Sucker Punch: A movie set entirely within that sleazy alternate future from Back to the Future 2
Before I get to bashing it, let’s remember that the fact that a movie like Sucker Punch can still get made these days is a triumph. (I don’t necessarily like his movie, but the fact that he’s making it? I respect that.) It wasn’t based on a graphic novel or comic book, it hadn’t been, God forbid, a board game or a children’s toy, and it wasn’t a sequel, prequel, remake, or reboot of anything already popular. There was no “built-in audience” upon which the financiers could hang their toupees. It was simply the brainchild of Zack Snyder and co-writer Steve Shibuya, a surrealistic stand-alone epic like Inception on a smaller scale ($82 million budget vs. $160 for Inception). To their credit, Warner Bros and Legendary Pictures (the same people behind Inception, incidentally) seem to have given Snyder the freedom to let his freak flag fly. The finished product, sadly, makes as fervent case for creative oversight as Inception made for the auteur. To put it another way, Zack Snyder is great at a lot of things. Self-editing is apparently not one of them.
Let’s see if I can recap: Baby Doll’s mother dies (communicated in a funeral scene that seems to be a shot-for-shot recreation of the Watchmen funeral), leaving her and her sister alone with their evil step father, who’s jealous and angry about being written out of his wife’s will. We can tell he’s angry because he screams to the heavens in slow motion and angrily chugs vodka directly from the bottle while backlit by the moonlight (strange that you never see this kind of rage-drinking in liquor commercials considering how prevalent it is in movies). After getting good and drunk in his study, bald, ugly Dad (EVIL!) walks down the hall to go beat up, or molest his cartoonishly innocent stepdaughters (GOOD!). It’s never clear that his intention is to rape them, but while trying to barge in Baby Doll’s bedroom, he tears from her shirt a single button, which we watch fall to the floor in a super slow-mo extreme closeup. And slow-mo close-ups of torn-off buttons DO tend to imply rape, the same way smoldering dolls imply civilian casualties.
Defending her sister, Baby Doll (pillow-lipped Emily Browning) steals his pistol and tries to shoot her stepdad, accidentally killing her sister instead (under logistically dubious circumstances). This two-minute sequence becomes the setup for the entire movie. The dead sister is all the evidence Baby Doll’s stepdad needs to commit her to an insane asylum (in terrifying BRATTLEBORO, VERMONT!), where she’ll summarily lobotomized, and he can take over her inheritance. As dad fills out her asylum paperwork, we find out that Baby Doll is 20 years old, which makes it odd, both that she dresses like a pig-tailed porn caricature of a 15-year-old, and that an adult in the eyes of the law had inexplicably chosen to live with her creepy, rapey, no-relation stepdad. But by making it clear that the girl is of age, the filmmakers can avoid criticism of sexualizing a minor, despite the fact that the story doesn’t really work if she’s not a minor. Point being, there are only so many narrative discrepancies you can tolerate on the grounds of “because it looks cool.” …Especially if it’s not that cool.
Inside the asylum, Baby Doll meets Madam Gorski (Carla Gugino), a psychologist (maybe?) whose job it is to help her wards create fantasy worlds to escape their pain. Okay, with you so far. From here, and this is maybe six minutes into the film, we’re transported into Baby Doll’s elaborate fantasy world set in a high-class whorehouse. Did you catch that? Because this might be the hardest part of the movie to swallow. The part where the the girl in the insane asylum created a fantasy world to escape her pain, and in that fantasy world she was a whore.
The main function of the whorehouse world seems to be to justify the kabuki production design, where everyone wears too much eyeliner (men included) and dresses like a Liza Minelli rhinestone queef. In the whorehouse world, Baby Doll is the new girl, the ingénue who can LITERALLY HYPNOTIZE MEN with the power of her dancing (no, really). We never actually see her dance, and whenever she begins, we’re transported to a second fantasy world (BRAAAAAAHM) where she and the other whorehouse whores must complete a task, which usually involves some even more ridiculously stylized battle sequence with dragons, zombies, giant robot samurai, etc.
The battles don’t adhere to any rules of narrative consistency, allowing the girls to fly and carry M-16s and chain guns through a battle set in WWI (CUZ THEY’RE DREAMS, STUPID!). Generally speaking, dreams are like farts, yours aren’t going to be nearly as fascinating to other people as they are to you. And the confused sense of time and place in the dreams applies to the whole movie. The first time Baby Doll dances, Madame Gorski cues up a reel to reel which begins to play… some techno-ish Chemical Brothers-sounding Björk song (the part starting at about 55-second mark). It reminded me of that awful movie Queen of the Damned where the 16th century feudal lord rises from his grave because he digs Korn music. The shock of hearing Björk in a 40s whorehouse drew laughs from half the audience, but no one onscreen seemed to mind. BUT IT’S A FANTASY, RIGHT?!?!? THE LINEAR RULES OF HISTORY DON’T APPLY! Sure, but keep in mind that we’re expected to believe that these fantasies came from the mind of a 20-year-old girl in the 50s or early 60s (when lobotomies were still common practice). Jeez, she was imagining Björk music, chain guns, zombies, and robot samurais in 1955? If she would’ve been allowed to plan the Enchantment Under the Sea Dance, it would’ve looked like the video for “Closer.”
HURRR, YER POSTA JUST TURN OFF YOUR BRAIN AND ENJOY THE ‘SPLOSIONS, STUPID!
Okay, the battle sequences are neat-looking at first, but they’re so far removed from any consequence, coherence, or reality that they’re like watching trailers for a video game, or looking into a kaleidoscope. They get boring fast. YOU LIKE CHICKS IN FETISH COSTUMES. WE GET IT. Emily Browning (Baby Doll) and Abbie Cornish (Sweet Pea) are the only passable actors of the group. Vanessa Hudgens and former Real World San Diego-castmember Jaime Chung have mercifully few lines, and their main function seems to be to stand around looking minority-y until they die first. Hudgens’ character is named “Blondie”, which is nicely obtuse, but calling the Asian girl “Amber” seems bit racist, no? Acting-wise, Jena Malone comes off the worst of the group, rushing through her lines and generally being over the top, but all of them look sweaty and gross under their five pounds of whore make up, despite all being pretty hot in real life.
Even if I totally bought the story and wasn’t bored to the point of sleepiness during the fantasy sequences, the story as a whole is still a bit of a downer. Chick sent to undergo forced lobotomy imagines herself as a chick forced into prostitution who imagines herself as an anime heroine. Okay. It’s lot of illogic to swallow for the purpose of something that turns out to be sleazy and depressing. The whole film feels like it takes place within the alternate future from Back to the Future 2 where Biff owns a casino and your mom is his concubine. Which I guess would make Zack Snyder our Biff. We’re gonna need that almanac back, Zack, your future world is gross.