Wednesday, January 2, 2013

Review: Sucker Punch

My Edition: Blu-ray version which included the theatrical and director's cut.

History: The film first went into pre-production back in 2007 but Snyder put it to the side for a while to work on Watchmen. Internal controversy happened during it's production because it was supposed to be filmed with a PG-13 in mind but wound up coming out with an R. A total of 18 minutes had to be cut to receive a PG-13 rating. Eventually the film was released March 25th 2011 on a budget of $82 Million. It grossed just under $90 Million, most of which was from overseas tickets. The US only pulled in less than half of it's gross.

Personal History: Didn't see this until now. It was on a great deal on Black Friday so I went ahead and picked it up having faith it would be worth the $4 price tag.

Review: I am the type of person where I like to see the way a film was put together originally first so for the purposes of this review I watched the theatrical cut.
Say what you will about Zack Snyder but I like him. I think he puts together very exciting movies if nothing else. As you may have seen in my 300 review he is far from perfect. But with how good 300 was overall and the excellence that is the Watchmen adaptation I argue that he is a great filmmaker. May not stand the test of time but something fun to get us by for the time being. I'm not calling him one of the best. But I will say that his Dawn of the Dead remake is one of the best remakes I've ever seen, period. If anything else he is great in the visuals and action. All his films have a distinct visual style, and whether that's a lot of red in front of a green screen or a lot of blue in front of a green screen at lease he can make it visually appealing. Sucker Punch was one of those titles of his I missed the first time around and just kinda forgot about it because of lackluster reviews. People didn't seem to like it. Being the stubborn person I am I still wanted to formulate my own opinion on it. And going in with low expectations means it can't get much worse, right?
There is one thing I know about Sucker Punch. If it came out about four or five years earlier I know I would have been all over this. Two hours of beautiful women kicking ass? Sounds amazing to a fresh out of high school teen. I probably would have also had one of it's many posters hanging in my bedroom/dorm room to top it all off.

So the story goes like this. A young woman, named Babydoll (Emily Browning) is submitted into a mental institute under false pretense from her stepfather. Once there she creates an alternate reality in her mind to help her cope and create an escape plan before a specialized doctor can come and force a procedure where he gives her a lobotomy. It doesn't take long before the story kicks off inside of Babydoll's head where almost the entire story takes place. In her head is a similar situation as her reality. In this fantasy she is forced into a club where she becomes an exotic dancer and befriends four other women. She soon discovers that five key items will bring her freedom. In order to escape she has to obtain these items from the help of her friends at this club who are in the same situation she is in.
What Snyder is trying to do here is tell a story about sexual abuse and a character who appears to be very weak from the beginning rise up and escape from the torment she's been put through. In theory it's a lifetime movie. On the poster it looks like a summer blockbuster for 14 year old boys. What it turned out to be was entirely different. I guess it's possible that anything can happen when a director whose previous work was a remake and a couple of adaptations puts something of his own writing together.

A plus of having Snyder directing is the look and feel of a movie. His movie look damn good. I mean, like really good in a modern perspective. From the perspective of the HD age he is amazing at what he does even if he uses slow-mo a little too much. Everything looks vibrant, crystal clear, sleek, sexy, it just all looks awesome no matter what it is. This translate well into how much and how well he uses music in his movies. While the choices tend to be unique he knows how to make them work out in the end. If anything Sucker Punch was a better music video than as a movie.
One of the biggest complaints this movie received was that it's full of style over substance. Everything I mentioned in the previous paragraph does show he at least does an awesome job with the style. The story and execution overall as a film is not as great. Something with it I want to address first over anything else is perspective on style over substance. Some movies can be seen as pure entertainment that don't really mean anything in the end, and if you just sit back and enjoy the ride you're in for a good time. However the way I am judging Sucker Punch is based on it's intentions.
Allow me to make a quick comparison. The first example that came to mind was Crank. Crank is wild, over the top, insane, doesn't have much substance other than "Shit I need the antidote!" but it's one of my top 10 favorite movies of all time and I consider it to be one of the best straight up action films ever made. So why does Crank get so much credit while Sucker Punch gets the axe if they have a similar level of substance. All comes back to intentions and execution. When Neveldine and Taylor got together to pitch Crank I imagine they looked at each other and said, "You know what would be cool? If we made a movie about a real life video game character!" Whereas it feels like Snyder walked into Legendary Pictures and pitched his which is about, "A young tortured woman who is trying to escape from the horrible life she's been forced into and uses an alternate reality in her mind to cope with it and help her escape." Which has deeper intentions? I think it's obvious. But Sucker Punch falls short because it clearly sets up it's higher level of deeper intentions right at the beginning. It just never follows through.

