Monday, March 28, 2011

Fail Fatale

From the moment the trailer for Sucker Punch debuted at 2010's Comic-Con, it had become my most anticipated film of 2011. More than Thor. More than Captain America. More than just about any theatrical release you can imagine scheduled for this year. With it's engaging special effects, talented cast and explosive action, Sucker Punch looked like a crazy three-way love child borne of Kill Bill, 300 and The Pussycat Dolls. There was only one major obstacle between this film and guaranteed awesomeness: director Zack Snyder. While I (among others) loved his directorial debut in 2004's Dawn of the Dead, the remake of George Romero's classic zombie-ocalypse, his films have since been known more for style rather than substance. 300 (which I admit I haven't seen) has been described as a generally brainless film with beautiful sets, and Watchmen would have been unwatchable if not for the same style of visual splendor. Even his animated feature Legend of the Guardians: The Owls of Ga'Houle was criticized for it's lack of character development and predictable story, while any who see it might "ooh" and "aah" the ocular stimuli. Simply put, Snyder is good at making things on screen look good, but that alone doesn't make for a good director. He was the main reason for any scenario in which Sucker Punch would not live up to its full potential, and that's a shame, as going in I (and my friend The Opinioness, who ventured with me) was worried that without Snyder this film might actually have had a chance of surprising us.

Yes, yes I think I will follow you into battle
After the death of her mother, Baby Doll (Emily Browning) is sent to an insane asylum for violent girls by her evil and lecherous stepfather. That same evil bastard wants to have Baby Doll lobotomized to prevent her from talking about his transgressions, and an orderly named Blue (Oscar Isaac) assures him that an expert is coming in a few days to carry out the procedure. With only days before completely losing her identity, Baby Doll hatches a plan to escape along with several other inmates: diva Sweet Pea (Abbie Cornish), her sister Rocket (Jena Malone), Blondie (Vanessa Hudgens) and Amber (Jamie Chung). Sneaking behind the backs of Blue and the asylums' doctor Madam Vera Gorski (Carla Gugino), the five follow their plan via highly-exciting imagination-action music videos, and attempt to overcome the many obstacles in their path to gather what they need to escape.

Sorry Gugino, your Polish accent doesn't make up for your lack of necessity
The film's best achievement is by far the visuals. Yes, I know, stop your vigorous head-nodding, we all knew this was going to be the case. The film has a very Inception-esque vibe, not only in the amount of imagery used but in the story's concept as well: the young women live in an asylum, but create an image in their minds of a Roaring 20's-era brothel, because the real world is too painful. From there, Baby Doll imagines this whole other world in which she and her friends battle dragons, robots and monsters to obtain the real-world items they need. So Sucker Punch can be described as a dream within a dream, just like last year's summer blockbuster. However, while the theme worked for Inception because it was an integral part of the story, these overly-designed sets act with no real purpose to the plot of Sucker Punch, serving as merely an alternative telling of the far more mundane events; apparently Baby Doll has a hypnotic dance that immobilizes her target while the other girls simply steal what they need to escape, THAT'S IT. And I'm sorry, but after a completely gonzo first action scene in which Baby Doll takes on a trio of vicious giant Gollems, the rest of film's like scene feels remarkably similar, never growing in spectacle or explosiveness. Instead, they are just one steady hum, like that of a dead man's pulse.

Worse, the film's story is so dry and uninteresting that it's filled with miniature music videos of random stuff happening, mostly the transition from the first dream to the second. While the film's opening is an amazing feat, mixing tragic storytelling and amazing imagery (Snyder did a similar opener for Watchmen), the musical montages that follow are obvious filler for having nothing else to do while the film moves to the next major plot point. At least Snyder is the master of the film soundtrack, from the haunting tones of "Sweet Dreams (Are Made of This)" in the opener to Emiliana Torrini's "White Rabbit" and a Queen hip-hop mash-up and Bjork's "Army of Me" (proving perhaps that Bjork appeals to all the people some of the time). It's only the excellence of the soundtrack that makes these scenes even remotely entertaining, as even what we can see on the screen doesn't always make up for just how lousy the storytelling gets.

Her hair moves more than in a Japanese anime, and the audience gets about as many nosebleeds
The acting is at least solid throughout, though by no means special. I have to imagine this is more due to the especially weak characters, not the actual talent involved (okay, it doesn't hurt that I'm convinced everyone on the cast minus Vanessa Hudgens could beat the crap out of me). Browning doesn't have a whole lot to do besides stare blankly and speak dry, unoriginal dialogue. She does get some juicy scenes (including being the star of the film's opening) but otherwise her biggest contribution to the film might be in the form of three musical tracks. Cornish is the best of the ladies, but also is limited by poor repartee and no character growth. Malone and Chung appear also to be talented while delivering their cliched lines with as much emotion as they can convey. Hudgens is the worst of the bunch by a long shot, so it's good that she doesn't really do much besides smirk and cry, given the context of whatever scene she's in. Oscar Isaac chews scenery as the film's main antagonist but was much better in 2010's Robin Hood, and Carla Gugino is merely a cypher when it comes to being the closest thing to a maternal character seen in the film. Serving no purpose, it's hard to imagine what Gugino was thinking when she took this part, especially as her tole in Snyder's Watchmen did her no favors. Finally Sean Glenn emulates a Carradine to great effect as Baby Doll's guardian angel, who guides her to the tools she needs.

By far The Real World's greatest contribution to society
Once again, we're left with the idea that Zack Snyder should probably stick to visual artistry. I could forgive him not being able to set up the audience for the meat and potatoes that is his amazing effects, but the film's sheer inability to produce anything original or noteworthy is inexcusable. It's as if the large number of possible inspirations for the strong female roles (Ellen Ripley, Sarah Connor, The Bride, and Thelma and Louise) didn't exist in creating characters so anti-feminist. While they fight against injustice and sacrifice for one another, any considering these emotionally-stunted girls as "strong" female roles doesn't really know what they're talking about. Under another director, perhaps a woman who could more empathise with the themes Snyder fails in properly understanding (Kathryn Bigelow, Lexi Alexander or Karen Kusama, to perhaps name a few), would have been more successful. I do applaud Snyder's attempt to tackle something new and different, but the film's lack of originality and his failure to capitalize on the great ideas he himself put forth are the main reason Sucker Punch will be in contention for 2011's worst movie of the year. As it stands, the film barely cracks the Top 10 films of the year, coming in square at #10. Fans of DC's Superman beware, you will be unprepared when Snyder takes on your beloved hero next in the franchise's upcoming reboot, called for now Man of Steel. It will most likely make Superman Returns look like a masterpiece in comparison.

1 comment:

Opinioness of the World said...

Yes, yes, YES!! I could not agree more. I applaud Snyder for featuring female characters and while he had a great idea for a film, it was misogynistic, sexist bullshit. Someone else should have directed this film.