I don’t love SUCKERPUNCH, I respect it. I love themes, ideas, notions, sequences… but in the end, it doesn’t quite gel for me upon a single viewing. At the screening this afternoon though, I was watching the film with a pretty miserable audience. One that certainly didn’t respect the film, I know this because the second the last line was spoken, they began guffawing and shouted talking to one another… but thankfully they left pretty quickly. Not caring to watch the credits – not watching to see the pieces of what looks like 4 or 5 separate musical numbers that were cut from the film.
I’ve never understood this type of film critic. The type that leaps from their seat as though it is the most important thing they can do, to begin instantly talking, instantly either praising or ridiculing the film while the credits still roll. While imagery is still on screen. Showing a complete and utter lack of respect for those that are trying to listen to the end song number, take in the brief glimpses of the musical interludes which were cut, for some reason, from the film.
When I finally left the theater after the credits rolled, I found myself face to face with the Studio Rep who asked what I thought of the film. My first pass at a thought was to call the film a glorious mess. A spectacular spectacle that tragically doesn’t entirely connect upon first view. Then, as I was headed away, Quint said something to Hai (the rep) and I turned and said, “I find it hard to be gleefully dismissive of this film like the dismissive little shits, because there are things in this film that I’ve never seen done as well as what I just saw.”
25 minutes later I was comparing the film to Ridley Scott’s glorious mess, LEGEND. I’d also say it feels as messed up as Gilliam’s studio cut of BRAZIL before it was fully restored. (btw: Drew caught me on this, but I'm in a very odd perspective on BRAZIL, as I never saw it originally Theatrically because it opened the weekend after my mother took me from Austin for her divorce. 1st time I saw the film was the studio cut that aired on Network TV. ) Now – I’ve no idea why the huge musical numbers were cut. It’s possible they didn’t work at all. But the film is the boldest, bravest & most strikingly original and arresting film that Zack Snyder has ever attempted. This is his attempt at complete originality.
This film is a fantasy built upon a fantasy by a possibly wrongfully incarcerated, but more likely, insane disturbed woman that happened to be traumatized by her mother’s death. She was committed after she tried to protect her younger sister from her wicked stepfather – now her bullit hit the light bulb in the room, so I’m curious to re-watch that scene to see if I can more clearly determine what happened. Whatever happened, the trauma of losing both her mother and baby sister, renders her pretty much in total shock. The step-father has her committed to a disreputable Insane Asylum.
Now – back in the 30s – this was unfortunately very common place, my own great-grand-aunt was placed in an institution and was given electic-shock to cure her case of lesbianism. NO SHIT.
Often times, girls that simply didn’t behave got committed. There were the real mental illness cases, but the system was abused for years. Whatever, the insane asylum has been the starting place for some amazing tales – just ask Dorothy Gale, one of the reasons I loved RETURN TO OZ so much.
Zack is very definitely playing with the same type of fantasy as Baum, but incredibly helter-skelter. The film takes place in 3 different levels of reality.
The 1st is a hyperstylized 1930’s-esque world where the girls are all in a real insane asylum that seems like it is run by Oscar Isaac’s very heightened Blue Jones. As “Baby Doll” is taken in, she listens to her Stepfather have a conversation with Blue Jones which is all about what the Stepfather has planned for her, which is to be lobotomized. The asylum has a large theater space, which is where Emily Browning’s BABY DOLL is first shown around.
It is most likely this setting that caused her brain to suddenly and inexplicably leap to another reality. One where the big bad that she was getting in 5 days wasn’t being lobotomized, but being sold sexually (a virgin) to Jon Hamm’s HIGH ROLLER, who in reality is actually the Doctor. This level of existence is also set in a very 30’s/40’s vibe, with the exception of the music – which like MOULIN ROUGE is mainly contemporary music, but anytime Baby Doll dances we’re sent to the next level…
Then there’s the third level or reality, which isn’t so much a level of reality, as much as it is an anthology of empowering femme fantasy, where the oppressed “insane” inmates that are fighting to escape with BabyDoll become allies and fight to obtain objects that are key to their escape. This plane of existence begins in a snowy, very Japanese & massive Pagoda – where Scott Glenn is mysteriously the embodiment of the helpful master – who gives Baby Doll her weapons – a gun and a katana, both spectacularly embellished (like everything in this universe). THEN you get the trio of demonized samurai gigantic warriors – like something from a fevered Kurosawa geek’s dreams. I found this fight to be spectacular.
