A film review by Craig J. Koban March 30, 2011
2011, PG-13, 110 mins.
2011, PG-13, 110 mins.
Emily Browning: Babydoll / Abbie Cornish: Sweet Pea / Jena Malone: Rocket / Vanessa Hudgens: Blondie / Jamie Chung: Amber / Oscar Isaac: Blue / Carla Gugino: Madam Gorski / Scott Glenn: Wise Man / Jon Hamm: High Roller
Directed by Zack Snyder / Written by Snyder and Steve Shibuya
It seems that
every critic under the sun has been labeling Zack Snyderís fourth film,
SUCKER PUNCH, as an unmitigated and disastrous mess.
Some have even gone as far as to call it the LAST
AIRBENDER of 2011. That
latter moniker is gross hyperbole at best. SUCKER PUNCH may indeed be an unmanageable and self-indulgent
mess for Snyder (he conceived the filmís story), but itís as
aesthetically arresting of a cinematic mess as Iíve ever seen. Snyder has always been an exceptional director of a
visual front, and SUCKER PUNCH indeed lets his ambitious imagination run
free with reckless abandon on the silver screen.
Yes, the film is somewhat of a failure, but thereís simply too
much talent on display here to brand it as a arduous time waster, not to
mention that comparisons to M. Night Shyamalanís tortuous disaster from
last year are foolishly short-sighted at best.
anything, may lack restraint in his films, but thatís precisely
what his previous efforts required. Reticent
filmmakers could have never gathered up the nerve to successfully
remake one of the most hallowed horror films of all time in 2004ís DAWN
OF THE DEAD, not to mention that it took balls the size of Dr. Manhattan
to helm one of the riskiest, most complex, and most potentially polarizing
comic book adaptations ever in 2009ís WATCHMEN.
Hell, even Snyderís blood and gore-drenched period epic 3OO
displayed his prodigious talents for faithfully appropriating Frank
Millerís splattergorium, swords and sandals graphic novel.
It takes singular endowment to handle these kinds of films with
just the right gutsy panache.
SUCKER PUNCH just
may be Snyderís most audaciously realized audio/visual nirvana yet.
The film, if anything, is a masterstroke of employing cutting edge
technological innovation and filmmaking wizardry to fully realize the
boundless sense of imagination that just pours out of every inch of the
screen. I find it difficult
to lambaste any film that throws caution to the wind and goes for it; just
consider what we are shown here: giant snakes, mankind hating cyborgs,
machine gun-wielding demonized samurai, salivating orcs and dragons, combat
against steampunk Nazi zombies in a pseudo-WWI hellscape, and, yes, hot
babes in bondage attire sporting ample physical assets while brandishing
enough firepower to fetishistically shoot their way out of anything.
SUCKER PUNCH is a materialized adolescent male pornographic fantasy
come to life, but it never hides behind that notion.
The opening scene
of the film is arguably is finest, all presented with virtually no
dialogue and set against a haunting backdrop of eerie and gothic scenery and a
masterful juxtaposition of imagery
to tell a story of family tragedy in just a few scant minutes.
A young woman know later as Baby Doll (Emily Browning, whose rosy
cheeked complexion, intoxicatingly beautiful eyes, and porcelain
loveliness makes her a perfect physical embodiment of her role)
comes to grips with her motherís death, but her new guardian seems to
relish at the notion of getting a large inheritance in the will.
When he doesnít he goes on a frustrated and mad spree and
murders Baby Dollís sister, but she is later accused of the murder and
is sent to Lennox House, an insane asylum. Since this is the 1960ís, it becomes glaringly clear that
this asylumís methods of rehabilitation are anything but noble minded
future appears grisly, to say the least: she has to fend of the lecherous
Blue (oozing contemptuousness by Oscar Isaac), who has made a sickening
deal with her stepfather to forge a doctorís signature to approve
lobotomizing her within five days in exchange for a large bribe.
Baby Doll is befriended by Madam Gorski (Carla Gugino, having a
ball vamping it up to enjoyable effect) a doctor and dance instructor that
teaches her girls how to deal with their current predicament by commanding
and taking control of their imaginations.
During Baby Dollís first ďsessionĒ she transports herself
into the world of her imagination, an alternate reality where she is now
an orphan sold to a 1950ís brothel where her and the other incarcerated
ladies perform for wealthy clients. Itís here where Baby Doll hooks up with three other
dancer/whores that she will become close allies with: Sweet Pea (Abbie
Cornish), her sister, Rocket (Jena Malone), Blondie (Vanessa Hudgens, a
far, far cry from HIGH SCHOOL MUSICAL) and Amber (Jamie Chung).
