Can Hot Chick Fight Scenes Triumph Over An Abysmally Dark, Female-Unfriendly Plot?
Full Disclosure: I liked the movie Sucker Punch before I saw it in the theater. Here’s the invitation I sent to my friends to catch the release last weekend:
Sucker Punch is out, and if you don’t want to see it then you are gay. And I don’t mean “gay” as a derogatory term, I mean gay as in homosexual. And even then, you should still want to see it.
The preview for Sucker Punch was completely accurate. So if you saw it, you should have a good idea of what you’re getting into: hot chicks in skimpy outfits and glittery make-up kicking ass against dragons, monsters, robots, and steampunk nazi stormtroopers.
Sells itself, eh?
Fanboy Fan Reviews
Unfortunately, the opening weekend of Sucker Punch turned into open season on writer/director/producer Zach Snyder. Making fun of Sucker Punch turned into a pissing-contest-media-frenzy that I haven’t seen since Gigli was released. Steven Rea from the Philadelphia Inquirer called Sucker Punch “hands-down the most nightmarishly awful film of the year.” Ty Burr at the Boston Globe called it “Inception for dummies.” Steven Zeitchik at the LA Times highlighted the bad reviews, which he suggested were reaching “critical mass.”
Funny thing was, many of the reviewers spent so much time sensationalizing the violence and writing clever derogatory remarks that they forgot to actually review the movie. Many reviews I read dismissed anything good about the film by attaching the words “teen” or “fanboy.”
Guess what? Teens and fanboys go to see movies too. Lots of them, in fact. So do fangirls, so maybe it’s time we dropped the gender and just called them what they are: fans. To say that fans will like the movie isn’t much of a review, is it? In fact, for a reviewer to say that fans will like the movie and that they don’t like it tells us more about the movie reviewers than the movie they were supposed to be reviewing.
I ignored them and saw Sucker Punch anyway. Truth is, the film wasn’t actually as bad as the professionals insisted it was. Don’t get me wrong, it wasn’t movie-of-the-year by any stretch of the imagination, but users are currently rating it 6.8 on imdb.com and 6.6 on metacritic which doesn’t sound “nightmarishly awful” to me. It was also the #2 film over the weekend (coming in just behind Diary of a Wimpy Kid) pulling in 19 million dollars.
So in my continuing quest for un-professionalism, I’m going to give you a real movie review. Unlike the professionals, I’m going to tell you what actually punches and what actually sucks about Sucker Punch.
What Punches about Sucker Punch
As far as hot chicks in skimpy outfits and glittery make-up kicking ass against dragons, monsters, robots, and steampunk nazi stormtroopers goes, Sucker Punch delivers. The movie was written, directed and produced by Zach Snyder, who also directed Watchmen and the ab-laden bloodfest/masterpiece 300. All the good things about the movie 300 are here in Sucker Punch, just replace Washboard-Spartan-Abs with Glittery-Lolita-Eyes.
The costumes, lighting, and special effects were all well done. Like 300, Sucker Punch has a preposterous number of over-the-top fight scenes, but they were so grand, so epic, and so well choreographed/filmed/edited that I didn’t get bored watching them. Sucker Punch’s biggest asset is that Zach Snyder knows how to move the camera through a scene. What to show and how to show it. What to leave out and how to leave it out. His taste in music isn’t bad either.
And seriously, when have you EVER seen a dragon dog-fighting a WWII bomber in a castle courtyard filled with orcs?
Flesh and Blood = Makeup To Cover A Bad Plot
Under the hood, Sucker Punch might actually be more complicated remake of 300 – a series of epic, flesh-revealing fight scenes barely held together by a hint of a plot that simply won’t stand up to any analysis. Not that this is a bad thing, because there’s nothing worse than epic action scenes crowded out by an overbearing (and bad) plot or contrived dialog. Zach Snyder tries to cover his ailing plot with a thick layer of flesh, blood and CG.
Despite a weak plot, Sucker Punch has some clever plot devices. The opening montage sets the audience up with a lot of story in a very short period of time, and all without using a word of dialog. The same technique was used at the start of Watchmen. The feeling is more akin to a music video than a movie. Also, the multiple levels of reality layering Baby Doll’s world (similar to the recent movie Inception) were refreshing and well filmed, complete with color and costume changes to help the audience process how far down we’ve gone into Baby Doll’s abstract fantasy/reality.
