Saturday, March 26, 2011

Sucker Punch

Since scoring a major hit with 2007’s adaptation of the Frank Miller graphic novel 300, Zack Snyder is considered to be one of the hottest directors working in Hollywood. With his dazzling visuals and slow-motion action edits, he’s created a style that has won over audiences. While his 2009 adaptation of the famed Alan Moore graphic novel Watchmen wasn’t a big hit and received mixed reviews. Snyder still got lots of attention and praise from some including Christopher Nolan who asked him to direct a re-boot of the Superman franchise for a 2012 release. Snyder accepted the job while he is set to wow audiences once again with his fifth feature film entitled Sucker Punch.

Directed by Zack Snyder based on his own original story. Sucker Punch tells the story of a young girl in the 1950s being sent to a mental institution by her step-father. Befriending fellow inmates, she and her inmates use their imagination to create a world where they attack their foes into an epic battle. Screenplay by Snyder and Steve Shibuya, the film is a mixture of fantasy and action as it’s all told from the perspective of a young girl as she’s joined by other young women and a wise man to war. Starring Emily Browning, Jena Malone, Vanessa Hudgens, Abbie Cornish, Jamie Chung, Jon Hamm, Oscar Issac, Carla Gugino, and Scott Glenn. Sucker Punch is a decent although messy film from Zack Snyder.

After the death of her mother and an awful confrontation with her stepfather (Gerard Plunket), Baby Doll (Emily Browning) is sent to a mental hospital. Running the hospital is an orderly named Blue Jones (Oscar Issac) who likes to keep tabs on things and create problems. During her stay, the hospital’s psychiatrist/dance instructor Madam Gorski (Carla Gugino) suggests for Baby Doll to retreat into a fantasy world. Baby Doll fantasizes a world where Blue runs a brothel where all the girls are dancers for the brothel. Baby Doll befriends Rocket (Jena Malone) who shows her what goes on as well as introducing her to fellow inmates including Rocket’s older sister Sweet Pea (Abbie Cornish), Blondie (Vanessa Hudgens), and Amber (Jamie Chung).

During a dance session with Madam Gorski, Baby Doll fantasizes about escaping into another world with help from a wise man (Scott Glenn) who reveals that in order to escape. Baby Doll will have to acquire four objects to escape while the fifth one is a mystery. During a battle with samurais in her fantasy, Baby Doll realizes she has the power to help her friends escape as Rocket goes along with the plan along with Blondie, Amber, and a very reluctant Sweet Pea. During a dance performance which allows Baby Doll to go into her fantasy world with the rest of her friends, she fantasizes being in a World War I battle to retrieve a map that is needed. The mission becomes a success as Baby Doll’s public performance for the mayor (Alan C. Peterson) allowed Amber to get the lighter needed for fire.

Blue suspects something is going on as Madam Gorski is helping Baby Doll prepare for her own dance recital for the city’s High Roller (Jon Hamm). With two objects in a knife and key is needed, the girls are on their way to freedom. Yet, Madam Gorski is suddenly the target where the attempt to get the knife succeeds but with a price. With the key still needed, Baby Doll also has to find out what the fifth object is once the High Roller arrives as she makes another plan to escape.

The film is about a girl who retreats into a fantasy world and then goes into another fantasy world so she can escape with her friends. While in theory, it’s an interesting idea that requires a narrative that is strong and has characters that are very engaging. Unfortunately, the script is handled quite clumsily where things get a bit confusing while there’s excessive elements that could’ve been pulled. At the same time, some characters either don’t get enough to do while there’s some moments where there’s too much exposition that goes on in the film. Though it starts off very well while has some very interesting moments during the middle. The story falls apart by the third act while there’s moments where the focus on objects suddenly become confusing towards the end of the film.

While it’s Zack Snyder’s first original project with a script co-written with Steve Shibuya. Snyder and Shibuya try to cram a lot of ideas into the story where it’s supposed to be a prison break film mixed in with lots of fantasy relating to samurai films, World War I films, and sci-fi. While a lot of that has exciting moments, when it comes to the scenes at the hospital/brothel scenes, it loses not only some momentum. It creates a story that is very uneven and at times, the pacing lags where for a film that has a 110-minute running time, it feels longer than that. While the story is interesting and has some moments along with some fully-realized characters. It’s just that it’s not a very strong story that ends up being very messy.

