Saturday, March 26, 2011

SUCKERED? Even though Diary of A Wimpy Kid 2: Diary Harder looks likely to beat it at the box office this weekend, at least to our demographic, Sucker Punch is the movie that matters, and I wanted to open up a zone for discussion of it with a few (spoiler-free) thoughts of my own. One review I read described it as "Burlesque meets Inception," and that's actually not a bad description in a lot of ways. Like Burlesque, there's abundant and gratuitous cheesecake from our five female leads, but like Inception, the movie plays with "levels" of reality and consciousness.

Part of what made Inception work so well is that it was always crystal clear which "level" we were on--"the real world," the antigravity level, the snow fortress, the crumbling city--and how something on one level interacted with the other levels ("death in the dream means you wake up," the significance of a "kick"). The key problem with Sucker Punch is that two of the levels (the "real world," which we rarely visit, and the "brothel") are largely visually indistinguishable (the costumes on the ladies are skimpier in the brothel), and that we have no idea how the layers of reality interact. We know that when our heroine "dances" in the brothel level, she (and the others) are transported into the videogame-like action sequences that have predominated in the publicity, but (save for once) we don't see how the action sequences "translate" to the brothel level, much less the "real world." Seeing how the fantasy mirrors reality would have made the film much more effective.

Much of the criticism is valid--a lot of the time, the film feels like a fanboy fetish video--scantily clad chicks destroy Steampunk Nazi Cyborgs! Emily Browning in a Japanese schoolgirl outfit a la Sailor Moon v. giant samurai robots! Helicopter vs. dragons! But I think Snyder at least hoped to do something more with the film--it doesn't work as well as Inception (or another quasi-relative--Scott Pilgrim), but it's audacious, interesting, and, at times, visually stunning. (For those concerned/interested, Jon Hamm is in the movie for about 5 minutes, though it's an important 5 minutes.)


  1. Michael9:27 AM

    Snyder spent two hours weaving a spell and broke it by fumbling the ending. He should have finished the way he began: with an efficient, wordless montage. Take away the stupid voiceover! Also, set it to something uplifting and epic, e.g. Helium's Revolution of Hearts Parts 1 & 2. (Why yes, I have been giving this some thought. Thanks for asking.)

    Also, as any videogamer knows, you don't go straight to the boss battle. Babydoll's transition to an unstoppable asskicking machine was abrupt and unearned.

    Plus, also, too: Scott Glenn's advice to work as a team was unexplored. This didn't have to be anything deep, just follow Left 4 Dead's model where the team gets overwhelmed if they split up. E.g. have Rocket swarmed by the steampunk robot zombies, then Babydoll and Sweet Pea peel them off and pull her up.

    In 2011, "video game" should not be shorthand for "incoherent."

    Yeah, it would have been nice to link each of the set pieces to their respective heists (e.g. Amber should have been getting the stones from the baby dragon), but I have no idea how that could have been done so I'll give him a pass. I was okay with battle scenes being so over the top. And by "okay", I mean "laughing my ass off."

    The movie frustrated me because it come so close to succeeding on its own terms. Recut the ending and it's good, add a few more changes and it's great.

  2. Michael9:37 AM

    The "breaking of the spell" mentioned above is important because the movie's box office depends entirely on its buzz. (The critics all hated it.) I could hear the snickers and WTFs around me in the theater at the end. That's not gonna help its word-of-mouth.

  3. There are reports that the ending was reshot/reworked to get a PG-13.  There was apparently a Baby Doll/High Roller love scene that got cut.  There's also reports that there are full fledged musical numbers that were shot and cut.  I haven't seen Dawn of the Dead or 300, but the best thing Snyder's done?  The Watchmen Opening Credits, which effectively establish character, universe, and tone without saying a word.

  4. slowlylu6:03 PM

    Sounds like Snyder's third act problems continue in this film - thanks for the heads up. Will add to my cheap movie night rather than my full fare movie ticket night.

  5. Paul Tabachneck10:50 AM

    Limitless was sold out for the showing I went to, and my friends didn't have time to wait for the 5:15 showing, so we went to see Paul instead.  Good times!  Lots of laughs, and so many geeky callbacks you felt a constant ping of nostalgia.  Pretty great.

  6. bella wilfer2:50 PM

    I'm so grouchy about the musical numbers being cut (according to cast interviews, they each had one).  After seeing the movie, my guess is they realized what a terrible dancer Emily Browning seems to be (seriously? that swaying thing she did supposedly hypnotized anyone watching?) and had to nix them.

    My biggest issue was the lack of connection between the videogame worlds and the "real" world.  The most effective videogame world was the train sequence because of how it linked back to what was happening in the kitchen (not saying more to avoid spoilers) - why couldn't they all have a similar link?  Inception did this WAY better.

    The other real problem with the film was how undefined the line between the mental institution world and the burlesque world were.  I would have been fine, actually, with combining those two worlds and saying "the reason why seemingly sane girls like Baby Doll and Sweet Pea are stuck here is b/c this is actually a front for a whorehouse where these girls are sold off to the highest bidder."  Would've taken away a lot of the confusion and made it more interesting, I think... If you aren't going to do THAT, then Snyder needed to make it way more clear when we were in the burlesque world and when we were in the institution world, because there were many moments when I was unsure.

    This movie was a huge disappointment for me - Snyder is an amazing visualist but really lacks the writing skills to back it up.  I hope when he does Superman he doesn't rewrite the script himself and instead lets a better writer create the story for him to stick his visuals on...