CINEMA KNIFE FIGHT: SUCKER PUNCH (2011)
By Michael Arruda and L.L. Soares
(The Scene: The skies above a World War I battlefield, filled with fighter planes and huge zeppelins. There are the sounds of gunfire and bombs exploding. A close-up on one of the zeppelins reveals MICHAEL ARRUDA & L.L. SOARES are flying the giant airship.)
MA: Wow! What a view!
LS (Looking at magazine with scantily clad women battling soldier zombies on the cover): I’ll say!
MA: Put that away! We have a movie to review! (Swipes magazine from LS).
LS: Hey! I was just getting to the best part!
MA (looks at opened centerfold LS had been eyeing): I’ll say! Anyway, let’s get to today’s movie. I’ll start since you’re flying this thing
LS: Me? I thought you were flying it.
MA: I’m not flying it!
LS: Errr..maybe it’s flying itself?
MA: I hope not. I seem to remember something from history called the Hindenburg. Try to figure out how to fly it. I’ll start the review.
LS: Sure. There must be a manual around here somewhere.
MA: Today we’re reviewing SUCKER PUNCH (2011) , the new fantasy action movie from writer/director Zack Snyder, the man who brought us the ambitious superhero movie WATCHMEN (2009).
LS: I liked WATCHMEN a lot. Snyder also directed 300 (2006) and the remake of DAWN OF THE DEAD (2004). I thought those two movies were just so-so. (While looking for manual he discovers another magazine, this one with gorgeous busty babes battling a dragon on the cover. He grins ear to ear.)
MA: SUCKER PUNCH is a feast for the eyes, full of wild visuals like the one we’re flying through right now, a World War I battle scene with fighter planes and zeppelins filling the sky, and hot babes and soldier zombies battling it out on the ground below. However, the story SUCKER PUNCH tells is average at best, and the movie isn’t strong enough to succeed on the strength of its visuals alone, and so the final product is a mixed bag.
LS: The story is average? Did we see the same movie? I wasn’t aware there was an actual storyline at all in this movie! I must have missed something.
MA (sees LS looking at magazine): I’m not surprised.
The film gets off to a great start in an opening montage that shows Baby Doll (Emily Browning) and her little sister grieving over the death of their mother, and their evil Stepfather (Gerard Plunkett) attacks them, and in the fight the little sister is killed, and the Stepfather brings the nearly mute Baby Doll (from shock, perhaps?) to an institution for mentally disturbed women. This sequence plays like a music video, with lots of music and no dialogue, but it worked for me. It was a neat little piece of storytelling, a cool way to open the film.
LS: Are you kidding? I agree, the opening plays like a music video. But that’s not a good thing. I found it incredibly annoying that there was no dialogue at all throughout his section, and characters do things like move in slow motion as they run. It was just awful! I wanted to know more about this back story. I wanted to know more about what was going on. But it’s superficial and stylized to the point of being soulless. What this did for me was turn me off to the movie right from the beginning. I didn’t care about any of these characters.
MA: Wow. You’re harsh. We’re talking about the first five minutes of the movie here, not the entire thing. I thought it worked.
At the institution, the Stepfather arranges for Baby Doll to have a lobotomy (nice guy!) which will happen in a few days once the doctor arrives. There’s then a jarring transition in which we learn that Baby Doll’s not really in an institution at all, but in a whorehouse, where the girls perform dances and entertain the guests. Baby Doll learns this from two of the women she meets there, Sweet Pea (Abbie Cornish) and Rocket (Jena Malone).
Now, I don’t want to give anything way, but I didn’t buy this transition one bit, and I knew from the get go where this film was going, and so the ending wasn’t much of a surprise for me.
LS: There were supposed to be surprises in this movie? That’s funny, because I sure didn’t see them. Just about every aspect of this movie was completely predictable. I saw the trailer for this movie like 20 times before the movie came out. I thought it looked pretty lame. Turns out almost everything you need to know about the movie is in the trailer. And it’s nice and short. I could have skipped the movie entirely and still written my part of this review.
