Sucker Punch (2011)
Directed by: Zack Snyder
Running time: 110 minutes approx.
Let me start off by saying that I had an awesome weekend this past Saturday and Sunday. Through going to a festival held in Melbourne, I got to meet Charisma Carpenter (Cordelia from Buffy the Vampire Slayer), Clare Hamer (Glory, also from Buffy), Denis O’Hare (Russell Edgington from True Blood), Tom Felton (Malfoy from Harry Potter) and I got to see Simon Pegg and Nick Frost (of Shaun of the Dead and Hot Fuzz) doing a Q&A session and I saw William Shanter (Denny Crane from Boston Legal and also one of my personal heroes) on stage at the Melbourne Exhibition Centre! All in one weekend! It’s been amazing, I love meeting famous people. Dunno why, I mean they will have forgotten me about ten seconds after I met them but I still enjoy it.
Anyway, somewhere in that hectic weekend I got the time to go see Sucker Punch, the new film directed by Zack Snyder who is a directer I rather like. He’s directed a fantastic remake of the classic zombie film Dawn of the Dead; he made a very enjoyable and legendary telling of Frank Miller’s 300; and he also made a brilliant adaptation of the graphic novel Watchmen, which many people said was “un-filmable”. But he did it, so I was quite excited to see Sucker Punch since it is the first of Snyder’s films in which he wrote the original story as well as directed it, so I was very keen to see him attempt an original story. And I must say that my reaction to the said attempt is a great big: ehhhhhhhhhh.
I was not greatly impressed at all, but majority of my gripes are with the storytelling itself. The film tells the story of a girl named Baby Doll who has been committed to a mental institution following her mother’s death and her attempt to murder her step father because he’s a bit of a douche. Why he is such a douche is never properly explained (this was the first fault I picked with the film, and I noticed it within the first five minutes!) which was irritating. Anyway, Baby Doll is put in an insane asylum where she is told that a doctor will be arriving in five days to lobotomize her. The doctor arrives and just before he is about to hammer a nail in her face, we are suddenly in a burlesque house populated with the same inmates and employees of the insane asylum. Baby Doll and her friends Amber, Blondie, Rocket and Sweet Pea decide they must escape from this burlesque house and they decide they need to find some items in order to do so. In order to procure these items, they use Baby Doll’s ability to dance so sexily that all the men go into a trance and the other girls can steal the items undisturbed. However, while Baby Doll is dancing, we regress into her mind and we see a further imaginative state in which she and her friends are embarking on epic quests designed to symbolise what they are really doing in the burlesque house. These quests are things along the lines of sky diving out of a helicopter, armed with M4 Assault Rifles, into a castle under siege by Lord of the Rings-esque Orcs and sneak in to kill a dragon and steal her baby’s fire making throat crystals. So basically, we’re looking at a delusion within a delusion sort of situation. Unsurprisingly, this film has been compared to Christopher Nolan’s Inception.
My main gripe with the story is that fact one of these delusions is completely unnecessary! Why do we need the burlesque house? It serves no actual purpose and the film could have easily been about a group of girls stealing items to escape from an insane asylum, and they are so bonkers that they fantasize about these epic battles while they do it. I can only think of one thing that the burlesque house is useful for and that is sex appeal. All the girls are constantly wearing skimpy outfits for their dance routines, whilst if they were just in an asylum they would be wearing ugly jump suits. I don’t personally have anything against sex appeal in movies, I enjoy a skimpy outfit as much as the next guy will, but just that fact that events that take place during this middle delusion contradicts what happens in the asylum in reality. If the film set out some rules of how the dream like states worked, much like Inception did, then it would have made more sense, but all Sucker Punch ends up with is a sense of confusion. Unless I spoil the ending I cannot really explain it any better so I won’t go further, but it was frustrating. Some of the acting left a lot to be desired as well. Baby Doll has no dialogue for the first twenty minutes of the film, but when she finally speaks she sounded painstakingly ditsy and superficial. All the other characters served their purpose without much difficulty; the girls were beauties who didn’t look too out of place doing kung-fu, the male orderlies were believable molesting bastards, everyone else fit their role quite well.
A point in the film’s favour, however, is the way it looks. Sucker Punch is just beautiful. Beautiful cinematography, beautiful visual effects, beautiful women, it just looked amazing. The fantastical battle sequences were a spectacle to behold, with such gorgeous use of slow motion and still camera shots combined with hand held camera. A film critic I really like named MovieBob said that Zack Snyder “makes every shot look like a painting”. I would agree with that, there are just so many times in Snyder’s films when something goes into slow mo and it just looks wonderful. The angle its seen from, the lighting, it’s all perfect. Not all the visuals were perfect however, there were some design flaws. For example, when the burlesque delusion is established, we see the areas are covered in velvet with deep red colour scheme etc. However, we later cut to Baby Doll scrubbing the floor of a blue, linoleum floor that looks the same as the corridors of the reality insane asylum and I got a bit confused. Are we back in reality now? I asked myself, but then her actions were referred to in the burlesque scenes so it must have been the same delusion but it looked exactly like reality. There must be a distinction between these locations or else things get confusing. This is why Inception had such different scenarios: driving a van in the rain, zero gravity in a hotel, infiltrating a Russian style prison in the snow. It made it easy for the audience to understand which dream they were in at any given time and avoided confusion.
Another point in the film’s favour is the soundtrack. Snyder is usually very good with his music choices, either using music that one wouldn’t expect to be used in a given situation and it makes it ironic or surprisingly poignant; or he will get a song and make a great cover of it to suit the situation. There was a fantastic heavy metal song playing during Sucker Punch and it took a me a minute or two to suddenly realise the song was “We Will Rock You” by Queen! Very impressed on the music front.
All in all, Sucker Punch was aesthetically impressive but other than that it was very disappointing. It had a fantastic concept behind it; but through confusing montages; unnecessary delusions; contradictory ending; unclear levels of reality; a title that, as far as I can see, has no relevance to the film and a weak lead actress; it seemed to fall flat on it’s face. The battle scenes are amazing and lots of fun, that’s true; and it does have an awesome soundtrack but unless you’ve really got your heart set on seeing all skimpy eye candy, I’d recommend you just watch Inception. It tackled to multi-layered subconscious action film much better.