Monday, April 4, 2011

Review: Sucker Punch

Once again I’m here talking about Zack Snyder. Look, I’ve seen all of his films and I think he’s a pretty decent director.  The Dawn of the Dead remake was pretty decent, though as I understand it most zombie film fans consider it to be inferior to the original (I wouldn’t know).  300 was okay as a whole but it looked pretty damn cool.  Watchmen, being based on one of the greatest comic books every written, was pretty good although I didn’t like the ending (And my reasons are apparently different than most comic nerds).  I gave Legend of the Guardians an average review, but it wasn’t a bad film.  Bottom line is that Snyder is a pretty good director capable of producing entertaining films.
Which brings us to Sucker Punch.
I had been looking forward to this film for a while as the promotional images and trailers made it look pretty over the top, which was fine by me.  However things started becoming suspicious within the last few months.  As Snyder was flagged to direct the latest Superman film rumors started spreading around about the horrid nature of Sucker Punch.  Basically according to the grape vine test showings of the film were so unbelievably bad that Warner Bros. was seriously considering pulling the plug on the Superman project.  Now I can’t be sure how true any of this is but it did make me a bit nervous about the quality of the flick.  Well I have just watched it and, as it turns out I had pretty good reasoning for being concerned.
Full review after the jump.
[Warning: This review is FULL of spoilers, so only click below if you don’t care about how the film ends]
Now I think those outfits are inappropriate for battle
But I don't go to strip clubs, so what do I know?
A young woman (Emily Browning) has just been institutionalized by her step-father after the deaths of her mother and sister as a means to silence her.  To make damn sure she can never talk to the police he brokers a deal with a corrupt orderly (Oscar Isaac) to have her lobotomized within the week.  Trapped the girl begins to fantasize she is in another place.  Here she is known as “Baby Doll” and is instead trapped in a brothel thinly disguised as a theater and, within a week, she is to be “given” to the High Roller.  But soon Baby Doll realizes that when she dances she finds herself fantasizing (I’m sorry, what?) about being in another place where she is a warrior instructed to find several objects that will lead to freedom.  Thus her journey begins.
So let’s get this out of the way: this movie is mostly a “Dream Within a Dream” type story.  Baby Doll starts the film in reality but then finds herself in a fantasy world she created and then another fantasy world within that one.  For simplicity’s sake I’ll refer to the asylum scenes as “The Real World”, the brothel scenes as “The Pseudo-Fantasy World” and the overblown fight scenes as “The Fantasy World”.  If you believe the trailers than the whole movie is about the girl in a padded cell pretending she’s a samurai who fights robots, but sadly that's not quite the case and I’ll get more into that later.
You can tell who's important based on hair color
I LOVED most of the fight scenes in the Fantasy World.  Overblown, over-the-top and almost a  parody of martial art action sequences: yes, please!  I love that sort of thing, which is part of the reason I loved the Scott Pilgrim movie and why I enjoy watching Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon and movies like it and why I play Dynasty Warrior video games (DEAL WITH IT!).  Who needs realism in their movies?  Give me impossibly badass women killing their way through wave after wave of robots, Nazis, and orks any day.  This is extremely similar to 300’s fight scenes and I will tell you right now that I will never complain about Snyder’s over-stylized action sequences.  Was there too much slow motion? Probably.  Did they make any sense even in context to the rest of the film?  Nope.  Did I care?  HELL NO!  This was undoubtedly the best parts of the movie and I was literally waiting around for the next one to take place when they were back in the brothel talking (Bleh).  The only problem I had here was that they were so disconnected from the rest of the film.  It wasn’t like Baby Doll falls into an Alice in Wonderland or a Wizard of OZ type world where she wanders around and meets bizarre allies and enemies.  Literally when she dances to music in the Pseudo-Fantasy World she imagines she and her friends are in the Fantasy World fighting monsters and as son as the last enemy is dead we're back in the brothel.  I wanted the whole movie to be the Fantasy World but instead I just got four fight scenes that didn’t really fit that well together.  But still those scenes were awesome!
Also I liked Jena Malone as Rocket.  Aside from being easily the most attractive out of the ladies she was pretty much the ONLY actor in the film who seemed to be ACTING rather than just reading lines.  Rocket wasn’t really well developed, none of the characters were, but through Malone’s performance I found her to be the only one I was emotionally invested in.  I found I couldn’t care less about most of the others but I’ll get into that soon.  Aside from the film Saved! (Which I really liked) I don’t think I’ve seen her in any other films, but I think I need to rectify that soon.
It's not all bad news, it seems
Going back to the narrative structure of the film I found that the idea of Baby Doll pretending she’s in a brothel to be stupid as hell.  The main reason is that I think it’s all a bit too much to have her fantasying she’s in one world and then fantasying again to be in a new one.  It feels bloated and needlessly confusing.  Why couldn’t she have been in either the asylum OR the brothel (As opposed to both) and spend most of her time pretending she was shooting orks in the face?  That would have been a significantly more interesting movie.  Instead I felt like I was watching an action movie trying to be pretentious, which is really odd.  We spend most of the film in the brothel but it’s not all that interesting.  The really odd thing about all this is that we learn at the end of the film that everything that took place in that world also took place in the real world in some fashion so why we couldn’t just watch the action take place in the asylum I have no idea.  To make it worse the biggest difference is that the characters featured in the brothel cannot be the same characters in the real world due to the different setting not allowing for what little we know of their backgrounds to mesh.  For example there’s Sweet Pea (Abbie Cornish) who [Spoiler Alert] escapes from both the asylum and the brothel.  