As Madam G tries
to get baby Doll to dance for a high ranked client, she cognitively
transports herself to a new faux reality within the faux reality, this
time she is now in a Japanese dojo where she meets an old man (Scott
Glenn) who offers her a chance to secure her freedom.
He gives her weapons (a katana and a handgun) and instructs her to
collect five objects: a map, fire, a knife, a key, and a mysterious fifth
object that will only come to her when she is ready.
When Baby Doll returns to her previous dreamed reality, she pleads
with her new friends to join her on her quest, which they do, albeit
begrudgingly. From this point
the girls morph in and out of Baby Dollís pseudo-realities to secure the
items required that, in turn, will allow them to become freeÖbut only
before the so-called High Roller comes to make mince-meat out of Baby
SUCKER PUNCH is a
hyperactively offbeat and deviously conceived hodgepodge of films as far
ranging as MOULIN ROGUE (in the opening title cards alone), INCEPTION,
GIRL, INTERRUPTED, KILL BILL,
SHOWGIRLS, and any martial arts-infused anime flick of your choice.
The fantasies within fantasies that all occur within Baby
Bollís mind are essentially the selling points of SUCKER PUNCH, and they
all are steeped in sumptuously mounted production design, exemplary and
lively CGI-artifice, and balls-to-the-wall action intrigue.
The creativity here is splendidly energized, meticulously stylized,
and exhilarating. I liked the
excursion the woman had to the nightmarish trenches of a re-imagined Great
War battlefield where Germans have been reduced to steam and clock powered
robotic ghouls. Then there is
an exciting fantasy sequence Ė echoing THE LORD OF THE RINGS in spades Ė
where Baby Doll and her companions mush slay a young dragon without waking
up its mother, which they fail miserably at. When the mother appears and unleashes her monster might on
the woman, they fight her off in WWII-era bombers.
Then there is the sci-fi fantasy dream state where the girls must
stop a ticking bomb on a train from reaching a futuristic city on a planet
that looks like a colonized moon outside of Saturn.
All of these sequences Ė albeit seemingly disconnected and
increasingly abstract Ė are all wonderfully absorbing and bizarrely
provocative romps through Snyderís hellish bullets 'n broads version of ALICE
values on SUCKER PUNCH are on bravura display and really pop
(especially without the need for the eye-gouging obtrusiveness of a 3D
upconversion; thanks, Zack!). Yet, as involved as I was in the visual texture and dynamism
of the film, SUCKER PUNCH is negligible on an emotional and dramatic front.
The script itself (from Snyder and Steve Shibuya) is fiercely ambitious, but
lacks proper embellishment and development.
Baby Dollís entourage of tough talking and bad- assed female
warriors are performed well but the actresses, but as characters they are
poorly established, being only typified by their sultry outfits and their
preferred method of killing. Emily
Browning, a luminous and capable actress, is woefully bland and one-note as
Baby Doll. Her eyes and lips
do most of the performing, which leaves a lot to be desired when it comes
to an actual persona vying for attention.
I certainly liked ogling at all of these women, but the script
rarely made me care for them. Itís
funny, but for all of the filmís pontificating on being about female
empowerment and girl power, SUCKER PUNCH indulges us more on a salacious
level viewing the females on display as objects to lust over. Hmmmm...I
donít think you can have it both ways.
Yeah, the film has other faults, like an ear-splittingly punishing hard rock score that uses cover songs and haphazardly jumbled up tunes; perhaps Snyderís intention here was to comment on the maddening extremes of his filmís schizophrenic vision, but it more or less has the unintended side-effect of exhausting the viewer into a numbing sense of anxiety. Then there is the wimpy PG-13 rating of the film, which considering Snyderís headfirst and unapologetic bravado heís displayed in the past, seems like a desperately safe ploy for mass marketed consumption. SUCKER PUNCH, dare I say this, needs far more exploitative nudity, violence, sex, and overall crassness to match the inherent lewdness of the story. In the end, Snyderís film is more imperfect, overlong, undisciplined, and convoluted than it is a calamitously awful misfire of epic proportions worthy of multiple Razzie nominations. There are components that I greatly admired in SUCKER PUNCH; itís just that the bowl they were mixed in lacked other integral ingredients to make it a successful whole.