Snyder’s direction for the film is truly spectacular in its visuals where for all of the hyper-fantasy sequences he creates. It definitely shows ambition and is presented with a large canvas. The problem is that it’s also a bit overwhelming at times while the pacing in its transition from the hospital/brothel scenes to the fantasy sequences are off. While he can create simple moments in the conversation scenes with the girls, there’s times when the just goes overboard with style. Snyder’s trademark of slowing the action down with slow-motion edits does have their moments. Yet, it’s also overdone at times where Snyder could’ve just had the camera go on for another 30 seconds without slowing it down.

Snyder’s emphasis on visuals and creating a fantasy world is truly dazzling. The problem is that Snyder is really pulling a lot of film references to help with his ideas. Even in the first 10 minutes where once Baby Doll is at the hospital and there’s a conversation about her being lobotomized. It then leads into this other reality and then to a fantasy. While some viewers will think of a film like Inception, the film that Snyder is really drawing ideas from not just in narrative but scope is Terry Gilliam’s Brazil. Brazil is a dystopian fantasy story about a man who dreams to escape his dismal world by pretending to be a hero who fights evil forces including a huge samurai. For anyone who knows that film, will be aware that there’s a lot of references to that film as well as Blade Runner and The Matrix. The only thing Snyder doesn’t really have is a lot of humor which is prevalent in Gilliam’s work. While Snyder does have a lot of great visual ideas and can create amazing action sequences. It’s clear that with this film, he’s becoming a bit of a parody of himself while is in need to really tighten his ideas into a cohesive story.

Cinematography Larry Fong does an excellent job with visual look of the film from the blue-gray look of the mental hospital to the more colorful world of the dressing room and brothel scenes. Even as he creates different color schemes for each of the big fantasy sequences whether it’s the yellowish look of the medieval and futuristic scenes to the grayish, gritty look of the World War I sequence. Fong’s work is definitely one of the film’s technical highlights. Editor William Foy does some good work with the editing in creating rhythmic yet hypnotic work in the action sequences. Even in creating some good transitions to help build the momentum. Still because of the messy narrative, the editing at time suffers due to its emphasis on style.

Production designer Rick Carter and art directors Stefan Dechant and Grant Van Der Slagt do some amazing work with the art direction from the look of the Japanese temple where Baby Doll meets the wise man to the look of the stage where Baby Doll performs her routine to the mayor. Another notable feature is the look of the hospital to portray the bleak world the girls really live as the objects also play a part for the story. Costume designer Michael Wilkinson does some wonderful work with the costumes from the brothel clothing the women wear to the leather-driven clothes the girls wear in the fantasy as it‘s another of the film‘s technical highlights.

Visual effects supervisor John “D.J.“ Des Jardin does a spectacular job with visual effects from the recreation of the zeppelins in the World War I sequence to the look of the dragon in the medieval scenes. The visual effects really play up to the hyper-fantasy world that Baby Doll lives in along with the exterior look of the mental hospital the girls live in early in the film. Sound editor Scott Hecker and sound designer Rick Hrmoadka does some nice work with the sound from the layers of fire and gunplay that goes on. Even in the smaller moments about how shoes tap on the floor as the sound work is truly extraordinary.

Music composers Tyler Bates and Marius De Vries do some good work in the music as they bring in a mix of broad orchestra mixed in with electronics for the film’s score. Yet, the soundtrack is mostly dominated by a mixture of alternative rock and electronic stuff. Three songs by the Smiths, Eurythmics, and the Pixies are covered by Emily Browning while the rest of the soundtrack features variations of Bjork’s Army of Me and a mash-up of Queen’s We Will Rock You and I Want It All. Other tracks include very hypnotic, industrialized covers of Jefferson Airplane’s White Rabbit, the Stooges’ Search and Destroy, and crazy cover of The Beatles’ Tomorrow Never Knows by the Kills/Dead Weather’s Alison Mosshart and Autolux’s Carla Azar. The last song played on the film is a campy cover of Roxy Music’s Love Is the Drug by Oscar Issac and Carla Gugino as it’s a fun soundtrack that plays to the film’s dazzling visual style.

The casting by Michelle Allen, Kristy Carlson, and Lora Kennedy has some good moments but some of it isn’t inspiring. In small parts, there’s some memorable appearances by Gerard Plunket as Baby Doll’s stepfather, Alan C. Peterson as the mayor, Malcolm Scott as the fat cook, and Frederique de Raucourt as Baby Doll’s little sister in the first major sequence of the film. Jon Hamm is pretty good as the High Roller/doctor but he’s only in the film for about 5-6 minutes. He appears briefly early in the film and then appears for a brief minute as the High Roller, and then has a big moment near the end of the film. Hamm is a very high-profiled actor but he’s really wasted throughout in his small appearance.

