Saturday, March 26, 2011

Sucker Punch

To say that critics have turned on Sucker Punch is like saying a pitbull turns on a raw piece of Porterhouse. It doesn’t quite convey the savage glee of the mauling. It has inspired the kind of histrionic pile up reviews that cause no end of temple rubbing and inspired me to start blogging in the first place and not just because I’m the internet’s foremost Zack Snyder apologist™.

Let’s get this out of the way. Sucker Punch isn’t perfect. More than anything it feels like a movie that is a good two drafts away from being the movie it could have and should have been. Stronger threads between the real world and the two levels of “Baby Doll’s” madness could have created a film as pleasing as storytelling as spectacle. As is Snyder devalues his own storytelling currency. As I wrote before I think Snyder’s strongest attribute as a director is his inability to wink. Well, he still doesn’t wink here, but he makes it far too easy to remove yourself.

Still if Sucker Punch isn’t perfect, what it is is an epic audacious dare. As operatic a slice of id as Alan Parker’s The Wall or the collected works of Russ Meyer. A cheerfully adolescent, delirious, gleeful prank as openly fetishistic as any of Tarantino’s movies. A film that does donuts in the parking lot while blasting "Sweet Emotion"in a muscle car made of studio money, its middle finger raised joyfully in the air. A film that actually has the balls to use Jefferson’s Airplane’s “White Rabbit” unironically. Feed your head indeed.

The story follows Baby Doll who is committed to a nightmare mental asylum where she will be lobotomized in five days by Jon Hamm (in a cameo as effective as it is inexplicable). To protect herself she goes down a layer into madness imagining the asylum as a bordello and occasionally descends a deeper layer into “missions” which represents her escape plans (and truth in criticism could have done a much better job in representing her). The insurmountable flaw of Sucker Punch is that those three levels feel completely divorced from one another. Once Baby Doll falls into the first fantasy we never see the asylum again and though we understand that the missions are supposed to correspond to what is happening in the real world we’re never given any idea of how the hell that would be possible.

The film’s fundamental problems of storytelling are made up for by the sheer charisma of the enterprise. This is Snyder following his own personal rabbit hole as deep as it goes and I have to imagine this will end up being the purest expression of his work. Luckily he has a cast game enough to follow him along. Emily Browning in particular does extremely good work, a strong enough center to keep this improbable circus from falling apart. Jena Malone is also particularly charismatic and if nothing else give Snyder credit for being the one to wake up and go “Oh yeah Scott Glenn is awesome!”

The charisma extends to the imagery; soldiers in trenchcoats who bleed steam, giant samurai with masks that borrow Malcolm McDowell’s phallic nose and cities fallen into ash. As has been noted these are all images much more likely to be found inside the skull of Zack Snyder then in the mind of a twenty year old girl in the 1950’s. But once you accept that, once you realize that the fifties and girl power trappings are just an extension of that fact rather then the box around them, Sucker Punch becomes an altogether different experience.

So call it empty (it’s not) call it Side Scroller: The Movie (it kind of is, though Snyder continues to be one of the few modern action directors who cares about little things like "Geography" and "Coherence") but don’t call it timid. It’s like a foul ball that sails out of the stadium past the parking lot and shatters a shop window three blocks away. Perhaps it has not succeeded in its aims, but all failures should be this spectacular.


Erich Kuersten said...

Bryce, my friend, it's awesome of you to stick up for this film. I think the problem was, we fanboys all saw the commercials and said "I've been waiting my whole life for this film!!"-- and then, as with Watchmen, Snyder let us down and exceeded our expectations at the same time.

Plus, there's those songs... in Watchmen for every ingenious choice ("Times they are a Changin') there were two that were so cliche by then it was embarassing, namely "All Along the Watchtower!" I even wrote about my shame at the time
(Watchmen Dig My Earth)

Do you think Sucker Punch might improve on repeat viewings? Was it layered like that, or just more like Spielberg's 1941, or VAN HELSING?

thevoid99 said...


I'm currently writing my review of Sucker Punch right now which will be posted in a few hours.

It's an OK film but I had issues with the story as well as elements of the narrative. I like the look of it and I think Snyder has ambition.

I think he needs to restrain his approach more and get a writer who can hold his story together.

As far as performances are concerned. I really liked Carla Gugino and Oscar Issac was wonderfully over the top. Scott Glenn is someone I would love to watch in anything. Even if it's reading a phone book. My favorites are Abbie Cornish and Jena Malone. I was more into their little story and their relationship. They kind of carried the film for me.

Simon said...

I'd have liked it more if the girls actually looked like they could kick your ass (besides Cornish, who's apparently that badass in real life, and maybe Malone). But maybe that was the point?