The first problem I had was with the alternate reality. First, it's established that Babydoll is in this mental hospital under false pretense. This means there's nothing medically wrong with her outside of the abuse she received from her stepfather. So she's by no means, insane. If the purposes of her alternate reality is to escape and help her situation then why would she use her mind to imagine herself as an exotic dancer in a club where the women are constantly taken advantage of? Is it just a reflection of what's going on in reality? Maybe it's a form of self torture in a way, feeling bad for herself. I just imagine she would want to put herself in a better situation in her mind where she's not as sexualized in her dressing and treatment, which she eventually does in the fantasies within the fantasy.
How the story plays out is that whenever Babydoll dances it goes into another fantasy where she is fighting all different kinds of evils alongside her fantasy friends. These dances are performed as a distraction so the other girls can steal the key items to their escape. So in these fantasies they are always in some sort of a battlefield going after a treasure or something of the like that mirrors what they need in the fantasy-reality. Honestly it all gets a tad complicated since the reality of the fantasy is a fantasy of her actual reality, and may I point out we don't get a vision of the actual reality outside of the beginning setup and the very end. Something I think which would have made the story better if it visited the actual reality more often.
I guess that's one of my main problems with the story. So okay, I can accept setting up a fantasy that is similar to your own world for the purposes of overcoming it. But if it's a reflection of her actual reality I want to know what's going on in the reality-reality. I get when they go into the fantasy-fantasy to distract the reality-fantasy people so the key items can be stolen. But what about the reality-reality? What and how is Babydoll getting around everything in the real world? These key items are directly connected to the real world. But does she have these friends in the nut house, too? It's never made fully clear if they even are real in the sense she need them to be, and if she needs the help of her imaginary (or not) friends in this fantasy world then how is she getting these items in the real world? Also, isn't security a bit higher in the real world because it's an insane asylum whereas in the fantasy they're in a club where I don't think they're locking up their dancers. It's just not adding up in the reality cause it's never shown to us how they (she) pulls it off in the real world.

I just don't see how it all pulls together in reality. If it were to cut back and forth between the fantasy world and reality world instead of just the reality in the fantasy and the fantasy in the fantasy then it may have made more sense. What was given to us was bizarre. Also I feel that Snyder is trying to say and do something with the fantasy-fantasy sequences. I definitely get it goes along with the theme of tormented girl(s) kicking ass. That's easily seen. What I don't understand are the choices with each theme. There are four different sequences of girls kicking ass and they do have a connection with the real-fantasty world. The connection is mostly in name and I can see how it's symbolic of them fighting the evil that has a hold on them. What I don't understand is why the themes chosen are not consistent with another. Each time they are in a completely different world that I don't think could exist in the same world as the last. Again, it is living in a fantasy but you'd think there would be more consistency for story telling purposes.
The fights go like this: In one the enemy is a giant samurai wielding a rail gun in a snow filled Japan, then they're fighting zombie nazis who are being kept alive by steam powered machinery, then they're fighting orcs in what looks like Mordor, and lastly they fight the robots from iRobot on a train while retrieving and deactivating a bomb. I'm sure this all made sense in Snyder's mind as well as when he explained it to the actors. It's just not coming across on screen. What comes across on screen appears to be "really cool!" scenarios for the purposes of girls kicking ass, and it has a really weak connection to the reality-fantasy portion of the story. I know these had intent and purpose to the story, I just don't know what. Now did they look cool? Hell yes. These were easily the best scenes in the movie. They were very exciting, unique, and very action packed. Some great stunts that looked amazing. It's just a shame that those stunts couldn't save the movie as a whole.
Also, as a side note, I am curious to see what Babydoll's dances looked like. All we ever see is right before she starts when she is swaying back and forth, and then the very end when she is sweating from it. It never shows even a preview of what the dance looks like.

At the end of the day I really am trying to figure out who this is for. Is it for guys? Maybe, but what age group? I feel you may need to have certain fetishes for specific interest in this. The girls are constantly being tossed around and abused. Not to mention the whole movie feels rapey. This club looks like a place where at any given time someone is being raped. And it's for that reason I feel this movie isn't necessarily for women either. Sure it's about women trying to rise up against the powers that be for their freedom. But at what cost? Also not everything ends so well so it's not like that's something to look forward to either. Action fans? Most likely. The only downside is that you have to go through a messy story to get to the action bits. There are better action options out there. So who is this for? I guess Zack Snyder. It's his baby. Clearly he's trying to say and do something but it's hard to say what. I read online that it was partially a satire of geek culture always sexualizing the roles of women, basically making them objects in sci-fi and such. However what we got in the end felt more like an excuse for Zack Snyder to rub one out on screen with his nerdy fetishes.
The ironic part of all this is that the theatrical cut had to get a good chunk of material cut to get a PG-13. The original cut got an R rating and was 18 minutes longer. I wonder if the extended cut fixes some of the issues I have with this movie but I doubt it. From what I can tell it was mostly edited down for content. I do have the director's cut available to me but I don't know if I want to sit through the movie again so soon and even longer. Not quite yet. I may one day and then revisit this review or write a follow up.

Sucker Punch just takes itself way too seriously and doesn't follow up on promises it makes. It's frankly pretty juvenile and feels more like a story a middle school boy would write so he could have some jerk off material. Everything comes off as really creepy, too. And I mean just about everything. Every man is a pig, every women is tormented, and it feels like the world in this story is going so south that there's nothing that can be done. Okay, there is one good guy, literally a guy. But his role is closer to a wise man who gives them useful information along the way.

At least it has some really cool action sequences!

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