Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Movie Review: Sucker Punch

I was very, very excited about this movie. It features a bunch of unthinkably hot chicks in ridiculously fetishized costumes battling dragons, orcs, giant robots, Nazi robots, robot samurai with Gatling guns and just plain old robots everywhere from Germany to an alien planet. If you gave me a truck full of money and told me to make a movie, it would probably be an awful lot like Zack Snyder’s Sucker Punch. And that is a problem, because I have no fucking idea how to make a movie. I don’t know how to create a compelling visual narrative, I don’t know how things should be paced, I don’t know how to coax actors to deliver good performances. Apparently Mr. Snyder and I have some things in common.
*I’m going against my normal rule and putting spoilers in this review because I need to in order to express everything I feel about this movie. If you don’t want everything ruined, stop reading now.*

The opening minutes of the movie are set to an excellent cover of The Eurhythmics “Sweet Dreams” and show how the protagonist – Babydoll (I don’t think we ever get her real name) – loses her mother, accidentally kills her sister while trying to protect her from sexual assault by their stepfather and ends up in an (very Arkham-esque) insane asylum so that her stepfather can control her (presumably vast) inheritance. It is all very drab and dramatic and slow-motiony and even at this point there was something going on that I didn’t like. I wasn’t sure at the time what it was and I’m still not. I think maybe it all felt a bit too much.
When we get to the asylum we are introduced to the main antagonist. I can’t remember his name, but he was one of the best things about the movie. If they do a new Addams Family movie this actor totally needs to be Gomez. Naturally this guy is evil and takes money from the stepfather to have Babydoll lobotomized so she can’t be a problem. We are also introduced to the stage in the asylum, where Carla Guigino’s character works with the girls to overcome whatever their particular issues may be. I think in a different version of Sucker Punch this stage would have played a much more significant role, and I think that version might be a whole heck of a lot better than the one I saw.
Anyway, we learn that Babydoll has five days before the lobotomologist (or whatever) is going to show up to do the deed.
After that Zack Snyder makes his first move to eliminate any interest in the events of the movie or concern about the characters. We get a scene with Babydoll strapped into a chair. There is a doctor there talking and he picks up a giant, ice pick-looking thing that looks like it came out of Pinhead’s tool belt; raises it to Babydoll’s eye and then – a millisecond before it goes in – we move inside the girl’s head to the first dream sequence.
My problem here is that the way the lobotomy scene was shot made me one hundred percent sure that that chick was getting lobotomized. Seriously, I was all like, “Well she’s fucked. Who am I supposed to be caring about?” The only way that pick wasn’t sliding up under Babydoll’s eyelid and piercing her frontal lobe was if… well there was just no way. Short of all of the fantasy shit coming alive and her busting out a katana and slicing off the dude’s hands at the last second. And I just didn’t think there was much chance of that happening (spoiler alert – I was right).
So right there we have any kind of concern for our protagonist removed.
But we have to keep going, so now it’s time to meet the whores. For some bizarre reason Babydoll has imagined she is in a brothel. The guy that runs it is Gomez and the priest bringing her to the brothel is Babydoll’s stepfather. In a bit of weird narrative trickery, we are introduced to this scene by way of a new character – Sweet Pea – stopping the performance of a staged lobotomy on the whorehouse stage. She makes what is some sort of meta commentary on the weakness of the narrative thus far and instantly establishes herself as unlikeable. Really. There was nobody in this whole movie that I liked less than Sweet Pea and this is hilarious for reasons that will become clear later on.
So Gomez tells Sweet Pea to show Babydoll around but Sweet Pea is too busy being Queen Bitch of Slut Mountain so she tells her younger sister, Rocket to do it. Naturally, Rocket is all sympathetic and quickly becomes BFFs with Babydoll.
I’d like to mention here that the costumes in the whore house are hideous, boner-killing things. While the main costume designs from the good parts of the movie (the ones you see in the trailers and posters and stuff) are right up my alley and I ask our dear Lord on a daily basis to make sure there are plenty of ladies at Dragon*Con dressed in them; the whorehouse costuming is a fetish of Snyder’s I just do not share. The look is best described as “Homeless 40’s Ballerina”.
