Tuesday, 5 July 2011
Starring: Emily Browning, Abbie Cornish, Scott Glenn, Oscar Isaac, Jon Hamm, Carla Gugino
By Alan Bacchus
Sucker Punch has Zack Snyder working for the first time from an original script of his own, not adapted from a comic book source or a previous film, as in Dawn of the Dead. That said, it fits into the same hyperstylized alternate universe world we saw in 300 and Watchmen. Unfortunately, it still feels like an under-realized adaptation of a more complex graphic novel – in this case his own comic book adaptation, which actually doesn’t exist.
In Sucker Punch Snyder crafts a glossy high production value version of what is essentially a ‘70s female revenge/prison flick with the same ultra-violent exploitation fetishness, but with carte blanche creative and production possibilities. It would be redundant to fault the film for its narrative deficiencies, as Snyder purposely takes us out of the conventional narrative box in order to stimulate us with his carefully crafted set pieces.
Babydoll (Browning) has been put into a ‘50s-style mental institution, the kind where malevolent, ill-informed ‘doctors’ perform lobotomies to cure patients of mental disorders. Just as the metal spike is about to be punctured into Babydoll’s brain, her mind disappears into a subconscious doppelganger world – a nightclub/brothel featuring similarly marginalized women. Curiously, this subconscious world is as misogynistic as the one from which she’s just escaped, a club run by a sadistic owner who sells his girls to high-rolling clients. When Babydoll demonstrates her seductiveness during a dance, her mind reverts again deeper into another level of consciousness. During these dance sequences we see Babydoll’s mind play out a series of SWAT team missions commanded by Scott Glenn. Babydoll and her gal pals fight off giant Samurais, giant robots in WWI battlefields and all sorts of oddball opponents that Mr. Snyder dreams up.
Narratively, this is all a dog’s breakfast, as it’s overly produced eye candy that portends to have profound insight into our deep subconscious. There’s no doubt this is a career misstep for Snyder, which everyone will soon forget as they move on to better things. Pretty much the entire critical world agrees, and for the most part the film has quickly fallen out of the public consciousness. Even with the unevenness of Watchmen, it still felt important and valuable to the pop culture zeitgeist at large. Not much resonates from Sucker Punch.
That said, I was never bored while watching it. No matter how ridiculous or nonsensical it is, Snyder can shoot a film with such panache, it’s often a beauty to behold. Sure, he may overuse his slow motion and speed ramping effects, but damn if it doesn’t consistently deliver a spectacular kind of action few filmmakers can deliver today.
If anything, the film can also be cherished for one scene alone. It’s a truly awesome fight sequence aboard a moving train, during which the girl SWAT team rappels into a moving train from a helicopter while fighting off a couple dozen badass robots with lightsabers and handguns. Snyder’s choreography and execution of this scene are superlative, but it really exists for its own sake and contributes little to the story and character development in the movie.
The whole film is a series of set pieces seemingly designed while Snyder was sleeping or listening to his iTunes library while stuck in LA traffic. The music choices are especially precious. Tracks like Led Zeppelin’s When the Levee Breaks and The Beatles' Tomorrow Never Knows are pretentious and imply that some grand art work is being constructed when really it’s as empty and lifeless as those meatheads in 300.
Sucker Punch is available on Blu-ray and DVD from Warner Home Entertainment.