I won’t ruin the ending here, but I can say that the twist at the ending of Sucker Punch was a surprise. It actually takes the standard Hollywood formula ending, and gives it the finger. This alone would give movie reviewers enough reason to hate it.
Zack Snyder deserves kudos for having the balls to try this ending, although there were lots of ways this movie could have ended that would have been more satisfying.
What Sucks About Sucker Punch
When Cool becomes Too Kewl
When movies try too hard to be cool, they generally aren’t. Sucker Punch isn’t as pretentious as a Quentin Tarantino film, but it does try really hard to be kewl, which is it’s biggest failing, and no doubt causes reviewers to drop the derogatory version of the word “fanboy.” Much of the pretentiousness in Sucker Punch comes not from bad acting, but a script full of contrived situations that boggle the mind without a hint of an explanation in sight. Who the hell is the Wise Man helping out Baby Doll, and why? Where did Baby Doll’s multiple layers of reality come from? How did so many smoking-hot and non-psychotic chicks end up in an insane asylum together?
And “Baby Doll”? Seriously? The protagonist’s name is “Baby Doll”? Wow. Objectify much?
When Dark becomes Too Dark
Many reviewers called Sucker Punch on its high volume of violence against women, and I have to agree. Good stories need conflict, so it’s common to set up a bad situation for our protagonist to overcome, but Sucker Punch goes too far. There were very few moments that women weren’t being attacked, controlled (by men) or forced to do things against their will (by men).
Speaking of which, did we have to have so many near-rape scenes? And girls being forced to dance and prostitute themselves? Like things weren’t bad enough for them? Despite a PG-13 rating (???) and NO sex scenes or nudity, Sucker Punch still managed to go too far. Parts of the movie are hard to watch, especially the opening montage. And shooting innocent girls in the head just to scare the other girls into submission isn’t funny, or cool, or a necessary part of any movie.
Some wrongs are so bad, they just can’t be righted. Sometimes the story is pushed to such a dark place, there’s no ending that will gratify the audience. Such is the case in Sucker Punch. Did Zach Snyder realize this? Is this why he opted for the anti-Hollywood ending? Did Baby Doll realize this? Is this why she chose the way she did at the end of the movie?
I’m torn about the ending myself. While I’m pleased and impressed that the movie didn’t cop out with some kind of Happily-Ever-After ending, pieces of the story were left hanging. For example, Baby Doll’s evil stepfather never got his due. And there were other ways Baby Doll’s character arc could have resolved that would have been gratifying without resorting to a Disney ending.
And the voice-over at the very end of the movie is just plain silly. People in the audience laughed out loud. Read for yourself:
Who honors those we love for the very life we live? Who sends monsters to kill us. And at the same time, things that will never die. Who teaches us whats real, and how to laugh at lies. Who decides why we live, and what we’ll die to defend. Who trains us, and who holds the key to set us free. It’s you. You have all the weapons you need. Now fight!
From imdb.com: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0978764/quotes?qt=qt1458130
Executive Summary Review
The flashy fight scenes and revealing outfits in Sucker Punch will amaze in a good way, and the violence against women will amaze in a bad way. Whether you’ll like Sucker Punch (or any movie for that matter) depends on whether the positives outweigh the negatives for you.
If you are able to see the (lame) plot as a device to connect (awesome) fight scenes together, you might forgive Zach Snyder and enjoy the show. If not, then the movie simply won’t be able to raise itself out of its own darkness, and you’ll write it off as a “fanboy’s wet dream” like the professional reviewers did. The ending won’t be the cherry on top, (unless you are sick of Hollywood Happy Endings) although it might just be the nail in Sucker Punch’s coffin for you.
Overall, I liked Sucker Punch more than I liked Season of the Witch, and Faster, two movies that weren’t bad at all. I agree that the situations were a bit childish, and the plot was beyond contrived. But with a little eye-rolling and properly placed restroom breaks, you’ll get more than your fair share of hot chicks in skimpy outfits and glittery make-up kicking ass against dragons, monsters, robots, and steampunk nazi stormtroopers, which is exactly what the trailer of the movie promised. It’s also where Zach Snyder shines. Perhaps someday he’ll realize he should hire a real writer, or switch to making music videos.