Mar 30, 2011

Some Thoughts on "Sucker Punch"

By now, you probably heard it all about Zack Snyder's latest Sucker Punch. It's either a very anti-feminist attempt at being feminist drugged in a false sense of accomplishment, or it's one of the best movies to break narrative structure and reimagine what entertainment can be. I, for one, happen to fall in the category that thinks it sucked.
In truth, the movie did have quite a few hurdles to jump before I could even call it tolerable. The trailer, while having elements of intrigue, left little for me to be interested in. 

While I liked the color schemes in Watchmen, I felt the ones here added to a drag and boring world only made more apparent with a soundtrack featuring annoying covers of Jefferson Airplane, the Eurythmics, and the Beatles (sadly, that's the same thing that cost me my interest in Across the Universe).
In fact, it's only benefactor for me was the girls. The commercials created an ambiguity for me that insisted that either they were going to give it their all, or just walk around like Pinnochio pre-no strings. Sadly, the most I can say is the anti-message that Snyder was going for and that they were sexy, but little else.

So, what issues did I have with Sucker Punch?
I have actually been a very lenient critic of Snyder's career so far. I can tolerate 300, I really liked Watchmen (I think it's the movie he'll never top), and was an admirer of the animation, but the story in Legend of the Guardians was pure shit.
Again, it can be argued what is because of story and what is director. However, the ramping up of slow motion stuff is only effective when it's used effectively. That was my biggest issue with Watchmen the first time I saw it, but have since realized that it worked to the grandeur scale the story was set in. However, there's still no excuse for Legend of the Guardians, which was the movie that set my doubting spree into motion.

It's odd that I have been rather lenient on a director whose work hasn't left much of an impression on me. Maybe it's because he seemed to be the new Paul W. Anderson, making adaptations for easy profit, but with some artistic integrity. Maybe it's because he didn't seem that terrible and that Watchmen left a better impression than I had hoped on me (after all, I did call it one of the ballsiest movies of the decade).

But then again, this is all preconceived notion. Snyder is not a new face for me. However, with the gimmick that Sucker Punch is his first original story, I was excited, yet timid on giving praise to him. His movies worked because of the original story. He could withdraw dialog from them and make something coherent like 300.
However, after walking out of Sucker Punch, I felt multiple layers of annoyance (at one point, I felt like walking out early, but felt it would be unfair to my judgement). One of the most optimistic layers is the applause I give to Snyder for doing something original. No matter what, the style was his own, and the story couldn't be easily mistaken for any major Hollywood trends of the last ten years (except the S&M and action).


I give him applause for that, but the other layers slowly got more acidic in tone. This would be something to cheer about had I felt the movie was actually done well. For the first 20 minutes, I was willing to give anything a go at the idea that it would structure the story. I didn't let anything bother me (though easily the cover of the Eurythmics was a pretense of bad covers to come).
As the story progressed, main character Baby Doll (Emily Browning) goes from a mental institution for shooting her sister, to receiving a lobotomy from the doctor (Jon Hamm), to some brothel where apparently everything works out through the magic of song and dance.
Ok, let's analyze. I haven't skipped a step. I was hoping this would be explained later in the movie as having some meaning. I never understood why we delved into Baby Doll's head when she was getting a lobotomy and why she would feel most comfortable in a brothel. Maybe she's an avid dance fan and Studio 60 was still decades away?
I kind of forgave that. I didn't understand, but I was hoping it would be explained at the end. However, I totally lost interest when it turned out that each dance routine (albeit to bad song covers), was the only way to access these wild fight scenes in colorful worlds. What did dragons, dead Nazis, and trains have to do with stealing maps and other utilities to escape? I don't think it would have been interesting to show once in awhile them actually stealing the stuff instead of them hallucinating.

I'll be honest, the first fight scene was interesting. I mostly think that because it was the introduction to the world (even though I am still mirthed at this point about how they got to the fight scenes). Baby Doll managed to fight an even fight. As they went on, the got more and more boring because instead of getting hit, majority of the fights were quick slashes with swords and the opponents never got one move.
Besides the fact the world makes no sense and nothing proved to be at stake (does anyone die in the realer world? Why are there so many dead Nazis and when they die, what do they represent?), the scenes had a habit of going too slow and too fast (oddly in time with the camera's focal point of upskirts) and it was sort of nauseating. And at times I found them monotonous because, well... they were empty threats and supposedly Baby Doll could dream up her own world, yet she needed a Wise Man (Glenn Scott) to inform her on what to do (don't even make me wonder how every other girl managed to get into Baby Doll's head during the fight worlds).

