We have come to love Zack Snyder’s visual style, attention to detail, and ability to adapt comics to the silver screen. But, we don’t really have a sense of what he can do on his, without someone else’s work to rely on for inspiration. That is, until this March when he unveiled Sucker Punch, a personal project that had been gestating in his mind for years and he finally was given the opportunity to make it a reality.
Some reality. The mind-bending storyline is a visually and aural feast but is somewhat soulless and cold, not just from the over-reliance on CGI for background and texture but for the total lack of attention to characterization. Like the computer backgrounds, everything is on the surface, giving the cast little to work with, turning them into two-dimensional players on his digital chessboard. Most of that explains why the film fizzled both critically and commercially. In case you missed it, the movie is coming to DVD on Tuesday from Warner Home Video and packs a lot of meat into what feels like a snack.
The story, what there is of it, spotlights 20-year-old “Babydoll” (Emily Browning), confined to a mental institution in the 1960s by her abusive step-father (Gerard Plunkett). She’s locked away because she refused to submit to his unwanted sexual advances, although he claims she was responsible for the death of her younger sister. He exacts revenge by paying off the corrupt attendant Blue Jones (Oscar Isaac) to have her lobotomized, allowing him to solely inherit Babydoll’s inheritance.
The remainder of the film watches Babydoll plot an escape, while befriending fellow inmates — Amber (Jamie Chung), Blondie (Vanessa Hudgens), Rocket (Jena Malone), and Rocket’s older sister, Sweet Pea (Abbie Cornish) — who are being taught sexually provocative dances by the lead psychiatrist Dr. Gorski (Carla Gugino). Babydoll convinces them to help her plan their escape and she mesmerizes people with her own dances and each time she and the audience segue into an action-packed dream sequence. We never see Babydoll dance but there’s plenty of compelling visuals to occupy us while the girls steal the tools needed to enact the plan. Her dreams are directed by a Wise Man (Scott Glenn impersonating David Carradine).
The girls have but three days to succeed with their plan before Babydoll’s virginity/sanity is taken by “The High Roller”/Doctor (Jon Hamm).
And that’s pretty much it. Each sequence is a wild mix of steam punk, science fiction, fantasy, and war motifs as the girls swing swords, fire machine guns and takes on fire-breathing dragons or manipulate huge robots. Obviously, each fantasy matches the real world’s actions but it’s far from subtle.
There’s just not a lot here to keep you interested for nearly two hours. Snyder is a fabulous visualist and knows how to make CGI sing. Everything is in muted tones adding a somber touch to the movie. The familiar songs are all reinterpreted for the film and much credit goes to the soundtrack for keeping us watching.
The key problem is that Snyder sees this as female empowerment but it objectifies the female characters punctuated with rape, violence and degradation without redeemable qualities. None of the men really get their comeuppance as they richly deserve and feminists had a field day with this for good reason. He’s really going to have work on this for his forthcoming Superman feature since Lois Lane is Superman’s heart and soul.
The DVD looks great and comes in a combo pack. There’s the Blu-ray theatrical version plus Snyder’s 18-minute longer Extended Version, which amps the action quotient to earn it an R-rating and the two main sequences – a musical number and more with the wonderful Hamm – make the movie more engaging. The key extra on this disc is Snyder taking full advantage of the Maximum Movie Mode to walk you through everything about the making of the movie, demonstrating what a labor of love this was for him.
Both discs feature four motion comic shorts directed by Ben Hibon that were promotional bits to introduce elements of the film to audiences. Nothing much to say here. There’s also an all-too-brief piece on the film’s music, with composers Tyler Bates and Marius De Vries, which like the movie itself, is all surface and no depth.
Jun 27 2011 By E. Emery “guy that buys stuff occasionally”
The extent to which this film has been cast aside and misunderstood even within those that makes claims as to having enjoyed it is unparalleled. To begin there is not one ounce of true exploitation in Sucker Punch. Snyder carefully chose his shots, costumes etc as to avoid becoming a T & A film. The point of showing girls wrapped in costumes representative of fetish was to attract a certain crowd and illustrate a point; fantasy is fun and without consequence if you understand the boundaries of fantasy. If you begin to loose sight of the boundaries of fantasy you begin to apply those concepts to the real world and there are consequences. Hence, no real death in the fantasy world until it leaks into the “real world” and starts to break it down. Movie goers, consumers, etc are obsessed with over-sensualizing teen girls (ie From Annette Funicello to Brooke Shields to Brittany Spears up through Miley Cyrus). By doing this teen girls grow up as prisoners of their own sexuality and are taught to “empower” themselves with it against the brute force of men. A subjective empowerment all women will enact on more than one occasion and that all women will loathe and/or enjoy at one time or another; sometimes both. That is one of the many questions Snyder poses; where is the line and what messages are we sending, specifically in Hollywood where T & A is the name of the game for most starlets.
There is also a lot of criticism for the so-called lack of inspired imagery; orcs, nazis, robots, etc. Again, this was the point. Tired of X-Men 5, Batman 6, Harry Potter 7, reboot, redeux, and remakes? Where something old is made new again? Snyder again was addressing the collapsing of the fibre of Hollywood and admitting, as with the girls, it’s all fun but what is the cost? This same point is driven home through the music selection- riddled with remakes, reboots and samples and presented in the most decadent hyper-stylized way. Listen to the dialogue again…Snyder is speaking directly to the audience…even referencing his own contributions to the mess of genre flicks swarming the market. Amazing just how intelligent and brave this film is and how far critics and audiences alike have fallen in their film intellect over the last decade or two. The main flaw of the film is in the unintended feel good ending enlisted by the studio after the original ending was far too challenging for screening audiences. Amusing how the film to which Sucker Punch repeatedly tips it’s hat to, Brazil, went through the very same struggles to be heard.
The “Sucker Punch” was the act of making a film with the purpose of baiting the audience with promises of action without consequence, sex without abuse, 2 fun-filled hours without introspection but in turn giving the audience creepy feelings of voyeurism and making the audience uneasy with enjoying the action that turned to violence. Unfortunately it’s all worse than Zack Snyder thought; he gave the audience too much credit and they never realized he was taking to them about the state of affairs. Great film.
Having only seen the trailers I would have to agree with you. This film looks like it has something to say.