March 28, 2011

The Bad Buzz Was Right!

I am crying bitter, pitiful tears of shame right now, folks. Tears of shame, for I have been led astray. Near the end of my 2010 retrospective, I declared Sucker Punch as my most anticipated movie of 2011. And why wouldn't I? It was an original work by one of my favorite, up and coming directors, boasted incredible visuals and action, and looked to tell a mind bending tale of liberation and sacrifice. Unfortunately, something foul found it's way into the mesh that made up the film, and caused the whole thing to fall apart at the seems. Sucker Punch is a mess, spilling over with one mistake and bad call after another. It's a movie of ambition, but nothing was done to capitalize on this ambition. I don't remember the last time I was so let down by a film. Disappointment, thy name is Sucker Punch!

Strut your stuff. It's the only reason you're here!

A young girl, nick-named "Baby Doll", is confined to the nuthouse by her abusive father in order to prevent her from telling the authorities of his crimes. She has five days left until a doctor arrives to lobotomize her. In order to combat all the misery around her, Baby Doll retreats into her own, imaginative mind. Since she, you know, values her life, and really wants to avoid getting a spike shoved in her eye, she quickly devises a way to escape from the asylum. To do this, she recruits four other girls to her cause, and they set out on their quest. As they go about it, Baby Doll's fantasies turn into pitched warzones across fantastical and supernatural battlefields. But, there are people, in the real world and in her mind, who would like nothing more than to stop her and her friends from making it out to freedom.

Ok, sounds cool right? It is cool, on paper, that is. In execution, this movie is one, enormous stew of misconstrued plot threads, abrupt tonal shifts, and confusing setting. Sort of like Inception, there are three levels of reality. One is the asylum, which is in the world that you are inhabiting. The second is a brothel/burlesque theatre. The third is the monster strewn battle ground of the week. It's clear, usually from what the girls are wearing, which level you're in, but, honestly, I don't see the point. Why couldn't Baby Doll just go to the battles from the asylum? Why does there have to be that weird thing with her dancing in the brothel that transports her to dragon kingdom?

The plot shifts tones so quickly, it gives you whiplash. Acts 1 and 2 are, actually, boring, because nothing really happens to the girls; there's no high stakes and everything is sort of cheery. Then, the film pulls and about face and makes Act 3 hyper dark and depressing. Too little, too late, if you ask me.

The five main women are comprised of relative unknowns, as has become standard for Snyder's pictures. As Baby Doll, Emily Browning is almost infuriatingly wooden, keeping one look of wide eyed innocence on her face the whole time. Abbie Cornish and Jena Malone fare a bit better as the hard-assed Sweet Pea and her sister Rocket. Vanessa Hudgens and Jamie Chung are both painful as the tomahawk wielding Blondie and the neck kissing Amber, respectively.

Carla Gugino adopts an absurd Russian accent for her role as Madame Gorski, the girls' psychiatrist/dance teacher, depending on which level of reality we are in. Jon Hamm has a nothing role as the lobotomist. He has, literally, five lines, and that's all.

The only one to really make an impression is Oscar Issac as the slimy and creepy Blue, the girls' orderly/pimp, depending on the level. He manages to find a way to work with Snyder's piss poor dialogue, and manages to make an effective, if cliched portrait of a snake. Everyone else fails, but he manages to save himself. Good for him.

You sure you wanna mess with this face?

Zack Snyder is an immensely talented man, but he should stick with adapting things. Up until now, he had yet to make a bad movie. Dawn of the Dead, and 300 were both better than expected, entertaining thrill rides. Legend of the Guardians was a pleasant surprise, and Watchmen remains one of the most criminally underrated movies I've ever seen. All of those were adapted from previous material. Sucker Punch, on the other hand, flounders where all of Snyder's other films flourished. Nothing works. The dancing thing is just stupid. The fantastical dreamscapes all seem to bleed together. Even the films mentality leaves a bad taste in your mouth. Snyder would have you believe that this is a tale of female empowerment disguised as a kick ass action film, but this is one of the more misogynistic things I've seen in a long time. The girls spend, literally, the entire movie in various forms of leotards, school girl outfits, and other forms of revealing attire. All the men in this movie are cruel, vicious, domineering individuals, while all the girls are helpless little waifs. There are aspects of this movie that are, quite simply, sick and a little perverse, and I don't know why Snyder made them so.

All this would be tolerable if Snyder had delivered the spectacular action that he promised, but he even comes up short in that department. Oh sure, the imaginary battlefields are all visually dynamic and full to bursting with pyrotechnics and the like, but, unlike 300, or even Watchmen, the action is boring. Only the final set piece, set on a futuristic train filled with homicidal robots, really provides anything remotely thrilling. The thing with the dragon is too short, and the shootout in the trenches with the Nazi zombies is just that, a shootout, and nothing more.

It is such a shame, because Sucker Punch, as a concept, is aces. But, at the end of the day, you have to ask, "What was the point?" And the truth is, there is no point. Sucker Punch has no reason to exist. Mindless, entertaining action is alright by me, but it needs to be done well, and nothing in Sucker Punch is done well, not the acting, not the story, or the style. I haven't given up on Snyder yet. Superman could still be fantastic, although that might have more to do with Christopher Nolan's involvement than anything. Sucker Punch, however, has changed my perception of him. It's one of the most disappointing movie going experiences of my life!


  1. Wow, sounds like I really should give this one a miss.
    Excellent review!
    I really enjoyed reading this and it's convinced me not to see it in the cinema, if a fan of Synder didn't even like it then I'm sure I would hate it as I disliked all his previous film...

  2. I bet this was just shield promotion for the inevitable Director's Cut.

  3. @Jack L: Happy to help steer you on the right path.

    @Simon: I actually kinda hope so, because there is something in this premise. It just wasn't added into the finished film.