Bryce Wilson said...

@ Erich: Many thanks sir. I truly appreciate the kind words.

I think the songs in Sucker Punch are pretty effective. There's a cover of "Where Is My Mind" that's put to excellent use and what sounds like a Girl Talk mash up of Queen that's used perfectly. My only disappointment is that When The Levy Breaks stays in the trailer.

But man, if the on the noseness of "All Along The Watchtower" bugged you (I give it a mulligan since Moore himself put that cue in the comic) then brother the use of "Sweet Dreams" will drive you absolutely bat shit. Still I like the music in Watchman, any movie about Nuclear Apocalypse smart enough to use "99 Red Balloons" is alright in my book.

I don't think that its a film that will improve in repeat viewing. The problems I have with it are too fundamental to really be overcome. That said, I think it is a movie that I will repeatedly view. Including at least once more in the theaters.

@thevoid99: Looking forward to reading it! I actually agree with you quite a bit. I'm glad that Superman will be Snyder's next film as it'll force him to tone things down a bit, and also pair him with David Goyer, who when he's on his game is very on. Very much agree with Malone and Glenn.

@Simon: That's actually an excellent point. I hadn't really thought of it that way given that it was so stylized. Still even though it wasn't a Kill Bill it was at least a few notches above say Charlie's Angels. That's damning it with faint praise I know...

Bryce Wilson said...

Forgot to mention in regards to the movie, Bjork's "Army Of Me" was really well used as well.

StuartOhQueue said...

Great write up. I agree with you on a number of points. I'll have my review of "Sucker Punch" up on Wednesday if you're interested. I'm just so bogged down with all this "Raimifest" business... I kid, of course.

Budd said...

I agree, my review can be found today at Practical Black Belt or at my site tomorrow <a href=">SciFi Media</a>
because of the disconnect from reality the movie is almost too deep.

Bryce Wilson said...

SOQ: I'm always interested.

@ Budd: Nicely done. You made some good points.

Anonymous said...

I hate to be That Guy, but I can't help it. This bugs me to no end: "could of and should have."

How does one even write that phrase?

Anyway, about the movie itself. I'm all for meaningless fantasy, although I much prefer fantasy that can be parsed out and understood (Franklyn, The Fall, The Wall, Big Fish). Pretty nonsense won't keep me away from the film. What makes me want to avoid it is the seedy fetishism dressed up as girl power that every review describes. I just feel gross paying to watch softcore porn.

Bryce Wilson said...

Well with the letters c-o-u-l-d-h-a-v-e-n-s

Don't worry about being "that guy" "that guy" is underrated. If it wasn't for "that guy" then I wouldn't go back and wonder "Wow how did I write that?" and would go back and fix it. And try to improve in the future.

Plus you weren't being "that guy" that much.

I'd argue that there's just as much narrative coherence in Sucker Punch as in The Wall or The Fall, albeit not as well constructed.

As for the softcore porn charge I feel that's a little unfair. I'm not saying that the film is perfect feminism. But it's heart is at the very least in the right place and Snyder feels very aware that he's working with loaded material.

Vern gave a great review and I think he sums up my feelings on this quite nicely. Not that it's not problematic, but if you're watching the film and not siding with the girls you're doing it wrong.

JC said...

I really liked Sucker Punch. I almost didnt see it due to the critics trashing it so badly. And before you call me a fanboy that only wants to see scantily clad young girls with swords (not entirely untrue), I'll counter that the people who hated it couldn't see past the fantastical stuff to the meat of the movie.

The plot is simple, the dialogue weak and the characters underdeveloped. But the core of this movie is as complex as Inception or Fight Club. The special effect and style are phenomenal, but I found myself really wowed by some of his more subtle camera techniques that I can't figure out how he accomplished. I'm still running through symbolism and alternate theories on what was really going on (that doesn't happen in a bad movie for me).

I really want to see this again. There's a lot going on that I know I missed the first time.

Judi said...

Hmm, my husband and I found the film fascinating. We watched it last night. Today I went online to hunt down the music. I was genuinely surprised by the terrible reviews. I think there is a layer of depth people seem to be missing. The song White Rabbit used in reference to anti-psychotic/anti-depressants? Brilliant irony...the song was written during a time where drugs were used to expand your horizons versus trapping your mind and flattening your personality to make you medically "normal.". The movie is dark...very dark that we flee into fantasy along with babydoll. The rape of female patients/prisoners is a believable and probably the most historically accurate part of the film. Thus, the brothel concept is less fantasy than reality. A movie about this but grounded in reality would have had to be so depressing no one could stand watching it or it would necessitate the lie of a happy ending.