Amber explains how things at the brothel work and introduces her to Carla Guigino’s character, Madame Gorski. Even limping around and utilizing an accent more ridiculous than Red Skull’s from the 1990 Captain America movie, Carla Guigino is so fucking hot. At this point we learn that all the girls have to dance so they can entice the customers into fucking them. Now, I don’t know what kind of weird, selective males Zack Snyder has populated his world with; but I have never needed to see a girl dance to determine whether or not I wanted to give her a hot beef injection. But whatever. A conceit has been established.
Eventually Babydoll has to dance and this is where the movie gets really, really good (for a while). Madame Gorski plays “Army of Me” by Bjork and triggers a scene that will be forever remembered as one of the great broken promises of cinema (by me, anyway).
When Babydoll dances, she enters yet another dream world where she is in a little black sailor/schoolgirl uniform. This particular dream world is feudal Japan, complete with swirling snow and temple stairs. Babydoll heads up the stairs and enters the temple to find Scott Glenn sitting at an altar behind a sword. We go through some typical, “What are you looking for?” crap and he tells Babydoll she has to get a map, fire, a knife, a key and that she will end up having to sacrifice herself. I mean, they don’t straight-up say that, but it is so blindingly obvious they might as well have had Bruce Willis pop out and say, “I’m dead!” And I really do think that Snyder thought it wasn’t obvious. Because otherwise the ending of the movie is even more of a piece of shit. And I just don’t believe Zack Snyder knowingly made a piece of shit.
So Scott Glenn gives Babydoll the sword and a pretty cool gun with a bunch of charms on it and leads her outside. It turns out these three giant robot samurai showed up while they were inside chatting and Scott Glenn is all like, “Alright, well – go get ‘em!” and basically shoves Babydoll out the door and shuts it behind her. “Army of Me” kicks back in and we get one of the most visually stunning battles I have seen in years. The background is fantastic, the robot samurai look fantastic and menacing and tangible. Babydoll even gets her ass kicked a little bit before she starts to figure out how to fight back, and this establishes the physics of this dream world. Everything is just beautiful and impactful and could not have been shot and choreographed better.
And the whole time I’m sitting there thinking, “Yeah, but – she’s going to get lobotomized. She loses and there’s some stupid twist.” And I just couldn’t get invested.
So Babydoll kills all three robots in grand fashion and returns to the Brothelscape, where she has apparently just completed the most amazing dance anybody there has ever seen. Even Gomez and Madame Gorski are impressed. I think this is where we met the other two girls – Amber and Blondie. Amber is my favorite.
Oh, actually, Babydoll had to save Rocket from getting raped by the cook before they were totally BFFs. Wow. Preventing two rapes in less than a week. Somebody should make this girl the main character of a movie. Oh, well.
Note: Babydoll took the knife she used to save Rocket from the cook and taped it up under a drawer in the dressing room.
So now that Babydoll and Rocket are buds, Babydoll shares her escape plan with her four new pals and is kind of a shitty little bitch about it. She explains that she’ll dance while one of them snatches whichever item they’re going for at the time. Sweet Pea wants to know why Babydoll is the one dancing and they have to take the risk and little Miss Primadonna responds, “If I’m dancing nobody will even know you’re there.” Holy shit! Stuck up much?
They immediately put their plan into action, which was a relief because the Brothelscape stuff gets old pretty fast.
Babydoll went back to the dance room and Sweet Pea went to Gomez’ office to tell him that Babydoll was getting ready to dance again. He and his buddy hopped up and took off, leaving Sweet Pea to sneak into the office and photocopy a 3’ x 5’ map on what appeared to be a standard copier.
While Sweet Pea was performing that task, Babydoll had another trip to the Awesomescape. This time she’s in Germany fighting Nazi steampunk zombie robots and the rest of the girls are with her. As awesome as the Japan segment was, this one is ten times awesomer. I can’t remember the accompanying music for this one, though.
Scott Glenn is a General this time around and tells the girls they have to retrieve the map from the evil Nazi General across the battlefield and then gives Amber a giant mech suit with a bunny painted on the front. The girls move through the trenches and fight a bazillion Nazi steampunk zombie robots while zeppelins and tri-planes and Amber’s robot duke it out in the sky. Stuff explodes roughly every 4.7 seconds and it is all awesome and perfect.
Except that none of the girls gets shot or hurt and no sense of peril in the Awesomescape has been established. We already know that Sweet Pea is getting the map from Gomez’ office. Even if, say, Amber gets blown up (dear God no) it doesn’t impact the goal, the Brothelscape or the real world in the slightest.