MA: I’m guessing you didn’t like this one?
Anyway, the girls’ pimp is Blue Jones (Oscar Isaac), the man we saw as the orderly who arranged the lobotomy with the stepfather, and he’s a sufficiently slimy fellow, and there’s also Dr. Vera Gorski (Carla Gugino) who serves as the girls’ madame. The whole thing plays like a dream, and nuff said, I guess.
LS: Wow, that sounds exactly like another movie we saw recently, INCEPTION. Yeah, the lame music video beginning was supposed to be the “real world,” then we get treated to the whorehouse stuff which is a dream, and the battle sequences which are dreams within dreams. The whole time I just wanted to wake up and see another another movie!
I like Gugino, though. She deserves better than this.
Another odd thing is that the setting is a whorehouse, and yet we see no signs of anyone having sex. Ever. Instead, the girls just do dances for the clients that we never get to see, either. The entire setting is a cheat. Of course the PG-13 rating doesn’t help matters. But why set a story in a whorehouse, if you’re going to keep it so sanitized?
MA: The gimmick in this one has Baby Doll, whenever she’s about to dance, close her eyes and at these times she finds herself in a fantasy world where she meets the Wise Man (Scott Glenn). He tells her that in order for her to escape, she must find five things—a map, fire, a knife, a key, and the fifth thing is a mystery . She’ll have to figure that out for herself later. Well, thanks dude! That was helpful!
Baby Doll then gets to fight three giant monster samurais, in what I thought was one of the movie’s best sequences.
LS: This is the one point where I thought the movie was going to deliver the goods. Carla Gugino as the Dance Instructor/Madame plays an old-fashioned reel-to-reel tape player. Music begins. It’s Bjork’s amazing song “Army of Me,” which if you’re familiar with it, is a powerful song that sets a real mood. Then Baby Doll is transported to a Buddhist temple, where she goes up against three giant monsters dressed as samurais. All of this was pretty cool. I was totally getting into it. Unfortunately, this is the only scene that really captured my imagination. The movie didn’t really start for me until this scene. Unfortunately, when the scene’s over, so is the best part of the movie. They should have just released this one scene and deleted the rest of the movie.
MA: SUCKER PUNCH is similar in structure to SCOTT PILGRIM VS. THE WORLD (2010), as both movies play out like a video game. In that one, Scott Pilgrim has to battle “seven evil exes” and here Baby Doll has to gain five items. The difference is SCOTT PILGRIM was a comedy and the screwball antics were easier to accept, because the film was loony. Here, it’s supposed to be a serious action movie, but with so much of the story based on complete dream-like fantasy, it’s hard to take seriously, and it doesn’t work as well.
LS: The difference is SCOTT PILGRIM had an actual story to it. It had developed characters. It used the video game aspects in an innovative way. I thought it was cleverly done. As for SUCKER PUNCH, it has no story, one-dimensional characters, and everything that happens is pretty predictable. They put a lot of money into SUCKER PUNCH’s visuals, and there are parts that look great, but they FORGOT TO BUY A DAMN SCRIPT!
MA: So, Baby Doll tells her friends about her plan to escape, and they agree to help her so they can all escape, and what happens is each time they go for an item in “real life” Baby Doll closes her eyes and they all enter the fantasy world of the Wise Man where he tells them how to get the item their looking for.
For example, the map they’re looking for is in Blue’s office, but in the fantasy world, they have to battle World War I soldier zombies to steal the map. When it comes time for the fire, they have to steal a cigarette lighter, but in the fantasy world, they must battle a dragon.
LS: Actually, whenever Baby Doll closes her eyes and goes into the battle sequences, she is supposed to be doing a provocative dance in the “whorehouse” reality that hypnotizes everyone who sees it. We never see her actually dance. I would have liked to see that at least once. Everyone goes on and on about how great a dancer she is – but we never see proof of this.
MA: That’s a good point. I figured we’d see her dance at least once, but nope!