Scott Glenn is superb as the wise man who guides Baby Doll and the girls into battle and helping find the objects in the hyper-fantasy scenes as he just goes out there and be cool. Glenn’s performance is one of the highlights as he’s a guy who really can’t suck no matter how bad a film can be. Oscar Issac is very good as the devilish Blue Jones with his sleazy persona and an intimidating presence that makes him into a hammy yet fun villain to root against. Carla Gugino is excellent as Madam Gorski, the therapist/dance instructor who allows the girls a chance to escape through their minds as her role is a bit ambiguous. Still, Gugino sports a campy Polish accent that allows her character to be one of the most enjoyable moments of the film.

Jamie Chung and Vanessa Hudgens are all right in their respective roles as Amber and Blondie. While they don’t get much to do except kind of be eye-candy. They have their moments when they’re in battle or be in some kind of spectacle while having a great rapport with the rest of the girls. They’re just don’t have enough chops to really play to the drama which is probably why they’re not given much to do. Emily Browning is pretty good as Baby Doll when she’s doing action scenes or leading the gang to have a jailbreak. The problem is that she doesn’t express herself very much as she either cries or gets worried while having a very icy expression throughout the film. There’s something that doesn’t really work in the performance as she seems unsure in her performance.

The film’s best performances easily goes to Abbie Cornish and Jena Malone in their respective roles as the sisters Sweet Pea and Rocket. Cornish is wonderful as the reluctant, cynical Sweet Pea who is trying not to get into trouble while wanting to protect Rocket. Even as she tries to get everyone to calm down and just be careful while getting into the action proving to be a real capable badass. Jena Malone is phenomenal as Rocket, the most outspoken person of the group who shows Baby Doll what goes on in the hospital and be the first to always be on board to escape. Malone not only shows that she can kick some ass but delivers the film’s often cheesy dialogue with great ease. Cornish and Malone also have some amazing chemistry as the sisters with Cornish being the most cautious and Malone as the most outgoing where they play off each other so well. Particularly since, with the exception of Baby Doll, they’re characters have a small back-story that is interesting which explains why they’re often together. If there’s a real highlight of the film, it’s Abbie Cornish and Jena Malone.

Sucker Punch is an entertaining, visually-ambitious but somewhat disappointing film from Zack Snyder. Due to a messy script, a lack of a cohesive story, and too many ideas that tend to overwhelm the story. It’s a film that needed more work though it isn’t a total waste of time. Fans of Snyder’s work will enjoy the visuals but if they’re looking for a engaging story. It’s not the right place. While the performance of some of the cast is either lackluster or uninspiring with the exception of Abbie Cornish, Jena Malone, Scott Glenn, Oscar Issac, and Carla Gugino. It doesn’t have a lot to offer which will definitely worry some viewers as they see that Snyder is going to direct the next Superman film coming in 2012. In the end, Sucker Punch is an okay but underwhelming spectacle from Zack Snyder.

Zack Snyder Films: (Dawn of the Dead (2004)) - 300 - Watchmen - (Legend of the Guardians: The Owls of Ga’Hoole) - Man of Steel - Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice - Justice League - Zack Snyder's Justice League - (Army of the Dead)

© thevoid99 2011


Bryce Wilson said...

Nicely done. Good calls on the film's strengths and weaknesses. I dug your other Snyder essays as well.

thevoid99 said...

Thank you Bryce. I wanted to like Sucker Punch but it's obvious that the film has a lot of flaws for me to not really recommend it.

I think he's a talented director but needs to restrain some of his visual tricks. Stop emphasizing on his trademarks. He also needs to create something that is cohesive as a storyteller. I'll give him one more chance with the Superman film but if he doesn't succeed. We're through.

At least the strengths it has kept it from being a total failure.

Plus, I think Snyder needs to work with more experienced, well-rounded actors who actually have chops. It's not to knock entirely on Vanessa Hudgens, Emily Browning, and Jamie Chung. They just don't have enough experience in being on a movie set. Being teamed up with more seasoned pros like Abbie and Jena didn't help things either cause those 2 understand the film medium more than those 3.