2011 so far has not only been tough on the ole blog — It’s been tough on the movie-going. There have been a number of flicks I’ve been on the cusp of seeing in the weeks since The Adjustment Bureau — Paul, Limitless, Jane Eyre — and some I’ve even been really looking forward to, like Source Code and Hanna. Alas, the only movie I’ve actually managed to catch these past few weeks was…Zack Snyder’s Sucker Punch. Oof.
As you probably already know by now, Sucker Punch is a rather terrible film. Ok, to be fair, it isn’t Gods and Generals-bad or Richard Kelly bad. Just on the basis of its occasionally diverting, fan-service-y visuals — clockwork Huns and ninjas vs. robots and whatnot — it’s probably ever-so-slightly more entertaining than recent drek like The Tourist and Alice in Wonderland. But, let’s be clear, this movie is still atrocious. Sucker Punch basically feels like sitting through an extended cutscene from a lousy, nonsensical, and rushed-to-release video game, and one with a shoddy English translation to boot.
Worse, every single lousy habit of Snyder’s — the fratboy sensibilities, the repetitive slow-fast-slow action sequences, the derivative and/or middlebrow pop culture tastes, the “Dude, that’s so extreme” Mountain Dewness of it all — is wallowed in here. If nothing else, Sucker Punch should answer once and for all whether or not the degree of difficulty for Watchmen was over Snyder’s head. It plainly was. Here, the guy the New York TImes somehow deemed “the purest geek-auteur of the geek-film era” (Uh…PJ? Del Toro? Cameron?) is given carte blanche to do pretty much anything he wants on the studio’s dime, and his big idea seems to be: “Duuuude, let’s re-make Brazil with hot chicks! That’d be so righteous!” Alan Moore, he’s not.
Oh, sorry, was that a spoiler? Well, you probably figured it out once you saw the big samurai in the trailers. In any case, as Sucker Punch begins, a young woman we come to know as Baby Doll (Emily Browning) — I’ll get to the stripper names in a bit — tries to shoot her abusive stepfather after what looks to be an attempted rape, hits her little sister instead, and ends up in a Shutter Island-like sanitarium for her troubles. See for yourself — This is all shot like a mid-90s’ music video and set to a hushed cover of the Eurythmics’ not-at-all-played-out “Sweet Dreams.” Oooh, edgy choice! (Keep an ear out for equally lazy and literal-minded picks by The Smiths (“Asleep”), Bjork (“Army of Me”), Jefferson Airplane (“White Rabbit”), and The Pixies (“Where is my Mind?” — grifted from Fight Club) also.)
Anyways, this Arkham Asylum for the Scantily Clad is run by a European psychiatrist with unorthodox methods (Carla Gugino with an appalling accent), presided over by an orderly with a dictatorial streak (Oscar “OUTLAAAAAAAAAAW” Isaac), and brimming over with young fetching patients (a la Poison Ivy and Harley Quinn), most notably sisters Sweet Pea (Abbe Cornish) and Pilot (Jena Malone). Or at least that seems to be the case — For when Baby Doll overhears she is scheduled to be lobotomized in five days (by none other than Jon Hamm, who’s apparently trying to pay the mortgage until Season 5), she escapes into a fantasy world where the asylum is actually a cabaret/bordello, her imprisoners are the proprietors, and she can simultaneously melt the mind of any man and become a ninja warrior everytime she does a risque dance. Um, what? (And, hey, wasn’t this the plot of Burlesque?)
You know, it’s not really worth talking about the story for another paragraph. Suffice to say that, to escape their plight, Baby Doll and her sisters-in-captivity kick a lot of ass in these fantasies-within-fantasies. And yet, even though these sequences all involve totally extreme fan-service stuff like robots and dragons and bi-planes and zeppelins and Scott-Glenn-playing-David-Carradine (You really want to impress the fanboys? Get Peter Weller next time), they’re increasingly boring to sit through. This is one of those movies where you’re told early on that there are FIVE (5) super-important Maguffins that must be reclaimed for the heroine(s) to prevail, and you spend the rest of the movie wishing they were looking for the last one already. As with Snyder’s 300, I tried to sit there and just lizard-brain my way through the terrible stuff, but it’s just impossible. The dialogue is awful. The story is incoherent. The exposition is cringe-worthy.
And, yes, the gender politics are rancid. Look, I paid for the ticket — I’m not above watching women in revealing outfits face down genre baddies. (I mean, wasn’t that the whole point of Underworld?) But Ellen Ripley does not exist in this dojo. Everything about Sucker Punch — the characters with zero personality but their stripper names, the whole trapped-in-the-bordello and magical-striptease angles, the constant scenes of implied sexual violence and/or Women in Peril — reeks of emotionally-stunted, puerile fratboyism, or worse. Since release, Snyder has gone out of his way to suggest his film is totally un-sexist and empowering, and, besides, he’s just giving the audience what they want, you know? Duuuuuude, it’s like he flipped it! That’s so extreme! Yeah, not so much. It is, however, more than a little embarrassing to sit through.
More than anything, I spent Sucker Punch feeling bad for the actors (especially Cornish and Isaac, and I have a soft spot for Gugino and Hamm) who were clearly better than the material. Well, that and feeling grim about Superman. It looks like the Big Blue Boy Scout will be rushing the frat scene next year. Dude, it’s gonna be so extreme.