Apr 4, 2011

[Movies] Sucker Punch (2011)

Sucker Punch (2011)Professional movie critics, as far as I'm concerned, seem obliged to view movies from a certain perspective that's different from the general population. This isn't a bad thing - it's along the same lines of how educational institutions decide that a certain book has enough merit or value hence why they become part of the curriculum while others are scoffed at as being amateur or something like that. Movie criticism can work on many levels and the world of the critics' seems to be one that relies on pretty stringent standards, the need for the movie to have some sort of relevance or impact on us as a people or generally need to provide something for the advancement of human culture.

While I do try to take an intelligent perspective when I review movies, I also factor in a lot about, well, something I can only call as commonplace value (which sounds horrid). It's more along the lines of whether or not the average person may or may not enjoy a particular movie, book or whatever. Sure, my opinions remains from my unique geeky perspective of the world and this may or may not be important to most people. However for those that do take the time to ask me what I think or read this blog, then you'll find that I'm pretty generous in my reading of creative works since each movie has a goal of its own which may or may not be aligned with the goals required by critics at large.

Hence we get a lot of movies that are totally panned by the critics but still enjoyed by a decent number of people. It doesn't mean that box office performance alone can replace intelligent criticism, but it does mean that it helps to try and see things from a more general perspective and not just the intellectual ivory tower point of view.

Sucker Punch is a hard movie to classify in terms of traditional genres. I suppose we can settle on calling it a fantasy adventure kind of movie with action and science fiction elements woven in as well. Zack Snyder both directed and wrote the screenplay for this movie, although he had help from Steve Shibuya in terms of the writing.

We start with a girl that we come to known as Baby Doll (Emily Browning) in the course of the movie who is committed to a mental institution after she accidentally kills her sister in an attempt to kill her stepfather in attempt to prevent a potential rape. He also bribes Blue Jones (Oscar Isaac), an orderly at the hospital, to get her lobotomized in order to forever silence her. The Doctor (John Hamm) will arrive in five days to perform the lobotomy and thus that becomes the deadline for Baby Doll to save herself.

Sucker Punch'dImage by mediafury via FlickrSomehow this results in her retreating into a fantasy version of her present situation where the hospital is now a bordello where her fellow inmates are also prostitutes posing as dancers with Dr. Vera Gorski (Carla Guigino) performing the role of their dance instructor. While performing her very first dance in this imagined world, she retreats into another fantasy where a Wise Man (Scott Glenn) tells her of a way to escape by locating five items - a map, fire, a knife, a key and one last mysterious item. Baby Doll then gets the help of fellow inmates Amber (Jamie Chung), Blondie (Vanessa Hudgens), Rocket (Jena Malone) and her sister Sweet Pea (Abbie Cornish) to get the items and escape the brothel before the High Roller arrives to claim Baby Doll's virginity.

So the movie starts out like a very weird version of Inception, but instead of a mentally-challenging adventure into successively deeper levels of dreams, instead we have these mental delusions of sorts. Part of me tried to imagine that all the dialog in the "brothel level" of the movie also took place in real life in the hospital, but it still didn't work that way. So the possibility of a dual reality sort of thing didn't quite work there. And the additional fantasy excursions that took place every time while Baby Doll danced sort of happen in parallel, so the Inception-metaphor kind of fails there, too.

The movie does make you feel somewhat like you're in a mental institution since we are not given a firm grip on "reality" and the characters' fates there. In fact, we hardly return to the hospital reality of things and spend most of the time in these fantasy realms. This could have been generally well and good had there been some sort of an explanation for how the fantasy events ultimately affected reality. Thus it becomes a major problem at the end when somehow things have changed in the "real world" and we have no idea how all the imaginary dancing and guns managed to effect that. It's a bit of a stretch of the imagination.

There was some hope for this angle in the story during the whole "distract the chef with Baby Doll's dancing" plan with the whole jump back to the kitchen because of the radio shorting out (since you can't possible dance effectively without music), but the we remember this takes place in the bordello dream world and not quite the hospital, so it kind of fails again.

And don't get me started on Baby Doll's supposedly amazing dancing. She barely gets to move her body in any direction before we immediately cut to another fantasy sequence in a blatant attempt to stay within the lines of a PG-13 rating.

When you suspend believe and the need to think, the movie does present a lot of the usual good stuff you can expect from a Zack Snyder movie. This means that we get a lot of beautiful, slow-motion shots, heavily stylized moments and some pretty crazy camera perspectives in order to tell a story. Some of these Snyder elements were certainly put to good use here - for example, my partner and I really loved the steampunk Nazi fantasy. However there were cases when there was just too much craziness going on - such as the "can you keep up with the camera" science fiction train heist.

The quality of the action sequences were certainly a mixed bag. Steampunk Nazi trench fighting with a fun armored assault suit - GOOD! Awkward faux-Japanese fight against giant demon samurai - BAD. Pitiful end to the whole dragons vs airplanes battle with stolen LOTR orcs - UGLY. The list goes on and on. And I can never forgive Browning for her horribly awkward handling of a katana. You'd think that the fantasy world would have given them magical mastery of their chosen weapons. Instead it was more about the weapons being magically powerful on their own and the wielder being nothing more than a means to convey said weapons from one scene to the next.

I think my biggest challenge with the fights was the lack of realism in terms of a true sense of danger or risk. Snyder probably felt that given these were fantasy fights, it was okay it ignore physics and turn into something closer to a video game. And no matter how much the girls get thrown about, they still don't get even the least bit dirty (ala Legolas and his personal forcefield against dirt) nor do they get bruised or cut. So how can we root for them when there is never any true risk to their lives in most of the fights?

The ladies never really act like they're a tight cohesive unit despite the orders for them to work as a team. Sure, each get their own kick-ass moments fighting some bad guy here and there but they never work together in any decisive manner. The closest we get to this is how the sisters Rocket and Sweet Pea constantly try to cover one another, but beyond that we don't get an actual vibe of camaraderie and that sort of a team spirit. Thus another reason why the movie fails to make an impact - the lack of emotional ties with the protagonists as nothing more than dark Barbie dolls with machine guns.

And don't get me started on the music. While the songs were generally thematically appropriate, strictly speaking, they were also overly literal. Just take the opening rape sequence with Sweet Dreams (Are Made of These) playing as accompaniment - my partner was right in pointing out how this wasn't just scoring, it was an attempt to turn this into a Disney movie. You're in a mental institution? Then you should have a song like Where Is My Mind playing. So simple, right?

The final verdict - it's a pretty movie with some fun moments but a story so convoluted that it hurts the brain (and not in a good "my mind was challenged" kind of way). I don't IMAX is essential to this experience since the quality of the sequences isn't consistent either. In the end, this just proves that Snyder is not at that point in his creative career where he can go on writing his own movies. He's better off working with existing material or adapting something that has already been done before since his love for slow motion is best put to use recreating comic book panels and creating beautiful scenes you want to study for hours on end.

Sucker Punch is - no, I'm not going to play with the title for an obvious metaphor. Let's just say that it's not quite as bad as the critics make it to be but it's certainly no geek movie of the year. It gets 3 minutes of screen time the cute robot bunny suit got (and I wish it got more) out of 5.

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  1. Honestly, it looks beyond cheesy to me. This review has affirmed that my lack-of-interest is fully justified.

  2. @Hungarican Chick - Oh I definitely can't blame you there. I'm still not 100% on giving it a three, haha.