Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Sucker Punch (2011) – Review

Sucker Punch is full of action, highly stylized and yet completely boring and un-engaging. From the media on the film, the audience goes in expecting a film with attractive women battling all manner of monsters, and that does happen, but the film is not about that at all. Director Zack Snyder made the film as a commentary on the fanboy cultural treatment of women – they are projected as the repulsive cook, grotesque orderly and other characters (manifesting sort of a voyeur role). The women (aside from Dr. Gorski) in the film play out huge action fantasies dressed in sexy outfits that really have no meaning other than the mere spectacle of it all. In the three layers of the film, they are either inhabitants of a mental asylum, prisoners of a brothel or members of an elite fighting unit. On the first level they are seemingly abused and either driven mad or unjustly imprisoned in the asylum. On the second level they are in constant fear from their pimp, and on display for disgusting men. And on the third level they are empowered sexy women fighting evil. So what does this say about how fanboys objectify women? Well Snyder takes it to its extreme in the third level, which was then used as the selling point for the film by Warner Brothers, thus making his argument for him in a sense. But the shooting style that he uses does not really objectify them; therefore it feels more like a comment on the issue. The first level is full of monstrous male characters (save for the Wise Man and to some extent the Doctor), and the second level takes these repulsive men and gives them complete power over the women while assuming a voyeuristic role, specifically watching the mesmerizing dance of Baby Doll, which is never put on screen as it is represented by the fantasy third level – tapping straight into the ultimate fanboy wants (or so Snyder assumes). Thus in this film, fanboys are the disgusting male characters, and it is a scathing (and somewhat true) assessment (which is probably why many fanboys did not like the film). But what makes the film interesting intellectually as well is that Snyder promotes a feeling of feminism and female empowerment as well, as the core narrative is about these girls rising up, fighting back and getting free of the oppressive males. And this is all well and good, and again makes for an interesting piece of cinema to think about, but the problem is that the film is not entertaining at all, which completely crushes the aspirations of the film. All the action scenes have no real tension, they are just noisy. The lack of tension arises from the utter lack of character development in the film, aside from Baby Doll’s prologue and a few tidbits about Rocket and Sweet Pea. Thus, if the audience does not care about the characters (and we do not) then they do not care about the outcome of the action scenes or dramatic scenes and thus true tension and anticipation are not present making them, no matter how spectacular, bland. Plus the monsters in the fantasies had no soul, making it feel a bit dull. The bordello scenes are therefore the most engaging of the film, and have most of the character driven work, but even they are too exposition filled and lack enough character development to carry the film. This is only exacerbated by Snyder’s cinematic style. Style is a very good thing to have. It is what sets great directors apart, and Snyder has the potential to be great. But much like with Watchmen (only to a much higher degree), style has overrun content and narrative. The film plays a bit like a series of music videos (the music coming from mostly poor covers of good songs). It is really too bad. Snyder has made a very personal and ambitious film that rightly attacks the fanboy cultural objectification of women, but the narrative is weak leaving Sucker Punch as a sub two hour compilation of unentertaining spectacle.

Technical and acting achievements: Zack Snyder is still a very exciting director with a lot of talent despite missing the mark with this film (though, Warner Brothers did not believe in him after the film was torn apart by testing audiences, and thusly the film was toned down and the original ending removed – some of it will be in the director’s cut, but not 100% of what Snyder wanted to do). I am still interested to see what he does with Superman. Tyler Bates and Marius De Vries did an ok job with the score, but some of the covers (whether they had anything to do with them or not) were pretty terrible, which hurt the music of the film overall. Larry Fong’s cinematography worked really well given Snyder’s style and constant use of slow motion (really there was just too much of it) and Rick Carter’s production design was cool. I liked his castle set (though probably 99% CG). Their work along with Snyder’s provides the film with some stunning visuals. The cast had a fairly awful script to work with (dialog wise) and shallow characters so no one really provided a great performance. Jon Hamm was actually quite good, however, in his cameo. Jena Malone and Abbie Cornish were the most engaging of the main characters.

Sucker Punch should have been good or at least entertaining, it had a lot of the right ingredients – but it is not at all. 4/10

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