March 28, 2011
The basic thrust of the story has Baby Doll (Emily Browning) institutionalized by her abusive stepfather in the wake of her mother's death. The young girl is distraught from what she has gone through and is in no shape to survive the asylum in which her stepfather places her, not to mention the plan he sets in place for her once she arrives.
In order to survive, Baby Doll (yes, that is the only name we get for her) creates a fantasy world. The cruel mental asylum is changed into a cruel brothel (what?). In this brothel, Baby Doll and her fellow patients(?) Sweet Pea (Abbie Cornish), Rocket (Jena Malone), Blondie (Vanessa Hudgeons), and Amber (Jamie Chung) are taught dances by the resident doctor, Vera Gorski (Carla Gugino). The dances are used to, well, I think we all know what they are used for.
Next comes the second fantasy level (it's a dream... inside of a dream!). Apparently, Baby Doll's dances are particularly good, so good in fact that they double as a fantasy level where the keys to her and her friends' escape is held. They are a series of over the top action sequences featuring battles with giant samurai, clockwork soldiers, dragons, and other impossibilities. Each one gets them one step closer to escape, or being caught.
It is a story that I suspect is meant to be about female empowerment, sexual politics, and believing in oneself. The problem is that Zack Snyder keeps it barreling through the plot points of interest to get to the next impossible action/fantasy sequence. Whenever it drops a potentially interesting nugget of seriousness, it is shuffled to the side for a big piece of eye-candy. This continual sidestepping short circuits any actual plot development.
Now, Snyder is a good filmmaker, the problem is that he needs to let his style get out of the plots way rather than the other way around. I get the feeling that Sucker Punch was about a half hour longer but when Snyder looked at it (or someone higher up), the thought process likely changed to "make it shorter and faster." This scissoring ended up making the movie faster at the expense of character development and narrative flow, of which there is none.
I can see places where character development should be happening and other places where plot points could be developed. These moments are covered over with the heavy handed use of cover songs (including "Sweet Dreams" and "Where is My Brain?"). It also feels like Snyder was absolutely in love with the quirky visuals and they just took over the process, kind of like that Michael Bay commercial: "I make things Awesome!"
Sucker Punch is not a bad movie. It is a misguided one. It is a messy one. It is one that has delusions of grandeur. I truly feel that Zack Snyder had some great ideas in his head about female empowerment that he is trying to work through here. Somewhere along the way they got sidetracked by schoolboy fetishism. Seriously, who knew that female empowerment came with thigh highs, mini-skirts, and cleavage enhancement?
With this glorious piece of trash I have learned that he may be a master of visual style, but he is not good at telling his own stories. Each of his prior movies have been based on pre-existing works and I think that helped to focus him, whereas here he had free reign and everything got jumbled racing for the fire exit of his brain. Everything just spills out onto the page and became an overwhelming mass of ideas and endless possibility.
Story and narrative issues aside, the cast is a pretty interesting collection. Emily Browning is rather hypnotic in the lead. Carla Gugino has an insane accent. Oscar Isaac is just odd, especially with that mustache. The rest of the girls lack much in personality, but certainly don't detract from the movie's visuals. Then there is Scott Glenn, what an inexplicable role, it is just.... I don't know. Words escape me on that one.
In many ways this is a candy store smorgasborg of junk with hints of seriousness meant as a way to justify its existence. It could also be a serious attempt at social commentary. Frankly, I am not sure it really matters what the intentions were. The end result is something entirely different and unexpected. It is something I feel no shame in saying that I enjoyed it. Big budget, B-cinema. You just have to grab the reigns and just hang on. Not everyone will enjoy the ride, but you will have an opinion. Even in failure this is a project that should get a little more credit than a lot of the other legitimate trash that hits the screen.
Posted by Christopher Beaumont at 3/28/2011 10:26:00 PM
Chris has been an avid movie watcher for decades, getting into the writing game in 2004. Since that time he has contributed to a number online publications as well as running CriticalOutcast.com. In addition to movies, Chris is a big fan of music, particularly metal, and will never give up hope on his beloved Mets.