"If you don't stand for something, you'll fall for anything."
The Wiseman in Sucker Punch (2011)
|I was unprepared alright - unprepared for so much suck, that is.|
"If you don't stand for something, you'll fall for anything," warned the Wiseman (Scott Glenn) in Zack Snyder's much awaited 2011 motion picture, Sucker Punch. That's what he does awkwardly throughout the film - spout fortune cookie bon mots and provide lumpy blocks of exposition. Anyhow, this is one advice I'll take. After I exited the theatre, I immediately began composing a glowing apologist's review defending Mr Snyder's latest work in my head (against all the savage criticisms which I just know will be directed at it) but after some thoughts, I reconsidered my tune. Yes, Sucker Punch was my most anticipated movie of the year and yes, I am very fond of Zack's previous directorial efforts (all of 'em) - but I fear this longtime fanboy has to make a stand here. Sucker Punch is terrible, ladies and gents, and there are not many people more disappointed than I am.
What Didn't Suck.
Still, there's something to be said about a director who is truly passionate about the films he makes. Zack Snyder is one of the most enthusiastic filmmakers I know - and it lent even Sucker Punch some measure of that charm. That's why my first instinct was to try and review it favourably. There are some genuinely good words I can put in for it, and most of them are in praise of the action sequences. They are Snyder's forte and he couldn't be in better form here. The wordless prologue, zombie trenches and samurai courtyard set pieces were bad-ass, but the runaway bomb train bot-killing smorgasbord was sublime; pure poetry in Snyder's trademark ramped slow-motion.
There are small visual flairs I really enjoyed like how the steam gushes out of the clockwork, steam-powered zombies when they are stabbed or shot, and I liked the cute girly cellphone dangly baubles attached to Baby Doll's handguns as well. There's also a pretty neat trick shot of the girls sitting at their dressing tables and apparently existing on both sides of their mirrors, but I think it's more of a cinematographical look-at-what-I-can-do rather than a metaphor for something more profound.
Most importantly, if it's not for this film, I wouldn't have been able to see Emily Browning in a sexy Japanese sailor schoolgirl outfit and knee socks. If that's not a plus, I don't know what is.
|The obscenely gorgeous Emily Browning as Baby Doll.|
The rest of this review will and must contain spoilers.
What Did Suck.
The maggot-ridden, pus-filled, festering core of Sucker Punch is the screenplay written cooperatively by Snyder himself and Steve Shibuya, and it marks the first time Snyder makes an attempt at creating something entirely original and non-derivative. He succeeded masterfully in doing the exact opposite. The resulting mess is a schizophrenic geeksploitation flick which blatantly regards itself as being oh-so-cool and oh-so-clever. It has hot girls in fetishistic outfits, giant mechanical samurai warriors, orcs, androids, steampunk WWI zombies German soldiers, a battle mecha, a plane dogfighting a dragon, and enough firepower to take over a Banana Republic. The only thing that's missing is coherence, and I suspect it's dead in a ditch somewhere with multiple penetrative wounds.
"But all of this happens in the heads of a bunch of institutionalised hotties in a mental asylum!" squeaks the part of my mind which still wants to rationalise the film's flaws. It's true that it's more surrealistic than Inception (which had been criticised for its overly ordered dream world), a film it bore a great deal of resemblance to - and in like fashion, the girls' delusions also penetrates more than one level of consciousness. The difference is that in Inception, that feature is plot relevant whereas in the feverish world of Sucker Punch, it's used with the sole purpose of excusing the disjointed fantasy elements which Snyder borrowed liberally from pop culture. Not that there's anything wrong with that, but it takes a master writer to tie everything together neatly - and Snyder is no master writer. I get it that when Baby Girl (played by the sexier than ever Emily Browning) dances in the brothel in delusion level one, it's represented as balls-to-the-wall, kick-ass fight scenes in delusion level two, but boy it felt like a cop out. There's just no way that Baby Girl can dance as hypnotically as it was implied she could and Snyder knew it; hence the conspicuous absence of actual dancing. I mean, after every time she "dances", all the men in the room looks as if semen is about to explode out of their eyes.