And then again, I wanted to understand the characters more than the fact they needed multiple things to get out of the prison. Sure, Baby Doll was accused of murder, but I was hoping for some reveal that this was all a way to cope with it. Somehow, killing dead Nazis doesn't feel like coping, more like rubbing salt in the wound.
Yes, I accept that the guys in the brothel were bad, but there didn't feel to be much point when they went down so easily. A simple knife to the throat knocked many out easily. I wasn't expecting much, but I was hoping that since the movie already invested an hour in this asinine world, that it would at least make some symbolism to turn these guys into the bosses in the fight world.

Supposedly, some people tell me I overlooked the depth and symbolism of this movie. I must wonder how it matters when I didn't care for the characters to begin with. Most seemed flat and generic, and dancing to escape troubles is as plausible as making a movie around me writing this blog just to clean my room.
Some can argue that it's not as interesting to say the simple petty theft that could've taken two minutes should have been shown instead of elaborate, five-ten minute segments of fighting dragons. Maybe it looks cool, but it feels at time to add nothing but minutes to the movie.

The soundtrack really annoyed me, too. Not being big on action movies, I was already opposed to listening to someone singing Jefferson Airplane's "White Rabbit" in an epic, psychedelic with electric guitar fashion. Also, I felt the tone due to music was inconsistent and the songs alone were enough to take out some imagination (think... would the scene with the cover of the Pixies' "Where is My Mind?" have been better with a more ambiguous track? I mean, she was getting a lobotomy. Was the Ramones' "Teenage Lobotomy" not available?).
I felt that if the songs had been more in tune with the other movies that Snyder has done, this could have been an easily solved problem (ok, My Chemical Romance's cover of "Desolation Row" in Watchmen was pretty bad). I felt that with better music, my impression of the scenes, no matter how monotonous, would have been more appreciative.

Also, it's 1960's and there's very few tracks from the 60's. Why couldn't we get the originals? Sure, covers of the Pixies and Eurythmics may sound good, but I guess Snyder gave up on consistency after Watchmen.

In the end, I didn't care for any of the characters. True, the fight worlds made some sense towards the end, but I felt like they should have done that earlier on (maybe show Baby Doll with a bruise on her bicep as a subtle clue?). It would have helped instead of just killing off Rocket (Jena Malone) because their mission goes wrong. The impact would have greatly changed.

If there had been more apparent stakes involved, then maybe I would have cared, instead of wondering when the fights were going to end.

I would like to say that the ending is profound. That Sweet Pea (Abbie Cornish) was the real main character the whole time and that Baby Doll was just imaginary (or a guardian angel as the opening narrative would suggest), but then I'm left wondering why so much time was spent focused on lobotomizing Baby Doll (even if she is a fictional version of Sweet Pea).
I just don't think the narrative structure was strong enough and gave good enough clues to convince me that each world was important. Even if it was something profoundly simple, like a mirror in the Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus, the alternate world would have made more sense. However, since it was imaginary, what was the point?

I have gotten into a few arguments that I'm missing the symbolism and that there is plenty of depth. However, I'd like to argue that whatever Snyder was going for didn't work for me. It may have been there for you, but I just scratched my head and glanced at the clock to see how much longer it would be.
I was utterly bored. There's no changing that. I've made my argument, most of which is opinion and shouldn't be taken as the ultimatum. If you like it, please be willing to engage in a cohesive conversation about it.
I'm still waiting for the one person who can tell me what the depth was in this movie. I don't think Snyder had much depth in his other movies and while I commend his attempt here, he doesn't succeed at all.

If I get any impression from this movie, I feel that Snyder should stick to directing. Leave the plot to someone else. That's what makes his other work good and coherent.
I'm arguing if he'll do a good job with the Superman movie. I mean, he's good at property movies, but after this, I'm kind of convinced he's a one trick pony, no matter how high his ambitions are (M. Night Shyamalan also had ambitions, yet no one will defend the Lady in the Water).
Yet, he's working with Christopher Nolan as producer. Maybe a watchful eye from the guy who I respect with making blockbusters good again could help guide Snyder in the right direction?

I just hope when he gets back to original movies, he'll be more hip on script supervisors and rewrites.

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