I saw this film a few years after its initial release and rewatched it recently per the request of a friend who is about to ship off to OCS training. Upon my initial viewing of the film, I enjoyed all the blatant humor within the film that I had already come to adore from the minds of Trey Parker and Matt Stone. This second time around, however, I was able to pick up on many of the slighted social critiques and clever political diatribes that were initially less apparent. I make no qualms about my love of the work of Parker and Stone and while they may receive flack for their bawdy antics and complete disregard for moral decency, the two clearly understand the problems of the world far better than most politicians could even begin to imagine. As such, Team America is something profoundly larger than a musical about puppets fighting the war on terrorism, as it is more than appropriate to say that South Park is about much more than a group of kids growing up in rural Colorado. Team America is instead a scathingly accurate commentary on our world post-911, particularly how we dealt with the cultural appropriation of patriotism, terrorism and national unity in a time when all seemed dire. Team America amidst its explosions, toilet humor and knowingly terrible acting reminds viewers that comedy is the best medicine to despair, as well as the most accessible route to astute social commentary.
Team America: World Police follows a group of trained soldiers whose soul purpose appears to be the assurance of freedom globally and the cessation of all things terrorist. The group is led by a man named Carson whose sauve ways and leadership assure that the group will fight terrorism with little trouble, however, after a cowardly attack by a dying terrorist Carson is killed and Team America is left without a vital organ to their entire process. Confused and desperate, the groups leader Spottswoode, recruits a respected Broadway actor named Gary to fill the void, believing that his excellent acting skills will prove useful in the infiltration of terrorist cells and the discovery of any hidden WMD's. Reluctant, Gary attempts to sequester himself into a life of solitude that finds him constantly beating himself up over the death of his family by zoo guerillas. It is not until Gary reflects on his own place in assuring freedom that he decides to join Team America and fight terrorism. His addition to the group is received with mixed feelings, some finding him absolutely appalling and unfit to replace Carson, while others find him to be a perfect replacement. Agreeing to help, Team America, along with Gary, plunge themselves into dealing with the removal of WMD's from Cairo only to discover too late that a far bigger player controls the terrorist movement, that of North Korean dictator Kim Jong-Il, whose own self-deprecating loneliness has led him to desire the complete destruction of the world. Oblivious to the true problems of the world, Jong-Il is helped by American actors who see Team America as conservative blowhards. The group known collectively as the Film Actors Guild is led by Alec Baldwin and agrees to do a benefit in North Korea. This benefit, as Jong-Il knows, will allow him a moment of global distraction long enough to bomb the world. While the group has trouble unifying to fend of Jong-Il in a last sprint of unity the group is able to deter his actions and Gary is finally able to discover his true acting talents. The film closes on a frozen frame of Team America celebrating their victory as they await their next mission to assure freedom, because as the film reminds us, it is not free, but actually costs "a buck'o'five."
As I said earlier, Team America is clearly a commentary on our own cultural discourse following 9/11. As always, Parker and Stone are careful to critique the illogical nature of both sides. Conservatives are critiqued through the scenes in which over zealous patriotism receives unquestioned praises, as is evidenced by the "What Would You Do For Freedom?" song which eerily parallels most every song Toby Keith has made since the terrorist attacks in 2001. Similarly, the "American" things defended within the film are all clearly emerging from a white perspective, which is humorously done through making a member of Team America a white male from Nebraska, who is a natural born leader. This moment clearly mocks the rise of a return to an older America that emerged after 9/11, which obviously meant the relegation of persons of color. The film is also clever enough to dismiss the zealous counters of the liberal media, which automatically disregards freedom fighting groups like Team America as flag waivers. The liberals, realized through the Film Actors Guild in the film, unknowingly agree to engage in terrorist activities, because to them anything that contradicts conservative values is inherently good, despite knowing that the other side in the film is obviously Kim Jong-Il. Similarly, the film criticizes our own government's commentary on a post-PATRIOT ACT world that justifies invasions of privacy simply in the name of freedom fighting. It is no coincidence that the computer used in the film is titled as I.N.T.E.L.L.I.G.E.N.C.E. as it is used as a justification for clearly illegal acts on Americans; this is particularly poignant within the film as we are never provided with the words that fit into the acronym. The government within the film attempts to mask problems with huge phrases and catchy titles, while the conservatives and liberals feud over ideology that would clearly benefit from simply acknowledging a middle ground. As you can see amidst images of vomit, elementary gay jokes and an absurdly funny puppet sex scene, Team America offers a fully realized vision of our failings in a post-terrorist world.
Team America screams rental, but is not bad by any means. It really is a group viewing experience that will be greatly helped by the inclusion of PBR.