"But that's also part of her delusion!" the fanboy lobe of my brain protests. Agreed, but what is her dancing analogous to in the bleak real world of the mental hospital where everything takes place? And more importantly, why is Baby Doll hallucinating when she is not actually insane, and was only put there by her evil stepfather to silence her via a lobotomy? I smell a hole in the plot here. Perhaps, as it was implied by the Baby Doll's dreary pseudo-intellectual existentialist voiceover at the film's climax; it's not her story after all. Maybe it was all seen from Sweet Pea's perspective. But it was said that Sweet Pea was only in the nuthouse slash nightclub in the first place to protect her little sister, so she's not crazy either. Or maybe that's not true after all because that story was told in delusion level one. They may not even be sisters... Oh fuck this shit. I give up.
I correctly predicted that a certain character will snitch on the girls' plan to escape and I totally called the death of another character far ahead of time - and I managed to do it because Snyder and Shibuya set them up with such breathtakingly amateur clumsiness. My more charitable review would have referred to his lack of finesse as "foreshadowing" but even so, I must consider them very poorly done. And do you know what's worse than a bad writer? A bad writer who thinks he's a good one. Sweet Pea's extensive faux-philosophical monologue about destiny et cetera is a good example of such immodest masturbation. So was Scott Glenn's inexplicable appearance at the end as a creepily benevolent bus driver (I believe the expected reaction is "Holy Shit!" but I was all "What the fuck?"). When the movie speaks directly to the audience, telling that it's us who decide our fates, I bemoan mine. It felt like it was telling me, to my face, that it's my own fault I'm watching such a shitty movie.
|Sweet Pea (Abbie Cornish), with her sister, Rocket (Jena Malone) on her right. P.S. I really like her hair.|
I wish a competent screenwriter was brought on to look through the script and make improvements. All the main characters are worse than one-dimensional and I wondered why Baby Doll getting lobotomised is such a big deal when she has absolutely no personality to begin with. Yes, I don't blame the actors. It's obviously Zack and Steve's fault when even really good actors like Scott Glenn, Carl Gugino and Abbie Cornish performed flatly. Except maybe Oscar Isaac, who played Blue, the main antagonist. Boy, he sucked. He's almost all ham; more whiny than threatening and more spoilt than evil. And John Hamm's appearance right at the very end as the lobotomist was simply painful to watch. He pretty much only had one line: an expression of puzzlement at something in Baby Doll's eyes which he had to repeat ad nauseam.
Could the film had been rescued with some judicious rewrites? I believe so; I saw much potential in it. For example, why was so little attention paid to the the tragedy of Baby Doll who only wanted to protect her little sister from her paedophile stepfather but accidentally killed her in a gunshot which went wide? She didn't even spend one moment processing it. There's also Blue's pervy infatuation with Baby Doll which showed shades of something interesting (especially at the end), but nothing was really made of that either.
The soundtrack consists of mostly refreshing remixed covers of oldie goodies - some of which are performed by Emily Browning like Eurythmics Sweet Dreams (Are Made of This) - and I was pleasantly surprised to hear Emilíana Torrini's rendition of White Rabbit playing at one point as I am a fan of her music. My complaints? Most of the songs don't belong in this film and Snyder kept sticking them where they don't belong. They blare out noxiously and anachronistically like musical sore thumbs. While similar criticisms were levelled at Snyder's playlist in Watchmen, I was one of those who thought his song choices were suitable if eclectic there (and I stand by that opinion). This time? Not so much.
For some reason, Sucker Punch felt incomplete to me; like there's a lot more footage which didn't make the cut, but that's probably just wishful thinking. And if I'm not such a big fan of Zack Snyder, I definitely would have enjoyed Sucker Punch as a trashy, B-grade so-bad-it's-good film - much like I did Legion and D-War. Maybe, as suggested by the Long-Suffering Girlfriend™, I ruined the film for myself by having unrealistic expectations (she saw it with me and liked it) but I disagree because I expected just as much of Watchmen (!), and that movie totally delivered. Perhaps, I should have given it less thought and rode it like the mindless video game trailer it aspires to be, but remember, I'm asking for coherence, not profundity. To expect any less is an insult to the memory of the director's fantastic filmography. For the remainder of his career (for his and this fan's sake), Snyder should stick to adapting comic books or directing screenplays written by others.
That being said, there's a very high chance I will revisit Sucker Punch. Even though it's mostly garbage, it's still a breathtakingly beautiful waste of time.
P.S. We went and saw The Eagle immediately after that. It was pretty damn good.
P.S. We went and saw The Eagle immediately after that. It was pretty damn good.
Suckered but unpunched,
k0k s3n w4i