When Low Expectations Defy You

"Ugh, what are we shooting at now?"

Last week, I reviewed Devil as a possible Yakmala! candidate. In the opening paragraph, I brought up how Sucker Punch seemed to be #1 with a bullet in terms of Yakmala!, but I posted about Devil since a) I really had to share, and b) I hadn’t seen Sucker Punch yet. I felt Devil was a good candidate for our little film club, and that Sucker Punch had its work cut out for it. This past Friday, a bunch of us got together to watch Snyder’s recent masterpiece, and I have to say:

I’d watch Devil five times in a row before rewatching Sucker Punch. Holy shit.

I tell ya, given how poorly this movie was received both critically and commercially, I wasn’t expecting much. I figured it would be some lame-ass revenge fantasy involving fetish girls with guns fighting ninjas, or whatever the hell else the trailers promised; hopefully good for a hoot and a laugh and some upskirt action. (What? I’m only a man.) Instead, we get a film so morally off-center that rape is as ubiquitous and benign a threat as silverfish in your bathtub, and so steeped in degradation and terror that when taken to an asylum for a lobotomy, main character Babydoll (yes, Babydoll) escapes to a dreamworld set in a brothel where she has to strip for her life. THAT’S the dreamworld escape; that’s what she comes up with as an alternative to a lobotomy. I set my bar to ground level, and Sucker Punch dug a trench under it.

Yes, ladies, even the Hamm gets dragged into this.

The plot, as it is, and I’ll keep it brief because I’m not even sure what the hell happened: Babydoll is sent to an asylum after trying to shoot her evil, rapey stepdad and killing her little sister instead (the bullet’s path, BTW, needs to be investigated* by the Warren Commission). The asylum is appropriately Hostel-ish, and she’s sent over to get an immediate lobotomy (paid for by RapeDad), escorted by creeptastic orderly Blue. Within three minutes of screen time, she’s strapped into a chair and set up for a spike to the sinuses. Just shy of the moment of impact, we cut to a theatre stage, where the same scene is playing out theatrically, but with someone else wearing Babydoll’s hair. We are now in a brothel/stripclub/black box theatre, where Babydoll is a new employee. As the new meat, she has to do the laundry, cleaning, rape prevention, etc.

Soon, Babydoll’s asked to try dancing herself. When she does, instead of actually showing her dance (because why do that? It’s only Emily Browning in tights), she mind-teleports (or whatever) to a snowy mountain temple, where she meets… Scott Glenn. Scott Glenn in samurai gear, but still Scott Glenn. (Quick note: at this point in his life, high-def is not Scott’s friend.) He tells her that to escape, she must find five items: a map, fire, a knife, a key, and a fifth thing that must remain mysterious just because. And then, as all things must, their meeting concludes with three giant stone samurai busting through the walls to fight Babydoll.

She wins, if you wanna know.

She comes back to reality (which actually isn’t reality, but fuck it, whatevs), and everyone is impressed. She’s apparently the best dancer that’s ever danced, but we wouldn’t know it. Every time she dances, the fucking movie cuts to yet another dream fight where she and the other girls battle Nazi steampunk zombies (not kidding), orcs and a dragon (orcs that, incidentally, WETA should sue Snyder over), and a train full of robots (that Alex Proyas should sue Snyder over). Each battle is meant to mirror the actual, boring attempts the girls make to steal the mystical items, but really, you just don’t care after a while. By “a while,” I mean about two minutes.

Take a look at the poster above.

OK, that’s long enough, and get your hand out of your pants. This should’ve been a slam dunk. It wasn’t going to be an Oscar winner, but Emily Browning in Sailor Moon gear fighting giant samurai and dragons should’ve been fun. In all honesty, I think it could have been a decent, goofy action film if it just maintained some sense of camp, but the whole enterprise is so self-serious it drains all the fun out of it. And the action sequences are so ridiculous and alpha-nerdish you quickly get bored. Four hot girls and Jena Malone shooting and slashing stuff should be amazing. Instead, it’s just crushingly dull. “Oh, now they’re cutting robots in half. Yay.”

If you’re wondering about Snyder’s trademark “fast-slow-fast” shooting technique, he does stray from that here. It’s mostly just slow. Very slow. PAINFULLY slow. And when you think the slo-mo has gone too far, it goes on for another few seconds. If you sped up the movie to its normal frame rate, it’d be about 37 minutes long and a lot easier to deal with. Why the internet hasn’t produced this yet, I’m not sure. You’re failing me, dorks.

I won’t go into the ending and what the fabled fifth item is, but if you’ve seen some Luc Besson movies, you’ll probably guess what it is. And it’s as groanworthy as you might expect.

And I hope you hate music, too, because Sucker Punch will defile your fond memories of various great songs with terrible covers. Like Iggy and the Stooges’ “Search and Destroy?” Here’s a shitty Skunk Anasie cover during the orc fight. Love The Pixies’ “Where is My Mind?” You’ll tour the asylum accompanied by a horrible shoegazer version. (And can we get a moratorium on this song, please? Fight Club did it first, and did it best. Leave it alone.) And do you enjoy Bjork’s “Army of Me?” Well, stick around for anger: the original version plays behind the giant samurai fight. There’s even an awful version of Roxy Music’s “Love is the Drug” sung by Carla Gugino and the guy who plays Blue during the end credits. (We saw the Extended Cut, which put the actual number within the film, which made me question continuing living.)

Yeah, just move along.

I can’t figure out what in god’s name Sucker Punch was supposed to be. As a simple action flick, it fails because it barely raises your pulse. As a “comic-book” nerd fantasy, it fails because Snyder somehow found a tone that was too over-the-top for that crowd. As a paean to “female empowerment,” as Snyder has claimed before, FUCK THAT. I guess in Snyder’s mind, female empowerment is about killing robots in hot pants, and working in a shitty brothel and stripping for greaseballs so that you don’t get raped or killed, but hey! You’re in control of your sexuality! Or something! And I again remind you: the brothel was the dream escape from Babydoll’s impending lobotomy.

You need to understand: we had LOW expectations for this movie. An inch above the dirt low. And even with that, Sucker Punch managed to trip over it. It’s a movie that fails on every level, even the level that would make it a fun failure. It’s not just inept; it has a malfunctioning moral compass and possesses the near-magical ability to turn gunfights against hundreds of enemies into tedium. I don’t know what planets aligned to allow Sucker Punch to occur, but we need to blow one of them up so it never happens again. It’s rare that I’m actually angry at a film, but this one did it for me. Thanks, Zach.

Now I’m really scared about Man of Steel.

Fig. 1: Snyder's "female empowerment."

*When I typed this, I initially typed “incestigated.” Still works.

About Louis

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