Friday, March 25, 2011

Review: Sucker Punch

Well it was bound to happen sometime. Zack Snyder has finally made a movie that is too stylized for it's own good. Which, by the by, neatly encapsulates not only the movie's strengths and weaknesses, but also my opinion. But stick with me, there's more to this.

The plot consists of a girl in the 1960's named (I swear to god) Baby Doll who is sent to a mental institution after her stepfather frames her for the murder of her sister. She learns she is soon to be lobotomized and comes up with an escape plan. Along the way she and her fellow inmates escape to a shared dream where they are actually in a whorehouse. Oh and Baby Doll herself retreats into a personal dreamspace where she reimagines herself and her fellow inmates as ass kicking soldiers, running missions for the things she needs for the escape in a world that somehow mixes fantasy, World War I, Anime and steampunk.

All the things that are good about other Zack Snyder films are good here. The visual style is distinct, the action scenes clean and exciting (although he still hasn't grown out of his habit of abusing speed ramping). The ambient soundtrack is well used (although with the exception of a well used cover of Sweet Dreams, most of the rest of the soundtrack is just annoying) and the CGI is superb.

But these things add up to maybe half the movie. And the rest is...problematic is the best word. Conceptually it's just fine, if a little weird and hard to follow at points, (protip: pay attention to color saturation to figure out how close to reality you are). But the dialogue is clunky, the characters broad and cliched, because you know that all of the action sequences are taking place inside a dream it sucks a lot of tension out of the fights and the denouncement takes too long and accomplishes too little in

That's not even addressing the acting. Most of the male characters are aware that they're only villains and so phone it in (with the exception of Scott Glenn who seems to be having fun) but I'm actually surprised at how boring most of the female leads are. Only Jena Malone and Carla Gugino are putting in any real effort to move beyond their cliché.

And that ignores the problem with Emily Browning as the lead. With her minimal dialogue (I think she has maybe 2 minutes total of dialogue), lack of any real depth and complete refusal to act at all, were she not the driving force behind the plot and the lead of the action sequences, she would be completely swallowed by her own movie.

And even the style has it's problems. We can justify and twist and try to figure out a way around it, but when you boil it all away, this movie is extremely juvenile. And not just in the obvious way, IE the clear fetishized girl dolls that are the entire lead cast. But the movie itself has no real structure, just moving from set piece to set piece with little interconnectivity or way to string it together, and the film is set up in such a way not only to work with that, but to work like that. There's little in the way of point or meaning to the film and what little meaning we might get is bold facedly explained to use up front. And it even fails to pander completely, as it's PG-13 rating means that you're not going to get to see any real gore or sex. By the end of the film, the realization that you're essentially watching a laundry list of Zack Snyder's fetishes is going to start to weird you out.

Of course, the dream within a dream concept invites comparisons to Inception, also due to them both being director driven action movies. This is a little unfair, partially because Inception is so much better, but also because the film that Sucker Punch most wants to be is Brazil believe it or not. It's not a coincidence that both movies contain a giant robot samurai in the main character's dreamscape. But unlike Brazil's mature stoicism, Sucker Punch's juvenile outlook prevents it from ever being more than cheap thrills.

So, overall it's not terrible, but it's not very good. The action sequences are all I can really recommend, and even they would be a whole lot better with an R-Rating. Look, I know we all wanted this movie to be good and do well, because Snyder is doing the next Superman movie, but I call it like I see it. If nothing else, it's much better than Battle: Los Angeles or Red Riding Hood, but I'd still recommend you hit up Rango or The Adjustment Bureau ahead of this. Sorry. See you next time.

Elessar is a 21 year old Alaskan-born cinephile and he's still not sure what the title has to do with the movie's content.

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