Thursday, 3 October 2013

This review was originally published on The Film Pilgrim on 6th August 2011. As that site has now disappeared from the internet, I'll be re-publishing my reviews and features, staggered over the next few weeks. This was the first review I published for them and remains one of my personal favourite pieces. I really hated Sucker Punch...

Release Date (UK DVD) – 8th August 2011
Certificate (UK) – 12
Country – USA
Runtime – 109 mins
Director – Zack Snyder
Starring – Emily Browning, Jena Malone, Abbie Cornish, Vanessa Hudgens, Jamie Chung

Zack Snyder’s action fantasy Sucker Punch, his first film to be based on his own original story, follows Babydoll (Browning), a girl framed for the murder of her sister and sent to a mental institution by her evil stepfather. She then rallies the girls of the asylum (which has turned into a brothel within her insane state of mind), and formulates a plan to escape. This involves her dancing to distract a series of people while her cohorts – Sweet Pea (Cornish), Rocket (Malone), Blondie (Hudgens) and Amber (Chung) – pickpocket a series of items from them. When Babydoll dances, she finds herself and the gang transported to mysterious far away worlds in which a wise Old Man (Scott Glenn) tells them to blow things up to find the corresponding MacGuffin.

This is undoubtedly a unique premise and is directed by Snyder with visual panache. The swiftly choreographed action scenes have a certain stylish flair to them and are upholstered by impressive special effects. Accompanied by a rocking soundtrack, Snyder never misses an opportunity to blow something up spectacularly. With a variety of enticingly produced environments, ranging from the battlefields of the first world war to a speeding train on a distant planet, there’s no doubting that a lot of effort has gone into giving Sucker Punch a memorable range of "totally badass" imagery that could just be the best thing ever to the stereotypical twelve year old male video gamer.

However good it may look, however, Sucker Punch manages to become something that may not be one’s first thought upon hearing of a film containing giant samurai, German steampunk zombies, dragons and robots – boring. Zack Snyder is a hyperactive child, with a plethora of visual ideas but no attention span to do anything interesting with them. There are laughably stupid moments, such as when a giant Japanese samurai appears – with a giant bazooka, of course. But most of the time, I found myself uninterested by the repetitive action sequences, with the lack of any binding narrative between the sequences rendering them largely meaningless. With no source material to rely on, Snyder shows a complete lack of storytelling talent. Whole scenes, like Amber using a giant robot to fight the German zombie hordes, seem to only be there because the director thinks they look cool, which, as anyone who’s hit puberty knows, is not the way to make a good story.

The film’s problems are furthered by the distinct lack of depth to the characters. The acting can’t really be criticised, because the actors don’t play what can be described as “characters”; “sex objects with guns” would be a more appropriate term, rendering the heroes impossible to have any real sympathy with. It’s hard to describe some of the girls with words other than the considerably unsophisticated “phwoar”, due to their personalities being entirely non-existent. The ridiculous claim that Sucker Punch shows empowered women is worrying; Snyder seems to think that taking his voyeuristic fantasies of young girls in revealing costumes and giving them guns to prance around with is “empowering” them. Somehow, I don’t think a truly feminist movie would have heroines called Babydoll and Sweet Pea.

While the video game comparison is often made (and indeed, it would work better as a game than it does as a film), Sucker Punch is best described as a semi-pornographic music video. The frenetic and interesting visual style is far from enough to justify Snyder’s juvenile storytelling and the utter lack of emotional engagement with the characters.

The extended edition features eighteen minutes of extra footage, if you can manage to sit through it. This includes two major new scenes. Firstly, there’s the show put on by the girls of the brothel; a musical number to “Love is the Drug”. While it jars with the tone of the surrounding scenes, hence its cut from the theatrical release, this Moulin Rouge-inspired sequence allows Snyder to draw on his music video experience and is, admittedly, quite memorable and fun. The other new scene comes late on in the film and features an appearance from the best actor in the film (if not the world), Jon Hamm. His dream world character of the “High Roller” shows up to seduce Babydoll in a scene which adds to the meaning of the following pivotal scene with the real version of Hamm’s character. It’s nice to see this minor appearance fleshed out from a mere Hammeo into something meatier.

The DVD also features a behind the scenes documentary of sorts entitled Maximum Movie Mode, following a similar feature on the Watchmen DVD. Zack Snyder isn’t one to take the word “maximum” lightly – this involves viewing the film with added commentary, interviews, storyboards and more cropping up around the screen. While it could be said that this fits the film, with too many ideas thrown into one, it’s actually quite insightful into the production of the film and an interesting new take on the behind the scenes style.

Also included are a series of animated shorts expanding the worlds of the dream sequences, which are, frankly, quite dull and meaningless, and a very short featurette on the film’s soundtrack, which I don’t have any problems with.

Two years on, and Zack Snyder still hasn't grown up much - here's my review of Man of Steel


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