Team America: World Police's Satire and Parody Is Still Relevant Today
Fifteen years ago, Team America: World Police usurped the pop culture landscape and left a lasting legacy in song and much, much more.
Since “South Park” hit the scene in 1997, comedy duo Trey Parker and Matt Stone have built their names on a subversive, nothing-is-sacred brand of humor. They’ve accomplished a great deal throughout the past 20 years, including a beloved Broadway musical with 2011’s The Book of Mormon, but their greatest work came in October of 2004. Team America: World Police is not only the duo’s masterpiece but also my all-time favorite comedy.
Starring an all-marionette puppet cast, Team America: World Police follows popular Broadway actor Gary Johnston. Taking note of the thespian’s exceptional skills, Spottswoode, the leader of America’s most elite military squad, recruits Johnston as a spy. As we all know, spying is just acting, and Johnston’s performer prowess is instrumental in rooting out then-North Korean dictator Kim Jong-il’s terrorist plot. Meanwhile, Hollywood’s most famous actors have their own agenda.
Team America Satire Greatness
Looking at the film within the context of the broader movie landscape, Team America is a biting satire of the over-the-top action films that were so pervasive at the time. Although the Roland Emmerich/Michael Bay style of blockbuster isn’t as prevalent as today’s superhero epics, I’m convinced that, for better or worse, they will always exist in some capacity.
Name just about any trope from these types of films and Team America lampoons it masterfully. The reluctant hero, the needlessly aggressive rival with a dark past, the overtly manipulative musical score – it’s all here.
Team America: World Police often transcends parody and becomes a delightfully over-the-top action film in its own right. It takes the most absurd elements of movies like Independence Day, embraces them, and ratchets them up about half-a-dozen levels. From the accidental destruction of the Eiffel Tower to a high-speed chase through the streets of Cairo to the climactic showdown with the Hollywood elite, the film boasts more than its fair share of standout set-piece moments.
Team America's Enduring Legacy in Song
Arguably the most enduring aspect of the film’s legacy is the music. In retrospect, it’s no wonder that Parker and Stone went on to direct a proper Broadway musical – their knack for this sort of stuff dates at least as far back as 1999’s South Park: Bigger, Longer & Uncut. “America, F*** Yeah” is the obvious standout, but the other songs are worthy of just as much – if not more – praise.
“Freedom isn’t Free” highlights the nationalistic tunes that cropped up in the wake of 9/11, while “End of an Act” is both a send-up of the obligatory boy-loses-girl song and a rant against Michael Bay’s Pearl Harbor. How they managed to pull that one off is – well, it’s just one of those “you’ve just got to hear it to believe it” kind of things. Additionally, “Montage” – on top of being perfect workout music — celebrates one of cinema’s greatest pastimes, and “I’m So Ronery” is far more touching than it has any right to be.
Speaking of Team America‘s political themes, one of Parker and Stone’s greatest strengths is their tendency to mock both sides of the political spectrum. Although liberal Hollywood is among the main targets, the titular Team America itself is a satire on the United States military’s constant interference in international crises. For a movie that ends with the main character giving a speech about the ultimate lesson of the story, it somehow manages to avoid coming across as too preachy. Better still, 15 years later it’s still relevant.
Stone and Parker Puppet Masters
Now, let’s talk about the puppets. Inspired by the 1960s TV series “Thunderbirds,” these marionettes add so much to Team America‘s comedic DNA. The character expressions often venture into uncanny valley territory in the best possible way. Team member’s Joe’s face as he exclaims “I’ve never seen acting that good,” for instance, is just one all-time great visual comedy moment.
As a side note, Team America: World Police is littered with infectiously quotable dialogue that rivals Quentin Tarantino’s best films. My personal favorite line may be “I’ve got five terrorists going southeast on Bakalakadaka Street!”
Parker, Stone, and company deserve all of the credit in the world for moving forward with this form of presentation in the first place, as it was reportedly one of the most grueling experiences of their lives.
“I never want to see a puppet again,” Stone said in an interview with The Guardian. “It was really hard because they can’t do anything at all.”
So much for those hopes for a Team America 2, which is truly a shame given the hot-button political landscape of today that’s ripe for political satire. And a parody of superhero movies would be amazing in the hands of Stone and Parker.
Even so, the movie still holds up perfectly well as a standalone piece on its 15-year anniversary. Nothing is wasted here, as everyone involved takes full advantage of the movie’s premise — mining it for all it’s worth without having the film overstay its welcome.
Team America: World Police is one of my top five favorite movies, that I can re-watch several times a year and still enjoy just as much as I did when it released. Watch it again and see if you feel the same way.