look like puppets, and it's that humour that helps to convince you early on that this film is going to “take the mick” so to speak. Also the epic music that is playing through this part is what really makes you laugh, because it looks like they’re just slapping people upwards and downwards, it almost looks like a cat fight during this epic music, making it obvious that it’s a “mick take”. The fact that in this starting scene, Team America offer the terrorists a chance to surrender before they start blowing up landmarks, is what makes us think of them as the heroes to start off with, and when they do blow up the landmarks, we can't help but laugh, because its not the thing that we expect of typical heroes, of course in a lot of action films there’s a lot of explosions, but the fact that they do it to kill one person is what makes it ridiculous, and makes it clear that it's “taking the mick” of America's desire to blow stuff up in the film, and that’s just brilliant.
Following this, we have the main bad ass character killed off at the start of the film with the love interest screaming. This mocks the cliché that is of a main member of a team being killed off to bring a team close together, as well as to leave a gap to be filled. I think this scene may have been done to make it funny that its mocking other films, but for me it didn’t really seem to “hit home”, although I understood the humour in it. It’s meant to sort of make the audience think and laugh, if they remember this cliché from many films they watched before. There’s obviously the typical bad ass voice in this dying character, to make it seem like it’s the awesome guy in their group that is killed to make the audience hate the villains right at the start of the film, but of course its done ironically here to make the audience laugh. What’s really funny though is the stereotypical line of “looks like this is a one way ticket”, which sounds like a very cheesy film. Of course it's not like it's an overused line, buts it is one you would be likely to hear in an old American action film in this situation, and the love interest screams a typical “nooo” which is used often in films, such as when Marty watches “Doc” get killed at the start of Back to the Future, or in the Lion king, when Mufasa dies and, well the list goes on, but this line is definitely typical in American films. What I find really interesting, is that there is a scene quite soon after this, in which this guy offers the main character a chance to work for him, except this time we see a weird twist in these events and Gary, the main character, thinks that the guy wants to have sex with him, this being one of the ridiculously funny twists of the film as it leads in to be used for comedic purposes later in the film.
The film also has some pretty dark humour like, when the main character is singing a song about AIDS, it could be argued that its bringing light to a dark subject, and the film jokes about many dark topics of the world, but what’s great about it is that it makes a joke about them to make them seem a little more positive. In other scenes, like the one in which we see terrorists blowing up a canal, they do it in slow motion to make it more overdramatic, mocking American film as well as terrorists, bringing the light to these dark events going on nowadays. That's not to say that such events are a joke, but that this film is full of dark humour, that can either be taken seriously, or as a joke, but of course its all intended to be a joke. At a later point in the film, we actually see the mention again of when Gary and “Codsworth” (a particular typical posh name) the guy who Gary assumed wanted him to go in his car to have sex with him. In this mention Codsworth wants Gary to prove his dedication by performing oral sex on him, which is pretty ridiculous and makes no sense, but that’s the funny thing in this film, it makes little to no sense, and that’s why it works.
We get to see a bit more dark humour through the fake words that they seem to use when imitating people of different countries, such as “drka drka drka”, which is quite funny. The way the terrorists are portrayed definitely paints them in a different light, which I suppose you could say is what makes it different to other terrorist films, as in this one, you can find something to laugh about, to help you stray away from the seriousness from current events for two hours, which is what everyone needs, and I think this dark humour does it very well. It's also demonstrated when Gary has to convince the terrorists that he is like them, and gives them a fake dark backstory about goats being terrorised by what I would assume to be Americans, to suit the other terrorists motives for what they are doing, but of course it could have been any other country, so who knows. But anyway, after telling this story, we see an almost typical line of the leader saying “I like you, you have balls” which is something we see fairly commonly in other films, but this changes when we actually hear the inappropriate follow up line, when the guy says “I like balls”, which, I think is enough to make the audience at least think about what he just said, and smirk.
There’s a lot more dark humour throughout the film which definitely seem to be the funnier moments for me, such as when the U.N come to inspect Kim Jong Il's house for nuclear weapons, but he won't let the inspector do his job. It's just brilliant that the inspector says that if Kim Jong Il doesn’t let him do his job then the U.N will have to send him a letter saying how annoyed or angry they are that he isn’t letting them inspect the building. It's pretty dark that it says this, but it works because it's basically mocking that the U.N really doesn’t accomplish much, this kind of humour actually relates to real life, and that’s what makes it one of the funnier moments. Another moment that I found particularly funny was when Gary is given a hammer to use if he ever gets suspected by the terrorists, which funny because it makes you wonder how killing himself with that weapon is going to be more painless that what they would do to him, so it's kind of a confusing moment, but also a funny one. And we also have the more funny moments, like when actors are made fun of in the film, such as Matt Damon, simply through him only saying “Matt Damon” throughout the whole film, which is just one of the things that makes this film so ridiculous that it's brilliant.
