Monday, March 28, 2011

Sucker Punch

Sucker Punch: A Review

The following review may contain spoilers which could fully live up to their name and ruin aspects of the story (read: plot and ending). If you plan on seeing this movie, you may want to either proceed with caution, or wait until after you've watched it to read this article. Consider yourselves warned. Thank you.

Last Friday, I ventured out to see Sucker Punch at the local theatre. I'd been teased with the trailer, and made a point of not reading previews or articles, because I felt I might be in for an action-packed, visually stunning ride (the trailer showed women with machine guns, gigantic warriors, and a dragon!) and I didn't want any of that ruined before I watched the movie.

Luckily, I avoided all of that until after the previews portion of my experience ended and the lights dimmed.

Within the first three minutes of watching Sucker Punch, I felt like there was the potential to become invested in the characters. We had the caring older sister, protective of her younger sibling, and quick enough to see through the veil of family treachery unfolding before her; the little sister, unable to defend herself but still resourceful; and the unscrupulous step-father, who is scheming to snare the family fortune for himself at no cost by sacrificing the lives and souls of others.

Nary a word was really spoken on the screen at this point, and I was involved, and barely thought about the giant, fire-breathing serpent I'd seen in the trailer, or even the high-caliber weapons.

Then, the younger sister was removed form the picture, and suddenly I was faced with a story about a creepy relative who commits a little girl to an asylum so he can inherit money. It's a simple premise, certainly not debuting in the form of this film, but it can set up the screenwriter for myriad possibilities as to how this unbalanced equation resolves itself.

What we're presented with is a girl who quickly assesses her surroundings and creates a world inside her mind, comprised of the characters in the mental asylum, in order to cope with the trauma she's experienced in such a short period of time. In this defense mechanism, she finds herself in another prison -- one where she is kept in a brothel of sorts, and forced to dance to please the various high paying patrons.

It is here that she learns she has a gift. She retreats even further into another fabricated world where the actions directly impact the initial world to which she has escaped. (For those of you drawing lines to The Matrix or Inception, you are correct in doing so, but you'd probably be better off watching those two, or even Tron, than giving into the urge to see this before it's available for streaming on Netflix in a few months.)

The "dancing" sequences, which start off with our heroine closing her eyes and swaying side to side, immediately cut to this new dream world, where the laws of physics only loosely apply, weapons deal massive damage, and old World War II-era bombers seem to be able to make hairpin turns in mid-flight. It should be noted that we don't actually see any dancing, and one can see where this is used as a transition convention for the story to take place. When our lead returns form this dream world, it is implied that what she acts out for her audience while she's in this fantasy world is so amazingly sensual, that all who behold her are captivated. This allows her (and a ragtag group of dancers) to carry out missions in the second-level dream world in order to acquire the items needed to escape this house of ill-repute vague dancing.

It is during these missions that we get the automatic weapons, the sword fights, a giant mech suit, and yes, a dragon. But that's not all! One also gets treated to remakes of songs such as "Where Is My Mind," "White Rabbit," and "Sweet Dreams (Are Made Of These)," all performed with completely uninspired vocals.

Things happen, the writing and actors try their hardest to convey tension between characters, to make the audience sympathetic to the loss of certain players, and even to feel the sense of looming danger (there's even betrayal) -- but it just doesn't deliver. Have you ever watched a friend play a video game when you really wanted to go outside and play or watch something that was on television, but you try to become interested in order to forget your current state of frustration? It was a lot like that.

When (what's left of) our dancing, ass-kicking (?), determined ladies finally meet all of their objectives, and make their big escape, we are brought back to the reality of our lead's existence in the asylum. (As an aside, more journeys back to this reality to show a juxtaposition or what triggers her fantasy world might have helped the story throughout the film.) Then, we watch as the girl (whose only name seems to be Baby Doll, end even that is only given in her own imaginary dance hall world) has a meeting with Doctor Jon Hamm, and are treated to what seems like endless exposition before the movie ends with what should have been a giant question mark from the old science fiction films of the 1960s.

This would have been a good film if it had abandoned all hopes of a structured story. If it was just an abstract situation with refugee people in this comic book/video game land that had to fight for survival, I would have accepted that. Instead, I saw allusions to a back story, hints of emotion, characters staring at implied dance scenes like they were looking into the trunk of the car in Reservoir Dogs, and a ton of exposition (think about the three words before this parenthetical and ask yourself why this belongs in an action movie) at the end of the movie that was not put in to explain what had transpired, so much as it was a thinly veiled plea to the audience not to demand their ticket money back from the front booth.

The good:

  • Interesting costumes
  • A dragon(which was promised)
  • It wasn't Battle L.A.
The bad:
  • The underdeveloped back story 
  • Telling, rather than showing why we were watching this and tacking it onto the end of the film
  • The soundtrack
  • The inability to become invested in any of the characters or to lose oneself to the ride
Verdict: Read a book or do anything (other than see Battle L.A.) to hold onto those precious two hours of your life.

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