Thursday, March 24, 2011

SUCKER PUNCH review... beautiful images, furious sound

Got to see a preview screening of SUCKER PUNCH late last night (not since Ghostbusters had I been forced to sit this close to the screen though... front row, left side, sore neck). Here's my review... (with only very mild spoilers)
Sucker Punch is ambitious.
As you may know, the story has layers, and the dream within a dream is where all the action takes place... or rather parallels in a hyper-real fashion the action in the second layer (which may or may not happen in the first layer).
Got all that?
Basically, it's this dream within a dream (because I don't want to call it a world, it's more like a limbo, or dream-scape) where all the epic visual shit we see in the trailer takes place. If you've heard about the movie, or seen much of the previews, I don't think I'm telling you anything you don't know going in.
It's all of these layers that allow for the fantastic action and costuming etc.; the steam zombie Nazis, the giant rail-gun wielding samurai, the dragons, etc, and the outfits, the costuming gone wild, all the cool stuff. All the stuff everyone wonders if it will all work together. So that's the big question, does it?
The short answer, no.
All of these levels, and the fantasy worlds tend to disconnect you from the story and the sense that any of this is really happening, or means anything. The characters feel too much like cut out dolls, or puppets, who rarely ever breathe... okay, well, actually, there's lots of breathing, but just on a surface level (as Snyder likes to decompress scenes in his trademark bursts), and not in a way that makes them lived in or brought to life in any realistic fashion. Oh sure they want to get out from under their oppressor, and they'll tell you that in flat line reads, of cookie cutter dialogue, repeatedly, as they stare at you with dead eyes (because they’re dead inside from their shackled existence). And they’ll use words like freedom, and fighting, or fighting for freedom… or their mystical guide, Scott Glenn, will pop up at each dreamland juncture, and dryly outline their objectives in the basest of words, punctuated by intentionally hokey cliches (yet it doesn't feel like it's played as tongue and cheek as it reads).
Not to mention, the PG-13 rating, on a film that already traffics in some mature subject matter and themes of abuse (sexual, physical, psychological), as well as giant action set pieces centered around war and excessive killing, means it's all watered down, or sanitized. You have multiple sequences where these girls are fighting armies, with blades, semi-automatic guns, grenades, bombs, you name it, but with virtually no bloodshed (because the enemies are all conveniently non-human automatons).
I imagine it goes something like this. Zack Snyder directs 300 (an R rated bloodbath of a film), sets box office records, gets a blank check to do whatever... okay, Watchmen, full on, true to the source rated R adaptation. It stinks up the box office. Studio, "Okay Zack, you've still got some house money, but this time you play by our rules." And we get the homogenized studio treatment we have here. (Not really a good formula for a visionary work by a director, Snyder practically does everything here, soup to nuts.)
And because of this, you don't really get too invested in any of it. It's just pretty pictures, put together in what's meant to be a clever or mind-bending way, but it all collapses without the special sauces (actual character, gore, blood, or anything with substance).
Then there's the music.
Zack Snyder should not be allowed to have anything to do with his own soundtracks or scores. He's terrible. Sure he can cut together a kick ass trailer to Silversun Pickups, or Nine Inch Nails, but Watchmen and now Sucker Punch are beyond laughable in their song selection. He goes out of his way to use music that's been used to death elsewhere, or here, using the brilliant idea to literally "cover" that up with cover songs, of songs that have been famously used, or used to death. A third remake of Sweet Dreams anyone? Or how about the Pixies "Where Is My Mind", you know, the same song that famously plays, to great affect, at the climax of Fight Club. Worst of all, it's a trippy Matrix style themed flick, so yep, White Rabbit is used. Stop, you're terrible. We all need to prey that he has nothing to do with the Superman soundtrack, I fear for what will become of the Superman theme, and what "clever" tunes ol' Zack has cued up for Supes. (Now, I have no idea, but perhaps this reeks of studio involvement, I don't think so since he likely had carte blanch with Watchmen and did the same nauseating shit (All Along the Watchtower anyone? Ever heard that in a movie?? Maybe that should be the climax… ugh), but either way, it's just as lame and disturbing).
So, song selection rant over, what's even worse about the soundtrack/score, is that the music is part of the visual/thematic formula that the movie settles into, and it's very distracting. Each action vignette is prefaced with the latest blaring cover track, which eventually fades to score, and the back to a reprise to tie up the scene. Nothing wrong in theory there, but the problem is they take the focus, there's too much emphasis on the music, it overrides the visuals, and again, the music is terrible. Zack's on record as being a Heavy Metal fan, so I'll assume that includes the movie, which is probably inspiration, to some extent, for this movie, as well as the soundtrack, the difference being, that was a really good and very contemporary soundtrack... again, this is neither.
I know I rant at length about soundtracks, but folks, think about it, sound and music are a HUGE part of good movie making. Name any classic or blockbuster film, 9 times out of 10 they have a great piece of music or score at the heart. Think Star Wars, think Jaws, or Psycho, etc etc, most likely you immediately think of their soundtracks, or at least tie those to your thoughts of the movie. Try and imagine Star Wars without John Williams’ score, if it had some lame synth space music of the era, it may still be a classic, but it’s an entirely different film. Go out of your way with the sound and miss, and you severely damage your film.
So, that's the bad stuff.
The good stuff?
It's pretty, and there's lots of cool stuff to watch (arguably most of which is in the trailer).
So, if you're really stoked by all the cool stuff that's teased, go see it on the big screen. There’s more of it, and it’s some damn cool stuff. Otherwise, Zack needs to stick to adapting strong source material, because Nolan he ain't.
You'd think by all my thoughts here I hated this film, and I didn't. I kind of liked it, but only with qualifications, and I really wanted to like a movie that's built around all this incredible shit a lot more. I get what Snyder was going for here, I mean most any geek does, Sucker Punch does indeed have a lot of cool shit going on, the hyper-reality of the dreamscapes and it's elaborate combat sequences, with multitudes of weapons, where you see and feel the action in exaggerated concussive force, or super-slo-mo, with shell casings falling at the camera, or characters flying 100 yards and collapsing into eruptions of earth and stone, it's visual candy, expertly rendered and staged from killer angles. And maybe, with all the cool it does have to offer, it's quite possible I'll like it better with repeat viewings, when I can just turn off all my hopes and expectations and enjoy it for what it is. I just might not be rushing back to the theater to do so.

MILDLY RECOMMENDED
Go and see it, have fun with it, just don't expect too much beyond the visuals.
Dance Baby Doll, dance! (SPOILER - she never does!)

1 comment:

Clayton Hollifield said...

I don't know - "White Rabbit" was pretty brutal, but it's a coin-toss as to whether it or "Where Is My Mind?" is worse.

Good review here - I think you got into the problems at least as much as I did. It's not that I hated it, but it was a clear swing and miss.