After we’re introduced to the 3 levels of existence & Baby Doll returns to the second level of reality, pretty much ignoring the Asylum aspects – going for the more comfortable world to mentally handle – of the brothel. Here she recruits the other girls for her bold plan… which basically makes zero sense. I mean, yeah – getting a map of the grounds, pretty important. Getting FIRE for a distraction, yeah, that’s good. Getting a Knife in case you need to kill someone. And the KEY – yeah, very important. You have to have a key in order to get anywhere in the asylum. This is better explained here, than in the film, mind you. Where these items are written on a black board, to be crossed off.
The additional fantasy aspects are three different adventures – the first is an excursion to a steampunked WWI trench warfare universe, where the Kaiser has reanimated via steam and clockworks, his fallen soldiers with the idea of pressing on. This is the MAP fantasy.
Next is the FIRE fantasy, which takes place in a fantasy universe where there are knights in armor laying siege to an orc-ish castle, which holds deep within its belly, a baby Dragon and a badass mama Dragon (still not as great as DRAGONSLAYER). Here, the girls are now in a WWII era Bomber – which will give rise to some pretty amazing visual eye-candy.
The final fantasy, is to get the knife, which takes us to what could be a colonized moon of Saturn – or some like ringed fantasy sci-fi’d planet. Here you have a bunch of robots that seem hell bent on blowing up the big city – and the girls must get on this crazy space train, kill all the robots, disarm the bomb, take it off the train, with their Jet Packs. No shit. This one goes a bit rough. But like the others, is visually spectacular.
NOW – it is important to note that much of this film is in the mind of BABY DOLL – she is not a reliable storyteller… she is most likely criminally insane. Some, after viewing the film, may question Zack Snyder’s sanity, but I will say – I was never bored. The overall feeling I had was that of a missed opportunity. An incredible misstep to sort of be in awe of.
I’m in no rush to judge this film with any manner of definitive statements. This is very much a movie with a lot on its mind. I feel that a rush to declare it great or rancid would be foolish. Zack is too good of a filmmaker to do that.
I loved Emily Browning, Abbie Cornish, Jena Malone, Vanessa Hudgens, Jamie Chung and Carla Gugino on the gal side. I liked Scott Glenn, though I couldn’t figure out for the longest time why he was even in the film, when it was revealed – it makes me wonder if anything we saw in the film ever happened at all. Which takes us back to the unreliable nature of our storytelling main character, who professes that this isn’t her story – is that a nod to Zack – or that this is actually another of the girl’s ultimate story? I do not yet know.
All I know for certain about SUCKERPUNCH is that this is spectacular visual experience. Larry Fong’s cinematography in many ways echoes & comes up a bit short next to Scorsese’s SHUTTER ISLAND and the stunning work of Robert Richardson. Rick Carter’s brilliant Production Design is just incredibly impressive – and I wish I’d gotten to seen his amazing design work that probably was amazing for the musical numbers. Then there’s just the beautiful make up and visual effects work that went into this film.
That’s the main thing. So much pure imagination just exploded on that screen, that I find so much that I love about the film, that ultimately – that it doesn’t all come together, that it isn’t quite all there… and then knowing, positively that this isn’t at all the original intent that the studio & Zack went into the project wanting to come out with – that the musical sequences are gone entirely… well it just makes me really wonder about the greater story of this film. What was the original intent? What happened exactly behind the scenes that changed that plan? Was it Zack’s decision – or someone else?
I’ve always wondered about these sorts of things. I’m a film geek that grew up hearing about a rumored brilliant Welles take on TOUCH OF EVIL, that eventually I got to see. I remember reading a review of James Cameron’s THE ABYSS that called it the greatest science fiction film of all time – mentioned all kinds of sequences that I never saw in the theater, but eventually I did. There’s no guarantees that that will occur on SUCKERPUNCH, but it could.
I’m planning on taking YOKO to see this at the IMAX this weekend, because she’s been wanting to see it – and after her Wisdom Teeth removal – she deserves a little pain and pleasure – and that is what SUCKER PUNCH gives you.
There’s metaphors built upon metaphors built in insane minds – and when you see films like these, on multiple viewings you tend to catch a ton of things that you missed initially. That may not occur with SUCKER PUNCH, but I suspect that there’s more to this than watching the film once and running out into streets laughing.
And at the least – you’ll see Zack doing his pulpy horror sci-fi rip on both MOULIN ROUGE and SHOCK CORRIDOR. It is literally a crazy experimental trip that I can not, not recommend. Even if you hate it, you’ll passionately hate it in that way that keeps you talking for a while. If you love it, you’ll passionately defend it. And if you’re flirting with both sides like me… shit – you get the experience of deciding where you come down on this film with leasure and joy. It’s certainly fun as hell to chew on. That much I’m certain of.