So Babydoll gets the map and returns to the Brothelscape where she has once again danced Better Than The Best. Gomez is so pleased that he’s going to have her dance for the Mayor the next day. This works out perfectly because next the girls need fire, which is the Mayor’s lighter. So while Babydoll dances, Amber will sit in the Mayor’s lap and sneak his lighter out of his pocket.
This leads to what would have been my favorite Awesomescape segment of the movie if not for the lackluster cover of “Search and Destroy”. The instrumentation wasn’t so bad, the vocalist just couldn’t handle the song. It was very limp for what should have been a high-energy, exciting scene. Iggy would have been rolling over in his grave if not for the fact that he is still miraculously alive. The cover was so bad that I had to find out who did it and it turns out the culprit is Skunk Anansie. The name is familiar, but I don’t know if this is a person or a band.
So anyway, the segment that this weaksauce cover blighted involved the girls raiding an orc castle that was under siege by humans so that they could slice open a baby dragon and retrieve two fire-making crystals from its throat. This time the directive was delivered from Scott Glenn in the guise of an Air Force officer in the back of the plane the girls are getting ready to leave the hard way.
I forgot to mention that Scott Glenn delivers some kind of cliché along with each mission directive. I’m sure there was some kind of significance there, but I didn’t get it.
Once the girls land in the castle courtyard they battle humans and orcs alike until they gain entry. Once inside, the baby dragon is right there inside the doors. So they walk up and slit its throat. I can only assume the casual brutality of this act and the cold way in which the girls carry it out is supposed to be dismissed by the viewer due to the fact that nothing happening in the Awesomescape is real. The only problem with that is that when the viewer pauses to think about it, it once again brings up the complete lack of peril or stakes.
But the girls get the crystals and, of course, wake up the mother dragon. And she is pissed. In one of the coolest dragon sequences I have ever seen, Momma Dragon ascends the interior of the castle and leaps into flight, chasing down the most obvious target – the girls’ plane, piloted by Amber with Blondie manning (womanning?) the gun turret. While Blondie peppers the dragon with bullets and bad dialogue, Amber flies the plane through breathtaking maneuvers designed to shake the mighty reptile. I have no idea where Scott Glenn went. I got this mental image of him sitting on some cliffs overlooking the action, sipping a mimosa.
Eventually Blondie leads the Mother Dragon back to Babydoll, who stabs it in the head. This is actually much more awesome than I made it sound.
And then Babydoll finishes dancing for the Mayor and he notices his missing lighter, creating an actual moment of tension! Oh yeah, Gomez also noticed something amiss with the map in his office right after Sweet Pea copied it. So Gomez catches the girls in mid-celebration when he goes to confront them about their shenanigans and tells them to cut that shit out. Sweet Pea freaks and says no more, but everybody else says they’re sticking with the plan.
And the next step of the plan is to get a knife. Get a knife. Remember that – it’ll be important later.
The girls have to get the knife from the cook. The problem is there’s no music in the kitchen, so they send Blondie to get the reel-to-reel from Madame Gorski’s room. For some reason I don’t entirely understand Blondie has some kind of breakdown and pretty clearly spills the plan to Gorski, who just as clearly turns around and spills it to Gomez. But I don’t think that Zack Snyder thought it was as clear as I think it was. Because again, that would mean he intentionally made a shitty movie.
So Babydoll and Rocket are in the kitchen with Amber trying to get things done. Blondie isn’t showing up and it looks like they’re going to miss their opportunity. And then Sweet Pea shows up to save the day and stick by her sister and for some reason the girls realize, “Oh! There’s a radio in the kitchen!” at about the same time. So with just a little bit of fucking recon they could have avoided Blondie’s breakdown and subsequent betrayal. Of course, there’s a much bigger issue at this point, but I’ll wait until after the robots on a train segment to point that one out.
The girls set up the radio and Babydoll hops up on the counter and a point is made of showing that the radio power cord is frayed and there is pooling water approaching it. Zack Snyder is about as subtle as a 400-pound trannie hooker in a day-glo orange wig.
This time the Awesomescape is a futuristic train hurtling towards a futuristic city. The girls are on a helicopter being briefed on their mission by another iteration of salty Scott Glenn. The deal is they have to steal a bomb – codenamed “Cook’s Knife” - from the train before it detonates. It is set to detonate when it gets in a certain proximity to the city. I had some kind of issue with this that I can’t quite remember. I think they were measuring time in distance or something.
