Movie Review: Sucker Punch (2011)
Going Bananas Over B-Cups
A Film Review of Sucker Punch
By: Lawrence Napoli
Zack Snyder wants to be the coolest dude in Hollywood! Cool dudes get cool in American cinema by doing cool things in their films like give you lots of explosions, lots of CG, lots of dynamic camera movement, lots of slow motion, lots of scantily clad babes and lots (and I mean LOTS) of action, action, ACTION! With so much on a cool dude’s agenda to make a film production go, I can almost understand not having any time at all to devote to some of the other basics of filmmaking like writing, performance and vision. As the art of filmmaking continues to devolve from an art of expression to the mass produced, technological terror of creativity it has practically become, I note how it shares some important traits with science. Hollywood film and science are both evolving in the discovery and application of technology so quickly that the only question the filmmaker or scientist asks is whether something CAN be done. Whether something SHOULD be done is conveniently stuffed under the mattresses. Of course, I would not waste the reader’s time with a vapid comparison between the validity of a certain film versus a certain science like human cloning because the stakes for humanity aren’t exactly on par for these two subjects. I merely wish to illustrate the point that the vast majority of films that are released to the masses seem to be more arbitrary each passing day and if it can be pitched to some old white men in a board room in under 2 minutes with as few words containing multiple syllables as possible; careers can be made. Think back to all the jackasses you remember from childhood: the bullies who picked on the nerds, the tools who climbed on houses only to jump off, the idiots who fake-farted in class. All these cool dudes (or dudettes) are just like Zack Snyder in their explanation for doing the things they do: just ‘cause they could.
So you think I may have hated Sucker Punch do you? There’s no point trying to hide it. Yes, this was a dumb, terrible and very stupid film that shows a developing trend in Zack Snyder productions that continue to decrease in quality, but increase in visual beauty. And here lies the one and only strength of the Punch: visual style. Fans of CG artistry will be gleefully appeased as every action scene is riddled with incredible depth of field and attention to detail of the realities that could only exist in the recesses of the mind. What’s cool about cyber-samurai wielding mini-guns? More like: what isn’t cool about cyber-samurai wielding mini-guns? The theme for this film is a collision of martial imagery that is completely removed from time and space. Ever wonder what kind of damage the Memphis Belle (1990) could do during the siege of Gondor [The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers (2002)]? Well you will find out. As out of place and absurd this juxtaposition sounds, it really comes together quite well on the screen in a very awe inspiring way. Everything is epic in scale as there always seems to be some war happening in the background of the focused assault that is lead by our sexy heroines. Creating this part of Sucker Punch’s fictional world was indeed a visual orgasm and the coordination between visual effect companies Pixomodo, Animal Logic and Prime Focus with cinematographer Larry Fong yielded a very dynamic, constantly moving and constantly scaling frame that flourished with gunplay, swordplay and explosions. I am uncertain whose decision it was to spam the slow-motion effect in just about every combat sequence, but that aside, you have been introduced to the raw coitus of Sucker Punch.
Unfortunately, when the plot is called upon to deliver post-coital satisfaction by filling in the blanks, it makes a mad dash for the front door not unlike Tim Meadows’ ladies man, Leon Phelps. The story follows Baby Doll’s unjust incarceration into an insane asylum where she is taught to enter false realities in her mind as a coping mechanism. Upon doing so, the audience is introduced to the first level of false reality where the inmates (all female) are a collection of burlesque dancers/prostitutes that are pimped out by the club owner and main antagonist, Blue Jones. When the girls are called upon to “dance” for their clients, this is the moment where the film would “lose” its PG-13 rating and therefore they all enter a second false reality where all the visual combat goodies from the previous paragraph reign supreme. The story unfolds by jumping back and forth among the three realities in a crude attempt to make the entire plot make sense and/or matter to the audience. The major malfunction here is a severe lack of details for this fictional world that happens to involve three different realities. Losing yourself in music seems to be the mechanism for entering other realities, but how do all the girls share the same “dream” at the same time? Where does the mentor character even come from and why does he care? Why do the girls need to kick ass in a combat world as a metaphor for whatever they are doing in the first false reality or actual reality? At what point does Dr. Gorski develop some maternal connection to her girls/inmates? All of these questions are vital to understanding the bigger picture of Sucker Punch and none of them are answered by the co-writers of the screenplay: Zack Snyder and Steve Shibuya. Either these questions were not discussed or simply acknowledged, then forgotten during the composition of the script. Either way, I consider this to be unforgiveable from the writing perspective in that it is evidence that the authors themselves don’t care much for their own plot to even make an effort to fill in the plot gaps. If they don’t care then why on Earth would an audience? Meh, details, details.
When it comes to the performances of Sucker Punch, I honestly thought it was an impromptu casting call for the next Twilight bomb. What else would you need from a cast of girls who really don’t have much to show in terms of curves, but are promoted as some sort of a sexual reinvention of the wheel? Vanessa Hudgens is going to have to come up with something better than a thong and fishnets to compete with Zack Efron and his following in Ashton Kutcher’s footsteps. How many more years will it be before Jena Malone is no longer considered an “up and coming” actress and she finally “arrives?” Can one get more obscure than Abbie Cornish and Jamie Chung? At least Emily Browning has one of those uniquely seductive faces that I’ll go ahead and name her Amanda Seyfried 2.0. All these young women do an adequate job with an inferior script that does them no favors whatsoever. And they do their best to try to sell their scenes, but their combined efforts result in the kind of display of “girl power” on the screen that sets the movement back 30 years. The characters they play are not appealing to women because they are not appealing to anyone. Baby Doll, Sweet Pea, Rocket, Blonde and Amber are as frivolous as their names sound because they are simply there, on screen, and the audience is to simply accept and oogle them as the sexual objects they are presented as. Of them all, Jena Malone does the best impersonation of a serious actress trying to make the best of a “women’s exploitation film,” but I must say that perhaps all of them would receive more career points for passing this opportunity in the first place. I don’t see Natalie Portman’s name on this list of credits.
And speaking of the rest of the cast, I was stunned when I saw Jon Hamm on the screen playing the dual role of the High Roller and the lobotomy Doctor. The guy has already made an icon of Don Draper on Mad Men and did a very adequate job in The Town (2010) that I really wonder how Snyder roped him into this project. His total screen does not exceed 5 minutes (a big favor to him), but still manages to make his small section of a planet-sized turd shine. Carla Gugino produces another fine character performance and continues to make me believe that she could easily be the featured lead for the right film project. I can’t help but think that the role of the mentor (Wise Man) was originally conceived for David Carradine (rest in peace), but Scott Glen looks and sounds enough like him that he is the perfect substitute. I just wish his character (along with everyone else) was fleshed out more so I could appreciate the performance. Oscar Isaac would do well to start taking roles as heroes before getting officially type-cast as the “dick-ish villain” because he’s far too well versed in doing so as evidenced in this film and in Robin Hood (2010).
Sucker Punch is like a floor model corvette: all show and no go. It is a film that leaves you twitchy from the adrenaline and empty from the shallowness of sex without love. It’s a pulp film without the pulp. It is a film that I quite honestly felt was offensive in the objectification of the female form by not giving any of the characters meaning and any of the plot they were involved with relevance. I was also offended by Snyder’s attempt at sprinkling in some depth to the story by the seemingly poignant quotes from the Wise Man character. I equate his efforts to a Brittney Spears song about grinding her boyfriend on the dance floor then pausing in the middle to remind young adults about the importance of voting.