Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Sucker Punch

"When the horrors of her real-life existence become too much for Babydoll, she seeks solace in the fantastical. There, she finds the inspiration and strength to fight for her freedom in the real world."

That description alone was pretty much enough to make me want to see Sucker Punch. The fact that I had really enjoyed Watchmen (as an adaptation more than as a stand alone movie) was icing on the cake.

This movie seems to be pretty polarizing. People bash it or they love it and tell you that you desperately need to see it. I'm afraid my own reactions are much more lukewarm. There were certain parts I really loved, and others that just sort of fell flat or missed their mark.

The action scenes are top notch and the special effects are awesome. I love most of the costumes and I loved the grim and gritty atmospheres of the various worlds. However you can't just call it a dumb popcorn movie because there are long scenes of story scattered throughout. I could see someone just looking for action to be disappointed or impatient during the story scenes.

The story isn't particularly well executed. This isn't Inception where the people are asleep in the upper level as they enter the lower ones where it's easy to see what's happening when. The idea is that Babydoll imagines the insane asylum she has been put in as a brothel, and while dancing inside the brothel she goes even deeper into the action sequences, all with the intention of gaining key items to make her escape. The problem is that since she's actually awake while she's doing these things, it would be nice to both catch a glimpse of some of her dances (since we're told they are literally spellbinding to the men who watch), and most importantly, to get the real world application of them. There's a very quick scene toward the end that attempts to sum it all up, but while watching the movie I kept wishing we could see what was happening in the real world during the actual scenes.

The whole reason the movie appealed to me is that I live inside my head a lot. Whether it's because I'm bored or upset, I frequently pretend I'm somewhere else or talking to someone instead of what I'm doing right then and there. When I lived in an apartment building with a pest problem, I dubbed myself "The Roach Slayer" to conquer my fears of the nasty things long enough to kill them. I was really anxious to see something like this taken to extreme lengths and brought to life on the big screen, but in the end I don't feel like that's entirely what we got. There is certainly a fantasy world here, but seeing the direct results of these fantasies would have had a lot more impact than what we did see.

Despite this, I really did love the fantasy sequences. Wielding a samurai sword and a shiny gun to kill monsters, nazis, and dragons? Disarming a bomb before it blows up a city? All while looking sexy and cool? Yes, these are things that I would love to do. I am baffled by people who refer to this movie as cheesecake or sexist. If you want to see exploitation, go watch Heavy Metal. All the women in that movie get naked for no good reason and almost always have to depend on the men to save them. All I saw in this movie were five girls kicking asses and taking names while showing a mild amount of skin. The only thing that really bugged me is that the blonds get most of the real character development while the brunettes play backup.

People like to complain about Zack Snyder's love for slow motion, but I don't really see how it's a bad thing. Far too often these days I go to action movies that contain fight scenes and I can't see a thing that's going on. It's just a blur of movement in a dimly lit area. So I really like the way the slo-mo allows us to see some really cool fight sequences we might otherwise miss.

My personal complaint about his style is that he seems to only own about 5 CDs, and all of them are compilations of songs that have been overused in films and television. "Sweet Dreams"? "Search and Destroy"? "White Rabbit"? "Where is My Mind?"? As much as I enjoyed the re-imagined versions of these songs, I couldn't help but think that the scenes could have used some slightly less obvious choices. Tarantino, who I see as a sort of predecessor to Snyder's style, is great at digging up old songs you forgot about and making you love them again. This is more the pop song equivalent of the orchestrated music trying to tell you when to feel sad in modern movies.

The film's greatest sin is its name. Chances are you already know "the twist" if you've seen the trailer. If not, you'll figure it out the moment Babydoll is given her "mission." There's no surprise at all, just a movie moving toward its inevitable conclusion. Its message is also a bit heavy handed with a character literally narrating to us at the very end of the film while the screen goes black to make sure we're paying attention to her words. Too bad Snyder forgot the first rule of film-making - show, don't tell.

Apparently, in order to stay PG-13 Snyder had to cut a lot from the film. I'm holding out hope that the blu-ray release will help fill in some of the gaps I felt were missing from the storyline.

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