However, there’s one scene in the film that is surprisingly deep, for the amount of swear words that’s in it.. When Gary is trying to convince the people of the world that Team America is trying to save the world from destruction, he makes a speech, which he earlier heard from a drunk guy in a bar. What’s funny is, when you hear it from the drunken guy, it doesn’t seem to make sense, but when Gary says it as a speech, it's funny and it makes sense and that’s just textbook writing. The drunken guy says that there are three kinds of people in the world “dicks assholes and pussies” his explanation of this is what encourages Gary to talk about this in the final scene of the film, he says: “We're dicks! We're reckless, arrogant, stupid dicks. And the Film Actors Guild are pussies. And Kim Jong-Il is an asshole. Pussies don't like dicks, because pussies get fucked by dicks. But dicks also fuck assholes - assholes who just want to shit on everything. Pussies may think they can deal with assholes their way, but the only thing that can fuck an asshole is a dick, with some balls. The problem with dicks is that sometimes they fuck too much, or fuck when it isn't appropriate - and it takes a pussy to show 'em that. But sometimes pussies get so full of shit that they become assholes themselves, because pussies are only an inch-and-a-half away from assholes. I don't know much in this crazy, crazy world, but I do know that if you don't let us fuck this asshole, we are going to have our dicks and our pussies all covered in shit.”
What’s really weird, is how much this actually makes sense, because it says that the “dicks” are the people that are willing to do whatever it takes to succeed or accomplish their goals, whereas the pussies are the people that aren’t, but they try to get the job of beating the assholes anyway, but they can't because they’re not willing to do what it takes, so it's kind of inspirational, but it's also funny at the same time.
One of the things I really like about this film is the direct references that it makes to other films throughout. Such as towards the end of the film when Lisa is captured by Kim Jong Ill, but then rescued by Gary, and when he stops the countdown he tries to apologise for his mistakes but she stops him and says “you had me at” which is notably used in the film Jerry Maguire, which tom cruise starred in, (if you have seen the Lego batman film like I have you may also remember it from when Batman laughs at this scene in the cinema). Except in this film, instead of saying “you had me at hello”, Lisa says, “you had me at dicks fuck assholes”, (it's also worth mentioning that there’s a lot of swearing in this film if you haven’t already seen it.) But the fact that they changed it in this way is hilarious as it makes it sound like he was saying all that to impress her, which of course isn’t something you would usually say to impress a girl. We also have some references to some Kung Fu films/films that feature the style of fighting which is used in one of the fight scenes towards the end. It seems to have been done very well, as it has the same moment which has the main character stop/slow down which is used in the karate scene used in the Matrix, to make the impact of Morpheus hitting the ground, and in many ways is referencing this moment. One of the major reference films though is the references to Star Wars, the main scenes being the one in which they infiltrate the terrorist base, and inside the base is a bar which plays very similar music to that played in the cantina scene in Star Wars A New Hope, which in itself is particularly funny, as well as the scene in which Gary has to act to get inside the palace of Kim Jong Il, and does a Jedi mind trick on the guards, which somehow gets him through the gates.
Overall I think that the film has very strong dark humour, which works in many moments, and that’s why I think that it works as a comedy, as well as having some deeper meanings to them. It also seems to be very suitable for those that have seen many cliché type films in which lines and sequences are used more than once in other films, because this film very much mocks moments like those. If you haven’t seen it, it's definitely worth watching, and if you’re someone who often keeps up with goings on with the news, this is a good film to bring a more positive light to your day and knowing a lot of such events would help you to find humour in a large number of scenes in the film. After watching the film I finally understand that the way the people that made South Park brought the characters to life with such cheesy animations was actually very clever as it’s the characters that brought themselves out, so we didn’t need clever special effects to show that. The characters still felt like real people in those moments when the camera closes up on their emotions, even though they aren't, and the way the music helps to support the atmosphere that the characters are trying to create. So overall this film not only helped me to appreciate their other projects such as South Park, but also TV shows in general that are older than myself, because as long as the characters are made to be real to the audience, then that’s all that really matters.
Follow Kraig on Twitter @KraigandhisMac
Image - IMDb.