The Punch Back
of Notoriety Dames
Sucker Punch US 2011
Directed by Zack Snyder
Playing at cinemas now.
I’d been wanting to see Sucker Punch for some time. The trailers looked visually fantastic and I have a certain respect for the director, Zack Snyder. Looking at the previous three films I’ve personally seen of his, I actually quite enjoyed them all:
The remake, or in this case genuine re-imagining (aka “cash-in-on-an-old-name-utilising-the-barest-minimum-trace-elements-of-previous-version-to-do-it”) of Dawn of the Dead was actually a really, really great zombie/people holed up and in peril film... comparable and in some cases superior to some of George A Romero’s own zombie movies.
Similarly, Snyders take on Frank Miller’s graphic novel 300 was an exciting time at the cinema and really delivered the goods, full of pretty shot composition eye-candy which pulled it somewhere above the average “guy’s night out movie”. I’d not read the original comic book of this one so my perception of it was not diluted by having a stake in the “is it or isn’t it a good adaptation” game.
Now Watchmen I had read when it first came out. It’s one of those legendary comic books which conquered the world back in the 80s and, along with Frank Miller’s The Dark Knight Returns and Alan Moore’s The Killing joke, colonised the consciousness of the non-comic book readers when reprinted as a trade paperback and ushered in a growing perception that comic books weren’t just for kids anymore (although a whole cross section of them hadn’t actually been for kids for a good many decades before that). As such, I was a little disappointed by some of the stuff that got written out or sidelined in Snyder’s take on Watchmen (it really needs a 12 hour mini-series to do it justice... even Terry Gilliam couldn’t make it work... or at least pitch it at a level that secured the financing for the project) but at the same time I thought he gave it as good a shot as anyone could do because a lot of that source material did make it to the screen and the atmosphere this movie captures is dead-on in many ways to the comic book that inspired it. I’ve not had a chance to watch the extended ultimate Edition of this one yet (with the pirate comics put back in etc) but I’m looking forward to it. A hugely entertaining, if flawed attempt to film a very dense text and pack it into only a few hours.
Which brings me right back to Sucker Punch. Which by now I’d been hearing bad things about. Lotsa negatives to be found in the reviews for this thing so by the time I got to the cinema to see it, I was kinda primed on having a less than entertaining time at the cinema with this one... except, the imagery in the trailer looked extremely special so I couldn’t expect the absolute worst.
As it happens, I’m happy to say that I had a really great time with Sucker Punch and, though it does have its slight flaws (to my mind), I think that there are so many Dyonisian celluloid pleasure to be absorbed and enjoyed within it’s not over-long running time... that if you have a love of cinema then you’ll be doing yourself a disservice if you don’t rush out to your local movie house and see this thing... with the slight caveat that, if your local flea pit is as sporadic or downright bad at actually getting the film on the screen in the right speed, ratio, colour separation etc as my local “Cineworld Experience” is... then you might want to go find a proper cinema to see it at.
There’s a whole load of the typically dynamic and out of kilter visual splendour you’d associate with a Zack Snyder film but I think what has probably garnered it such negative reviews are the lack of clarification on the part of the director as to what the level of reality is in the film. The film tells the story of a character who finds herself unjustly disposed of in a mental hospital (named after Annie Lennox... but more on the musical side of the movie later) or possibly she’s in a brothel but the trouble is that, by the end of the movie when the director tries to pull the rug out from under the audience and disorientate it in a manner which might have worked had he not telegraphed the so-called twist within the first ten minutes of the movie, you’ve no idea if the character you are watching is a figment of another character’s imagination, or indeed if it’s actually vice versa (which would make more sense given the severe diminishing of one of those characters at the end since the other character’s fate might be the pseudo-reality which her imagination has permanently locked her in) or, at the most surface level and boringly simplistic level, actually two separate characters. I think pretty much the lack of general closure and spelling out of what’s going on is probably what has subconsciously caused so much unfortunate criticism to be levelled at this movie. I personally, since most of the film is set between the moment a spike is about to be pushed through the (possibly) main protagonists head to deliver a crude lobotomy and the actual deed itself, tend to conclude that the character in the movie who seems to have “got away with it” is actually a fictional construct created by a less than fortunate character in a very similar ending to that of Terry Gilliam’s Brazil... as opposed to the emphasis on escape, freedom and hope the director (or possibly studio?) tries to leave the audience with to garner repeat viewings.
What I do know is that when the character Baby Doll goes into her dance routines (which are unseen by the audience) she escapes from her “real” world (as does the audience who follows her journey) to brilliant, adrenalin fuelled flights of action fantasy which really warrants the use of the word “spectacle”. I might mention giant sized, gatling gun toting, mechanical samurai (an oblique visual reference to the Daimajin movies?)... dead German World War One soldiers resurrected with clockwork and steam that spout gouts of arterial steam when shot, a fire breathing dragon playing cat and mouse with what looks like a Lancaster Bomber and a bomb sabotaged train crawling with hostile robots who the five “Charlies Angels” of Baby Doll’s mind have to do battle with in order for the girls to escape the prison of their, possibly “real life” environment.
And quite apart from these specific sequences which are, to be sure, what the movie will be remembered for in years to come when the harsh sting of the box office is not so cruelly felt, there are some nice little directorial flourishes like the opening five minutes in which Snyder betrays (or more appropriately, celebrates) his affinity with comic books as he manages to set up a characters entire back story leading to her arrival at the asylum without using any dialogue and in an almost rapid-fire staccato burst of images which call to mind a comic without any speech bubbles or word-based narrative... very classy... although I expect a certain section of the audience may find it somewhat irritating.
The music took me by surprise too. The score is filled with songs (some of which even I knew) which are new cover versions of works by the likes of The Eurythmics, Jefferson Airplane, The Beatles and (wince) that Queen group which are rerecorded and rearranged (and in some cases significantly lengthened) as kick-ass rock augmented soundtrack action cues. The way the music works with the images will have you tapping your toes and singing along to a rockin’ version of White Rabbit while frenetic action and dizzying visual splendour is happening before your very eyes. Sweet Dreams are made of this!
At the end of the day with this film, I’d have to say that the sequences set in the two possible “realities” of the asylum/brothel are actually pretty cliché ridden and drag a little in places... but they are still very beautiful shot compositions to watch so no fan of the visual arts should go out too disappointed from a screening... and these scenes are more than made up for by the insane set pieces set in the world of Baby Doll’s dances. So all in all, as I more than intimated at the start of this review... I’d have to widely recommend this one. Go on... Turn off your mind, relax and float downstream... It is not dying... It is not dying.