Thursday, March 31, 2011

Sucker Punch


(Warning: spoilers included)

Marketed as ‘Alice In Wonderland with machine guns’, it is easy to see the instant appeal of Zack Snyder’s Sucker Punch. Hot girls defying gravity and nature’s ugly gene, slicing and dicing their way through proverbial Nazi steam punk thugs should be an instant recipe for success.

The story itself is simple: a platinum blonde girl named Babydoll deals with the sudden and suspicious loss of her mother when her evil stepfather devolves into taking advantage of her. Baby doll refuses, but her younger sister is murdered by the evil stepdad and Babydoll is taken to an insane asylum to await a lobotomy to hide her stepfather’s sin.

Let me get my bias out of the way before I continue: I am a big Zack Snyder fan, having loved both 300 and Dawn of the Dead, and I respect his take on Watchmen to the point of considering it to be an improvement on lackluster source material.

As with all things visually-based, criticism abounds about story, acting and the meaning of anything beyond shiny images. Personally, I thoroughly enjoy a great visual feast (Inception) as well as a shallow action flick (The Expendables) so I’m not necessarily coming into Sucker Punch expecting a decent story. ??Dealing with dragons, Nazis, planes, and mechanical samurai, Sucker Punch uses the fantasy realm to explore real-world pain and suffering, with the intent to escape and fight back. The motif of fighting back against evil is not an uncommon theme in Snyder’s work (see 300). All of the elements are here for an awesome cinematic experience. With that out of the way, Sucker Punch is a good—even great—film up until the ending.

Yes. I will be spoiling it. Stop reading it now if you value not having the story lobotomized against your will.

Oops. Oh well. Onto the spoilers.

The traditional elements of a Disney fairy tale are taken to the next level, dealing with sexual abuse, insanity, lobotomy and the world’s oldest profession. Thematically, Sucker Punch is darker than Shutter Island and far more bleak and disturbing. Dealing with emotional trauma and one’s desire to escape from evil in the world, Snyder has crafted an emotionally compelling, visually triumphant action fantasy that embraces it’s fantastical roots only to forcibly uproot them by the final ten minutes.

It is impossible to review this film without mentioning the ending because of the narrative and philosophical implications. Frankly, a vast majority of the film takes place within the split second before and AFTER Babydoll is lobotomized. In her mind, she concocted this magnificent scheme within multiple worlds to escape, only for it to be entirely inside her own head. She is lobotomized right on schedule, thus presenting a fatalistic flow that significantly undermines the entire film. However, within the real world, there is evidence that someone did escape, which appears to be a balance to the fatalism. To be fair, the lobotomy has been foreshadowed significantly throughout the story, but the manner in which it is presented doesn’t connect with the film. In the world, there are multiple endings, and it appears that the filmmakers chose the worst of all worlds.

All of that said, Sucker Punch is not as bad as the critics smeared it to be, but I believe the ending fundamentally destroys any fun or emotional or spiritual impact that the film had going for it. Effectively, the ending reduces the film to a nice, emotionally detached screensaver, which is sadly what I wished would not happen.


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