By that, I mean that the stupid movie needs to be sucker punched. In the face. (Incidentally, it would be the only sucker punch the movie would see since there are no sucker punches in Sucker Punch)
I will start off by addressing an early crit that this blog received. The question begged: why am I writing a crit on a "popcorn film that has a pg 13 rating?" [sic] My answer, dear readers, is that I am a true lover of film. There are some wonderful popcorn movies that aren't going to have any textbooks written on them, they aren't going to garner any intellectual discussion and they are wonderful to watch. A couple that spring to mind are the Batman movies (the ones that count, anyway), almost anything in the 80s, and cheesy horrors like the Scream series. What do these have in common? They keep it simple. They contrive a formula and they stick to it. This is why I will never write a crit on any of them (though you may read a review on Scream 4 once I've seen it). This movie tried to get all deep and shi', so it must pay.
Allow me to rate it objectively:
This can be broken down thus:
Visuals (including costume, make-up, effects etc): 7/10
Plot and script: 0/10
I've judged it according to what I expect from a movie like this. Please, don't get me wrong, I didn't include any ratings on theme, rhetoric or genre for a very very good reason. I went into that movie expecting some shallow stuff, what I got was something different.
Let me go into my initial expectations a little further. A good friend (with whom I share an uncannily similar taste in movies and slightly less similar view on popular culture/memes) told me about the movie a while back, describing it as a steam punk-y action film with hot, badass chicks. Now, I watch me some trashy movies (my hard drive holds more John Hughes than is natural for this decade and Clueless may or may not sit beside them) so the simplicity of this movie did not offend me before or after watching it. Initially, my biggest worry was that the steam punk presented in this movie would make dear Jules Verne claw at his coffin and that I would have to henceforth stomach skanky girls with pigtails and bronze goggles prancing around me at clubs (hypothetical clubs; the ones I'd go to if I had a life and infinitely more patience) and tattooing cogs onto their shoulders(dammit, that actually sounds fugging cool) between their cherries and swallows (not so much with the cool). I now laugh at myself for letting that be my biggest worry...
Now, I must just say that I am not going to discuss the psychological elements of the film because I am not enamoured with the process of annotating the holes in a sponge. That aside, here we go:
It starts off with this beautiful scene. The screen was not adjusted as it usually is when the feature begins and so I was wondering if this was indeed the movie or just another trailer. I found myself thinking hmm, I think I'm gonna have to see this movie if it isn't the one I am here to see already. As it turns out, it was the movie I'd paid to see and I got a little excited. The beginning comprised of a harmless and quasi-haunting rendition of "Where Is My Mind?" sung by the competent but unremarkable Emily Browning (who also takes the lead role as Baby Doll) in a more than pleasing staged palette of greys and doves. There is a pretty little thing on a bed and you as the viewer are beginning to formulate all sorts of possibilities for what the situation is and where this may go. The super-duper thing about this movie is just about every formulated conception of the plot is correct, just as none are... You see the problem with this, right?
But let's not get ahead of ourselves. The scene evolves into another action filled one in which our protagonist undergoes the typical hero-genesis-device and loses a loved one, consequently loses her shit, loses her aim and then is perceived to have lost her mind. Fair enough, remember, we are not here to see the wheel reinvented. Onward. We now see the little girl dragged off to a mental asylum and another bell goes off in our heads as to convention, we are simultaneously placated and intrigued. There are evil men, a reluctant (hot Russian with Transylvanian accent) matron and some girls. This is where the bells start to chime a little to loudly, and as you see the previously sobbing and sopping girl's head with its perfect make-up and hair the bells turn into vulture cries and you know that they are circling above what had the potential to be an incredible movie. Now, understand that too perfect make-up is a very big bugbear of mine when their placement is not relevant or effective but it is all the more annoying in this case as it brings me to a crucial fault in this movie: it lacked in contrast for most of it, and then it made these little switches in which it's all contrast and zero contiguity. We are presented with multiple levels of narrative and their appearances only alter at the sartorial level, this pretty much undermines the entire point of the film - that being that your mind can be your own means of empowerment. Why on earth would you not use face smeared with mud/mascara/hair as an establishing device? Why? Oh, because that would make sense? Oh okay.
Basically, the movie is about a girl who is abused in many ways and gets sent to a mental asylum where she is lobotomised. At the moment of lobotomy (when the needle - held at an angle that would do little more than clear her sinuses - is inserted) she is transported into her subconscious and undertakes what I'm sure we are supposed to see as an exploration of her id. This is where it gets a little too pointless. She is sent to a realm in which she is able to reframe her experiences at the asylum over the past few days as a new addition to a troupe of dancing girls/whores (I mince chickpeas not words, people - deal with it) and she plots a painfully derivative scheme to get them out of the club that they are forced to work at and tend to, scrubbing floors in heels and false eyelashes. It is discovered that she is a fabulous dancer that all the guys go crazy for because - wait for it - she is actually going deeper into her subconscious as she dances, drawing on every sci-fi/fantasy trope she could just to give the creative team a chance to make pretty scenery and blatantly stolen character tropes mesh with hot chicks in awesome costumes, I mean, er, so that she can subconsciously vanquish the baddies which has a pseudo-metaphorical tie to her sub-reality so that she can get a whole bunch of vacant hussies killed, I mean, er, so that she can... um... oh I don't really know and I'm fairly certain Zack Snyder didn't either. But apparently it's about empowering women! Because shaking your barely covered groove thang in front of a bunch of highly essentialised male characters and then killing them in your dreams is so bad ass! Or maybe that part comes in the "epic climax" (well, one of them) when she gives the big bad boss a bit of a cut in the shoulder (okay fine, it's age restricted, but I'm fairly certain the Harry Potter movies had more righteous violence going on) or was it when she did the ultimate pansy move of kicking a guy's balls in a crescendo of feminist hells-yeah? Bollocks, I tell you.
Regarding the title. I kept waiting for both the metaphorical sucker punch and the literal, because seriously, who uses a fairly cool title like that and doesn't take full advantage of it? Zack Snyder does, apparently:"There’s a mechanism in the movie that sneaks up on you. We sort of plant the seed of this thing, and then at the end of the movie it kind of comes back around. I think that in some ways, that’s what the sucker punch is. But also you, the audience, have like a preconceived idea when you look at Baby Doll. You think she’s innocent and sweet, that she’s capable of only a certain amount of things. But I think that’s a mistake. So that has something to do with the title, too." So, apparently even the metaphorical element requires some "like" serious excavation to recover. On his last point there, by the by, if what's supposed to smack us on the face with regards to our pouty protag is her kinda self-less, unexplained but totally expected act, um... I give up.
On the whole, I am mildly offended as a simultaneous masculinist* and feminist. It offends everyone (maybe I should be finding a point of self recognition therein?), but by mistake which is one of the worst things about it. It also just abused its potential. They had an incredible creative team, those action vignettes were gorgeous and those costumes NEED to find their way to my closet, the music was pretty cool if a little obvious and the editing was pretty damn good. But as if it were for an entirely different movie, they had this jarring directive team, a first year BA student for a content consultant and this script that really makes me wonder if the whole movie wasn't some sort of outreach programme.
I think that if I were to describe it in just one sentence, it'd have to be: "Pretty and pathetic, just the way Snyder sees girls."
I don't really apologise if this offended you, but I do hope you will continue to read my stuff.
My next one will probably be about the role of the female heroine in late 20th, early 21st century film which will be a little less vitriolic and a bit more cohesive. I hope.
Peace, skulls and crisp green apples,
* Masculinist isn't recognised as a real word apparently. That's mildly disturbing.