Amber is, as always, the pilot and flies the girls up to the back of the train, which they blow open and jump into. The train is full of robots for the girls to destroy, so that’s fun. I did notice here that each of the Awesomescape sequences were actually shot in a different way – the Nazis were shot in a frenetic, handheld style; the dragon flight was a series of sweeping crane shots and the robot train was done in a style very reminiscent of The Matrix. Lots of slow motion and crazy camera movements that followed the weapons.
The girls destroy a ton of robots, Samurai Jack-style and make it to the bomb compartment. They deactivate the bomb and prep it for the helicopter, but Rocket notices there is another robot hung up on the bomb (like, right beside where she has been working), but not in time to stop it from reactivating the bomb. Babydoll is about to take care of it when the water finally hits the radio cord in the Brothelscape and shorts the radio, stopping the music and snapping the cook out of his sexy dance-induced stupor. Shit goes bad and we get our very first indication in the whole movie that things can go wrong when, while alternating between the Awesomescape and the Brothelscape Rocket gets killed. She has to stay behind with the detonating bomb in the former and gets stabbed by the cook while trying to protect her sister in the latter. But it still doesn’t matter because this still isn’t the Real World. We don’t even actually know Rocket or Sweet Pea or any of the girls in the Real World, so who gives a shit? Especially when we don’t even know if they’re dying or escaping or even interacting with one another? Especially when we know with, like, 96% certainty that Babydoll is getting lobotomized anyway? Aaargh!
Oh yeah, also – they didn’t even need to do this last mission because they already had the fucking knife that Babydoll took when she saved Rocket from the cook. You know how I know? Because she reached under the desk and grabbed it to stab Gomez when he was getting ready to rape her (this is a very rapey movie) after he shot and killed Blondie and Amber.
So. An hour and a half into the movie and we have finally established peril by killing three of the characters in a five minute span. And it still doesn’t matter because this is not the Real World.
Babydoll gets the key from Gomez after she stabs him and goes and rescues Sweet Pea from the closet. They set a fire and use the map to get out and I’m not sure why they even needed the knife in the first place and they definitely didn’t need to go on a mission to get one because they ALREADY HAD ONE. SHIT.
So Babydoll and Sweet Pea get outside and there are a bunch of dudes out there and Babydoll realizes, “OMG! I haz to sacrifice!” and walks out and kicks a dude in the nuts while Sweet Pea escapes in the total opposite direction from where the dudes were facing.
And then we’re back to the moment just before the lobotomy and, sure enough, POKE! It’s done. There’s some stupid bullshit from the lobotomologist about the look in her eyes (STIGMATAAAAAA!) and then Real World Gomez takes Babydoll away to rape her (naturally). BUT! Real World Madame Gorski has discovered that Real World Gomez forged her signature to have Babydoll lobotomized and she comes to the rescue! So Babydoll may be a vegetable, but at least she didn’t get raped!
Cut to the bus station where Sweet Pea boards a bus driven by Scott Glenn and then gives a stupid voice-over about life.
Dammit, I wanted to love Sucker Punch. There were definitely things I wanted to love about this movie, but everything else about the movie fucked that up.
The Brothelscape should never have happened. Or it should have been the Real World. Just a much more fantastic and horrible reality than our own, but real and with consequences. The story was just too muddled and too obvious, except for the part where they tried to say the narrative had flipped over to Sweet Pea. Because it hadn’t. We may have briefly switched to her perspective going from the Real World lobotomy to the Brothelscape, but it’s a cheap trick with no lasting shift of perspective; not the clever narrative device that Snyder thinks it is.
Anyway, Sucker Punch has not caused me to lose faith in Zack Snyder. I am still a fan, I just don’t think he should ever write again. At least, not without careful and heavy editing.
This is a gorgeous movie and one I will buy once it comes out on Blu-Ray. Once I can just skip to the Awesomescape scenes I’ll be happy and who knows, maybe the inevitable director’s cut will fix some of the issues I had. This is a deeply flawed film, but maybe another version can still be fun.
2 out of 5 Fascinating Uses of Fishnet

Here are some extra BONUS! pictures of some cool standees the theater had out. 
I'm just as excited for all of these as I was for Sucker Punch. 
I hope they meet my expectations more than this one did.
Until next time, stay creepy

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