Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Sucker Punch: Review

I don't often put a lot of stake in professional film reviews, but I had a sense something was up when Sucker Punch couldn't pick out enough positive quotes to make one of those ads where they say how much critics loved it. Still, I was too hyped up about this movie to not see it, so thankfully the poor reviews tempered my expectations.

I wouldn't go as far to say that Sucker Punch was a bad movie, but it was definitely a heavily flawed one. I wanted to like it because I'm a big fan of the director, Zack Snyder. The premise of the movie, in which a cast of hot women go from being damsels in distress to badass heroines, felt like it was something he came up with as a teenager and held off on making until the he earned Warner Brothers enough money that they'd let him do whatever he wanted. I mean that in a good way. It feels like somebody's dream product. The finished product is definitely more mature and polished than some teenage fanboy movie, but it's heart is still visible.

There's not any particular part of the movie that stands out on its own as bad. There's no groan-worthy dialogue or horrendous acting. By no means is the movie at all unwatchable, but the problem with Sucker Punch was that it's a collection of well crafted parts that don't work together as a whole.

There are three aspects to the story, and the first two actually go pretty well together. There's a strong opening and a good follow through. It starts with a young woman, known only as Baby Doll, who gets incarcerated in an asylum after she tries to kill her abusive step-father. Once in the asylum, she takes her mind into a fantasy world where she imagines she's a captive in a brothel, and invents a plan to escape with her fellow captives.

Everything falls apart when the third aspect of the story comes into play, which is made of the big action sequences that are splashed across the trailers and TV spots for this movie. The idea is that Baby Doll needs to acquire several items to make her escape. Her friends try to help her steal the items while Baby Doll dances to distract her captors, and her dancing is apparently something completely mesmerizing.

The audience never sees her dancing though, because once she starts moving her body, Baby Doll goes even deeper into a fantasy where the task at hand becomes some mad-crazy action scene that's symbolic of what they're trying to do. For example, the girls need to steal a lighter, so when Baby Doll starts dancing she imagines that they're stealing fire from a dragon.

I liked the idea of the heroine using an escapist fantasy to deal with the very real horrors before her, but the action scenes, where they're battling robots, monsters and steampunk Nazi zombies, were so out of scope of the rest of the story,  they just didn't feel like they belonged in the same movie. It also didn't help that the action scenes were directly tied to Baby Doll's dancing. It made what was supposed to be a metaphor just a bit too literal. The action scenes would have probably made for a great movie on their own, and they were definitely well made, but they just didn't work with the main story.

Also, it was hard to get my mind past the notion that the fantasy world Baby Doll comes up with while in the asylum is unmistakably a very male fantasy. Yes, the women in the fantasy are very much empowered, but it was hard to buy into the idea of a woman fleeing an abusive step-father by imaging herself as an erotic dancer who can take herself to a sci-fi/fantasy world where she and the women are led by a father figure type.

I did at least appreciate that Zack Snyder made nods to the works that inspired parts of the film, without resorting to full-on "borrowing." There's a bit of Walter Mitty, some Brazil thrown in the mix and an unmistakable helping of "An Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge." Thankfully, Zack Snyder has enough respect for his audience to be up front about the last one, and not try to pull it on the audience like a twist ending we never heard before.

Overall, Sucker Punch is a well crafted movie that should have spent more time in the conception stage before actually going into production. It's easy to see how much worse this movie could have turned out. Tell most directors to make a movie starring chicks with guns and you usually end up with something like the Resident Evil movies. The movie Zack Snyder made could have been a lot better if he hashed out the balance between the various fantasy scenes. I get a sense of the movie that he had in his mind, but it isn't quite the movie that he ended up making.

Although disappointing, it had enough good moments to it that it didn't shake my faith in him as a director, and I'm definitely looking forward to what he can do with his upcoming take on Superman.

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