Saturday, April 2, 2011

"Sucker Punch" - I Quote "Make Sure you keep your brain at home when you see this movie"

As previous Zack Synder go by, he seemingly exploded onto the scene with his visually striking adaptation of Frank Miller’s 300 – with Snyder both penning the screenplay and directing the film. The combination of Miller’s imagination and what we now know as Snyder’s trademark slow-motion/action choreography, resulted in an exciting and brutal film that paved the way for the director to tackle other high-profile existing properties, including Watchmen and the upcoming Superman: Man of SteelSucker Punch, however, is entirely Snyder’s invention – earning the director his first original story credit. With Superman reboot fervor (and fear) at an all time high, not to mention the response to Snyder’s middle-of-the-road Legend of the Guardians: The Owls of Ga’Hoole, many film fans are looking to Sucker Punch as a ricter measurement for whether or not Snyder is still on his game – and subsequently, whether he’s going to deliver a respectable Man of Steel  film.

So does Snyder’s latest effort offer an edge-of-your-seat visual spectacle with an engaging story? Or is the film just a confused mish-mash of fantasy set pieces retro-fitted with a convoluted narrative? Well read on folks...........

Inspite of a few visually-striking action sequences, Sucker Punch is a soulless film which comes across as little more than an excuse for Snyder to showcase a series of vivid fantasy worlds in rapid succession.

“Sucker Punch” is an epic action fantasy that takes us into the vivid imagination of a young girl whose dream world provides the ultimate escape from her darker reality.  Unrestrained by the boundaries of time and place, she is free to go where her mind takes her, and her incredible adventures blur the lines between what’s real and what is imaginary.

Despite the filmmaker’s attempt at an overarching story of self-empowerment -- as well as imaginative dream-worlds -- Sucker Punch is one of the most formulaic films to hit the screen in recent memory. The basic structure is spelled out in the trailer: In order to be free of her captors, Babydoll (Emily Browning) must find five (symbolic) items – the majority of which are tied to one of the film’s fantasy set-pieces. Similarly, the premise/vehicle through which Babydoll repeatedly enters the dream world isn’t nearly as artistic as Snyder must have thought – and, with each successive performance, becomes increasingly awkward.

The film’s reliance on disassociation from reality – while fertile ground for over-the-top action scenes – strips most of the Sucker Punch characters from having anything but cliché and one-dimensional personalities.

All of the performances are extremely one-note – with only Oscar Isaac (Robin Hood), as the film’s main antagonist, successfully bringing anything more than surface-level emotion to the production. In the end, the film seems to violate the most basic storytelling principle – show, don’t tell. Throughout the movie, the audience is told, through dialogue, that each subsequent victory results in some significant impact on each character’s sense of self-worth – but the story never takes advantage of the promised momentum. As a result, even in the closing moments of Sucker Punch, it’s unclear whether anyone has actually been empowered – in spite of voice-over narration that preaches otherwise.

Similarly, when the fantasy elements of the film are later reconciled against the real-world events (which is an on-the-nose exposition dump), it’s hard to feel as though Babydoll’s imagination didn’t just protect her from the horrors of the surrounding environment – they also protected Snyder from having to truly grapple with the emotions and implications of the more important real-world story as well as the subsequent fallout. If Snyder had spent as much time developing a satisfying story arc for the real-world events as he did imagining backstories for the fantasy worlds, Sucker Punch might have actually succeeded in providing a competent narrative journey.

It shouldn’t come as a surprise then, in a film where visuals take precedent over character development and engaging story progression, that the Sucker Punch action scenes are fast-paced, exciting, and epic in scale. However, the film’s five-item formula wears on the proceedings, making it hard to appreciate each successive entry – especially considering the first two sequences are far superior to the latter ones. The final set-piece is especially lackluster – since it’s much more confined than the prior entries.

The maddening thing about Snyder is that he knows what kinds of characters (scratch that: I mean action figures) look good on the big screen. Giant samurai warriors flinging fire and metal at their enemies? Check! “For-mash-get Smash”-style metal robots that have gone berserk? Cool! Steam-fuelled Nazi zombies? What could be better? Snyder picks and mixes from the long history of pulp and anime monsters, and interlaces these with scantily-clad young women whom he’s forever implying are on the brink of titillating girl-on-girl action, but he can’t for the life of him wrest new shapes out of the genres on which he draws, far less create any dramatic tension from these elements. Ack-ack-ack. Splat-splat-splat. Chugga-chugga-chugga. Snyder, who wrote the film with Steve Shibuya, is happier at creating ballistic onomatopoeia than he is at stringing sentences together. The script is a clumsy mish-mash of speak-and-spell-level banalities and mewling philosophical clichés (“If you don’t stand for anything, you’ll fall for anything.” “Who holds the key that will set you free? You!”).

Better than these, though, than the soundtrack, which features lumpen indie-rock (choice lyrics: “Where is my mind?”) and an excruciating rendition of the Smiths’ lovely Asleep that’s less a cover version, more a surgical strike.

Actually, the whole film is a surgical strike on your visual senses and intellectual faculties. Snyder’s efforts to have you believe this is some kind of empowering, riot-grrls-together redemption story would be more convincing if the cameras didn’t slather quite as droolingly whenever the women, clad in fishnets and schoolgirl outfits, come into view. The men, meanwhile, are a one-dimensional army of lechers, paedophiles, rapists and misogynists.

The standard defence for this kind of film is that it’s not meant to be analysed too closely, it’s only entertainment. With Sucker Punch, you could also say that its narrative slackness is down to its themes (mental instability) and to the way that it taps into the dream logic of gamer culture. But even its battle scenes are deadly boring. If I had to choose between this and the most bog-standard computer game, it wouldn’t be any contest at all. 

At the end Sucker  Punch is  a  treat meant for the 3D glasses and  not when meant for critical analysis........ better luck next time Mr. Snyder.


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