Wednesday, 21 December 2011

Film Review | Sucker Punch, dir. Zack Snyder

Have you ever wondered just how much stuff you could fit into a single film?

Evidently Zack Snyder has. Sucker Punch is like the entirety of The Lord of the Rings trilogy - the Extended Editions, of course - meets The Matrix, by way of Devil May Cry, Onimusha, and Alice: The Madness Returns, with Hermione from Harry Potter running about in a close-fitting miniskirt the whole time, shooting dudes and gyrating to show tunes, presumably because Baz Luhrman is behind the scenes somewhere, and since she's dressed to impress... well, why not?

Sucker Punch is a mouthful of a movie, make no mistake, and a lot of it falls flat on its ass; enough to ruin any other single film. But at the same time, I think the latest from the writer/director who made his most lasting mark with 300 has been quite unfairly maligned. It's certainly not all bad, and not a minute of it is terrible. You might say some moments are even entertaining. And from first to last, it sure does look good.

Sounds alright, too. Boy can Baby Doll sing!

But Baby Doll: there's as good a place as any to start. Before Baby Doll was Baby Doll, see, she was an older sister, and an alluring prospect for the abusive monster of a man she has for a stepfather. This she tolerates, because what other choice is there for an orphan girl like her? But one night Baby Doll-to be watches her stepfather sneak into to her little sister's room. She uses her imagination... and snaps. Or does she finally see sense?

In any event, the result is the same: her stepfather has her locked up in an exclusive asylum for virginal young women, which just so happens to double as a harem for high rollers like Don Draper from Mad Men. He's coming to do what he will with this beautiful new blood in five days, incidentally, but Baby Doll doesn't mean to take this latest cruel twist of fate lying down either. Rather, she resolves to escape this utterly corrupt institute whatever the cost, and so sets out to enlist the assistance of some other pretty young things, namely Rocket, Sweet Pea, Blondie and Amber, in exactly that order.

Which is all perfectly sensible, give or take some early incoherency. Sucker Punch only goes off the deep end when Baby Doll and her attractive associates take to shared hallucinations in order to recover five MacGuffins which will somehow enable their happily-ever-after exit to stage left: fire, a map, a knife, a key, and one other thing; a sacrifice sure to cost these dancing queens dearly.

It's all very video-gamey, needless to say. The search for mostly meaningless objects to move the plot along is rarely so thinly-veiled in film, and it's strange to see it foregrounded in this fashion. Yet I could see past that. I even reached deep and found it in myself to not gawp for altogether too long at all the skimpy fetish gear Zack Snyder's deemed it appropriate to dress up his barely post-pubescent cast in, which I gather has been quite the issue amongst many of Sucker Punch's most vociferous critics.

Leaving aside the fact that there's quite a bit of skin on show here, and there is - apologies if you came expecting some impassioned argument about the propriety of such titillation in cinema; I've seen a lot worse done a great deal less professionally - if you ask me, Sucker Punch's greatest obstacle is its own boundless ambition. Because it's not enough that it wholesales borrows all the most distinctive tropes of steampunk, science fiction and fantasy - never mind gun porn, hellish Nazi horror and the superhero movie - it also feels the need to be a bit of a musical, too; also an extravaganza of apparent girl power, a pseudo-Shakespearian tragedy, a visceral visual feast, and I could go on. That's maybe a third of all that Sucker Punch is, or aspires to be.

The thing of it is, even if fully two thirds of everything in Sucker Punch ultimately comes to nothing - and there is so much to take into account here that it would be beyond tedious were I to endeavour to do so; these broad strokes are I think in everyone's best interests - even then, there is enough left that does work, that does thrill and excite and amuse, to fill five lesser films than this, the biggest, brashest, ballsiest movie I've seen all year.

On the one hand, I couldn't wait for Sucker Punch to be over. It's absolutely exhausting, and it does go on... oh yes. On the other hand, however, I wouldn't take back the experience of seeing it, and hearing it - it's worth mentioning that the soundtrack is one of the most memorable since Underworld - for a single, solitary moment. It looks, then, fantastic; it sounds simply superb; the ensemble cast put on a solid song and dance - certainly everyone seems game for a bit of fun; Sucker Punch feels, finally... just fine. 

For good or for ill, it is truly a movie like no other. Too much of one, if anything. But I wholeheartedly applaud Zack Snyder's grandiose ambition; his inimitable and impeccably rendered vision. Even if you never want to see another hint of it henceforth.


  1. Nice to know I'm not the only one who thought this movie had a few redeemable moments! But then, I have pretty low standards for movies, haha.

  2. I wasn't quite as quick as you to point out the merits of Sucker Punch, but I didn't feel it deserved the bashing that it got from film critics, and I certainly do not understand why so many film geeks have it in for Snyder. I think his adaptation of Watchmen is an amazing ode to the book.

    Having said all of that, I didn't come all the way over to the Scottish internets to discuss Sucker Punch. I came here to see your reaction to the trailer for The Hobbit, but there's no reaction! Not a trace or a hint of one! So I'm going to head back across the pond and I shall only return to Old Blighty when you've fulfilled my request.

    Seriously, I hope you're doing well, Niall. Merry Christmas from Uhmerrycah!


    The Sound and Fury of Kristopher Denby

  3. @Kris - Well, I loved it, didn't I? :)

    It took me right back. It made me hopeful about the prospect of a few truly great movies next year - this and The Dark Knight Rises, of course - after the low of 2011. It renewed an urge in me to reread The Hobbit, and not for the first time.

    Also, that song? My oh my...

    I don't know that I've talked about The Hobbit at all here on TSS, but I'm absolutely excited to see it, yes sir! It's only that it's seemed so very, very long off; that is till this trailer hit.

    Meanwhile, I was rather less pleased with The Dark Knight Rises trailer. I'm still psyched, but Bane's voice certainly hasn't helped, but I don't know about Anne Hathaway's Catwoman at all, and the teaser makes it seem like she has a huge part to play. This disagrees with me.

    But I'm hoping to be disagreeable in depth about genre cinema in 2012 sometime after the holidays, so more on all that then.

    You have a heck of a Christmas too, Kris - and a happy new year to you and yours too.

    Actually, that goes for everyone: merry early Christmas to the lot of you!

  4. The key to the film success (of which there are many) is the energy and pure spectacle of what we are watching. Director Brad Bird (of Pixar fame) handles his first live-action feature with a clear understanding of how an action scene should look and never lets the audience rest for a moment as the action moves around the world from Russia to the more glamourous Dubai and India. This, the fourth instalment in the M:I franchise, is the closest to how James Bond used to be, with nuclear missiles and globetrotting and luxury cars and beautiful women; however, the writers still keep the ‘impossible’ in Mission: Impossible with the gadgets and customary break-in sequence

  5. The script needs tightening, but I am surprised about people around me missing the entire point about this being Sweet Pea's story, told through Babydoll.

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