Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Sucker Punch / ** (PG-13)

Baby Doll: Emily Browning
Sweet Pea: Abbie Cornish
Rocket: Jena Malone
Blondie: Vanessa Hudgens
Amber: Jamie Chung
Blue Jones: Oscar Isaac
Dr. Vera Gorski: Carla Gugino
High Roller/Doctor: Jon Hamm
Wise Man: Scott Glenn

Warner Bros. Pictures presents a film directed by Zack Snyder. Written by Snyder & Steve Shibuya. Running time: 109 min. Rated PG-13 (for thematic material involving sexuality, violence and combat sequences, and for language).

A girl in an outfit that looks like some sort of sailor’s whore house fantasy jumps twenty feet into the air over a giant iron oriental soldier with a Gatling gun. She distracts him by throwing her samurai sword as she draws her automatic pistol and unloads a clip into the giant’s eye.  Light bursts out of the giant’s wound and the real life anime fantasy chick lands on the concrete like Neo out of “The Matrix”, creating an indentation in the ground. The giant soldier falls to the ground and takes down the giant oriental temple around him. The girl walks away as if none of this affects her physical reality. It’s the ultimate Hollywood slow motion shot, where the heroine walks away from an explosion as if nothing is going on behind her.

What does all this mean? Well, I think the filmmakers would appreciate it if you didn’t obsess over such things. The scene described is a fantasy dream sequence, and it seems the whole purpose of everything that happens in Zack Snyder’s new film “Sucker Punch” is to transport the audience to these fantasy dream action sequences that are more focused on video game style interplay than with any sort of actual meaning in the context of the rest of the story.

But, what is that story? It’s a fairly simple one. It had better be, because the movie spends less than ten minutes on what is actually going on before it descends into a multileveled dream sequence. Baby Doll (Emily Browning, “The Uninvited”) is left with her sister and an abusive stepfather when her rich mother dies. When she rebukes her stepfather’s advances, he turns on Baby Doll’s sister. Baby Doll attempts to protect her sister with a gun, but shots fired in desperation can fly wild. The death of the younger sibling allows the stepfather the opportunity to commit Baby Doll into an insane asylum where a morally challenged orderly can arrange for a lobotomy and the stepfather can have the estate for himself.

I suppose the first dream level is prompted by the presence of Dr. Vera Gorski (Carla Gugino, “Race to Witch Mountain”), who promotes performance therapy for “her girls.” You might miss that fact, however, if you’re too distracted by Snyder’s ever-moving camera. We don’t really meet the other inmates until we’re already imbedded into the first dream world. These girls will become Baby Doll’s chance of hope for escape. They are, the leader Sweet Pea (Abbie Cornish, “Limitless”), her sister Rocket (Jena Malone, “The Ballad of Jack and Rose”), the very brunette Blondie (Vanessa Hudgens, “High School Musical”), and Amber (Jamie Chung, “Dragonball: Evolution”).

In this level the girls are slaves for a male entertainment business run by Blue Jones (Oscar Isaac, “Robin Hood”), the orderly from the real world. They perform “dances” for his clients that are choreographed by the housemistress Gorski. However, Baby Doll’s dances are so good they need no guidance. Snyder wisely never shows her dance. Instead, when she dances, she’s transported to the second dream world where she receives advice from the Wise Man on how to escape her captors. The advice is so pedestrian and unspecific, I would think any five year old could’ve handled the duties. It’s too bad Scott Glenn (“Secretariat”) had to sully his resume with the role.

It’s also on this second dream level that the girls do battle with the aforementioned giant samurai statues, as well as zombie WWI German soldiers who run on steam, a castle full of orcs and a very angry dragon that looks like something from “The Lord of the Rings”, and faceless futuristic robots on a bullet train to some Asimov inspired city. All the girls are skilled combatants who fight in such skimpy outfits most superheroes would be embarrassed to wear them. All the while, Glenn’s Wise Man urges them on with words of base simplicities that offer no real wisdom whatsoever.

The problem with “Sucker Punch” is that the elements that tie these different realities are so slight. Why are the patients of the asylum adult entertainers in their shared dream world? Is the doctor seriously allowing them to play out this male fantasy in her therapy sessions? To what end? What is the point of any of the action that takes place in the second dream level? How come none of the visits to that level seem to have anything to do with the last? Did Snyder just think it would be cool to see the scantily clad women kick ass in four completely unrelated scenarios? Well, the answer to that last one is obviously ‘yes.’

Finally, Snyder’s ending is absurdly bogus. He spends the entire film telling Baby Doll’s story from her unique perspective. Then in the movie’s final moments, he flat out tells the audience through Baby Doll’s voice over, of all things, that this really wasn’t her story at all, but someone else’s entirely. It’s a cop out designed to provide both an uncompromised ending and a happy one at the same time. And, if anyone can explain Scott Glenn’s appearance in the final shot of the movie, well they deserve the highest honorary degree awarded from BSU.

On the other hand, the movie is a vision to look at. The photography and design of the film is stunning. It is cinematic ballet. “Art” without any discernable point, mind you. I’ve spoken of the Cinema of Style before, as exemplified by movies like Robert Rodriguez’s “Sin City”, Quentin Tarantino’s “Kill Bill”, and Snyder’s own “300”. In these movies, their style is the primary point. The visionary style is the film’s substance. Yet, with “Sucker Punch” the film’s style doesn’t sustain it’s substance. It’s dialogue is too didactic, it’s plot too juvenile and absurd; and it relies too heavily on it’s action sequences, which have so little point you can’t help but ask “Why?”


Hunter Furnish said...

Just to be straight from the start, I liked Sucker Punch, and I know most are rolling their eyes, but whatever. I enjoy Snyder films for the very reason you mentioned, his artistic style, and seeing Sucker Punch in IMAX was awesome. For one thing, the soundtrack was amazing, especially in conjunction with the visual sequences; it worked great. My ears are always pleased during a Snyder film.

In terms of the story, yeah parts of it are a little cliche and the Wise Man is a bit generic, but I don't understand why people think a movie is automatically bad if it decides to focus on the AMAZING action sequences. Sometimes an ok story works just fine, I think this is one of those times. It seems people wrote it off from the start as being sexist and just showing scantily clad women, and they shut themselves off to enjoying it or understanding it. Watchmen/300 are better Snyder films, but I wasn't disappointed by Sucker Punch. I went to it for the cinematic IMAX Experience and it delivered that.

Going off of that, I am very excited about Snyder directing Man of Steel, and can't wait to see how that unfolds. Snyder + Nolan, for me = can't go wrong.

Andrew D. Wells said...

I love Snyder's visual style. I probably didn't talk about that enough in my review. I loved "300" and I liked "Watchmen" more than most people did (I prefer the ultimate cut), But in those films Snyder let the visual style define the films. In this one, there was the potential for that. The first ten minutes were as good as those other films. But everything seemed built around the action sequences. The entire movie of "300" was an action sequence, and that worked. But the action in this movie did nothing to serve the story. It was all very random. There's certainly nothing wrong with simplicity, but the action must always serve the story. In Snyder's case so must the visual style. The visual style could've served this story, but that was already abandoned by the action.

I do wish I had mentioned the soundtrack, which is already my most listened to album of the year. The music was excellent and served the story, the action and the visual style very well. I loved that the songs he chose consistently commented on the story elements of the movie. I just wish the action sequences had as well.