Now in the Pseudo-Fantasy World she was Rocket’s sister who followed her when she ran away from home (It’s mentioned that Rocket didn’t get along with the parents but that Sweet Pea did) only to be caught by Oscar Isaac who turned them both into a prostitutes.  This is far less likely to have occurred in the real world though and in fact we learn absolutely NOTHING about her in that context.  Was she really a runaway?  Maybe but isn’t it possible that it was her parents who put her in there?  We know that Baby Doll shouldn’t have been locked up but how do we know that Sweet Pea wasn’t actually disturbed and committed for an actual reason?  As far as I know a dangerous serial killer was just unleashed back onto the streets.  In fact this is mainly why the ending of the film ends up being terrible: in the end we learn that [Spoiler Alert] Sweet Pea was the narrator and the star of the story all along and that Baby Doll’s quest for freedom for all about her.  But I don’t give a shit bout Sweet Pea because THIS ISN’T THE SAME SWEET PEA FROM EARLIER!!  There’s ZERO emotional attachment to this person and despite the fact that both versions of Sweet Pea are played by the same actress they aren’t the same character!  They can’t be!  So why should I give a crap?
Plus she's written as a huge bitch throughout most of the film
Way to make likable characters, Zack
Also the movie doesn’t know what it wants to be.  At first I thought that Snyder had a bunch of cool, but vastly different from each other, ideas for fight scenes and just wrote a flimsy narrative device to string them together.  However by the time we reached the climax it seemed like he actually wanted the film to be a drama about a young woman’s quest to free herself from unfair imprisonment; key word “DRAMA”.  At some point we stop visiting the awesome Fantasy World altogether and have to sit through a lot of uncomfortable and mundane (Albeit violent) scenes in the brothel.  I suspect that Sydney wanted to make a serious psychological drama not unlike Girl Interrupted but isn’t a good enough director to make a movie like that so he threw in a bunch of out of nowhere battle scenes, which is what he does best, that do little more than to confuse the audience about the tone of the film (But they were still awesome to watch nevertheless).
The cast is barely worth mentioning as no one (Save Malone) really delivered noteworthy performances and almost every character was badly development and poorly utilized.  Hey look, its Jamie Chung!  Now she was in Dragonball Evolution so she is fully deserving of all our scorn and ridicule but her character Amber, who appears in just as much promotional material as anyone else, does nothing in the film worth mentioning and we learn nothing about her or why she was in the brothel or any background info.  Ditto for Vanessa Hudgens as Blondie, who is slight more developed as “The Insecure One”.  This was called an all-girl ensemble piece but I guess they were only talking about Sweet Pea, Rocket and Baby Doll.  Speaking of Baby Doll I don’t know too much about Emily Browning but she is awful in this flick.  For the entire movie it sounded like she was just listing off memorized lines and I never felt a trace of emotion or humanity in the performance.  Maybe that was intentional but if it was I’m not sure what it was supposed to accomplished.  In this movie she was a master of Dull Surprise.   I never really was able to get behind the character, or really believe she was in any real peril.  I hear that Amanda Seyfried was originally tapped to star as Baby Doll but turned it down due to schedule conflict.  I’m not sure that Seyfried would have been any better in the role (I’m still a waiting for a performance to wow me) but at the very least after watching several years of Big Love I'm pretty sure she can at least fake having emotions.  Plus she’s really good at crying!
Anger Fear Longing Lust Sorrow Joy F**k if I know
This last thing might be a bit nitpicky but it bugged me throughout the film.  This is a movie that celebrates its soundtrack but for the most part it felt extremely out of place as many of them were modern (Or at least more modern than this film’s time period)  pop songs.  Now I’m not 100% sure when this flick takes place, as I’ve heard both the 1960s and the 1950s, but either way I don’t think I should be hearing Queen being played in the background.  The only time this sort of worked was during the Fantasy World fight scenes (Which is further proof the movie should have mostly taken place there) and even then it wasn’t a perfect mesh.
This is a very bad movie but it isn’t unwatchable.  Thanks to the fight scenes I think this can still be a fairly fun film watch and it’s not so bad that you can’t entertain yourself making fun of it.  So yes, there’s some enjoyment to be had here.  But from an artistic stand point this flick is a mess.  It’s a train wreck that can’t decide if its audience should be taking it seriously or not and plagued with weak characters that are hard to build a report with.  This is easily Zack Snyder’s worst movie and I feel like if he wasn’t already picked to direct the next Superman film he may be looking at his career flushing down to “Big F’N Joke” levels (See: M. Night Shyamalan).  This is made more frustrating by the fact that it had all the tools to be an awesome movie, or at least an awesomely ridiculous movie, and it failed.  My advice is to wait until it’s on DVD, rent it watch it with some buddies (Preferably drunk or high) and laugh at it because I’m not sure it’s good for much else.
All I wanted was 90 minutes of this. Was that too much to ask?
I give Sucker Punch 2 out of 5 Adorable Pandas.
-The fight sequences are everything you were hoping they’d be
- Jena Malone is pretty decent
-Boring characters
-The plot is needlessly complex (Yet still not very smart)
-Poorly planned ending

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