So that’s how the movie goes, as the girls battle their way through these different set pieces to get the items they need to escape, and whether or not they ultimately make it of course is what the ending is all about.
Again, visually I loved SUCKER PUNCH, but its story needed a lot of work. I didn’t buy the “whorehouse” bit at all. It was so obviously dreamlike that you just knew where this film was going in terms of its revelations at the end.
LS: Another giveaway is that in the “real world” things are drab looking (but just as stylized), but in the whorehouse world, all of the girls are perfectly made-up and look like supermodels. Not once does a character smear her mascara or smudge her lipstick. In the battlefield, they’re even more stylized. Sure, they look great, but they also could have easily been replaced by CGI characters.
MA: And as much as I liked this film visually, I thought the battle sequences fell flat. I liked the first battle a lot, between Baby Doll and the three giant monster warriors. It was a really cool scene. But later, when the movie should have taken off, in the big World War I battle sequence, I was unimpressed. While this grand scope of battlefield images with the planes and zeppelins is certainly satisfying, I thought that the actual battle scenes between the babes and the zombies were mediocre and flat.
(A ZOMBIE SOLDIER pops up from behind some machinery)
ZOMBIE: Brains! Brains! I wish someone with brains had written this movie!
LS: When we see the giant samurai creatures, it’s all new to us. And it looks great. By the time we get to the other battles with other kinds of creatures, it’s old hat. And the battle scenes are repetitive and monotonous. When even the action gets boring, you know there’s a problem.
MA: Yes, the same can be said about the dragon sequence. While the dragon itself was very menacing and cool-looking, the actual battle was hardly exciting. So, director Zach Snyder gets a gold star for creating amazing and memorable images in this movie, but in terms of generating suspense he doesn’t do so well.
The one scene that I thought was really suspenseful was towards the end, when Blue Jones discovers that the girls are trying to escape and deals with them accordingly. This was a suspenseful, violent and dark scene, one that succeeded in making me feel that what was going on was real, but there weren’t many of these true scenes in the movie at all. As a total package, I liked WATCHMEN much better than SUCKER PUNCH.
LS: There’s no comparison. WATCHMEN was based on a legendary graphic novel and had a solid, well-developed story, and fleshed out characters. You cannot compare it to cinema bubblegum like SUCKER PUNCH.
MA: The story was just average. I liked the idea of Baby Doll entering the fantasy world, and I liked how it gave the film the excuse to do all these neat battle scenes, but the scenes weren’t as good as they could have been. The bigger problem with the story is that the reality Baby Doll is escaping from, the whorehouse, isn’t real. Had this part of the story remained rooted in reality, I would have bought into it much more. It was like a dream within a dream within a dream, and I’ve made it no secret that I don’t like dream plots.
(LEONARDO DICAPRIO runs through the room)
DICAPRIO: It’s a dream within a dream within a dream within a dream….(he disappears)
MA: The acting in this one was pretty much nonexistent. Like you said, these characters could have been all CGI created. They don’t really get a chance to do any real acting. Emily Browning is OK as Baby Doll, but she never wowed me. Abbie Cornish was OK as Sweet Pea. Cornish is also starring in LIMITLESS (2011) and I liked her better in that movie. I did like Jena Malone as Rocket, as she seemed to have more personality than the others.
LS: I think Jena Malone as Rocket was my favorite, too. She and Sweet Pea are the main characters after Baby Doll. Poor Amber (Jamie Chung) is given hardly anything to do. In the battle scenes she’s always flying a plane or stuck inside a robot. Disney Channel alum Vanessa Hudgens is also in it, as a brunette character named Blondie (how funny), and she’s the weakest of the girl characters. With her big hair and baby face, she looked like a little kid playing dress-up and didn’t really belong there. I wish they’d used someone better.
The girls in this movie, for the most part, are hot and are made up to be even hotter. Like I said, they look like a group of supermodels most of the time. They’re part of the reason the visuals work so well. But there’s no real depth to them. They’re predictable, stock characters.
Y’know, teenage girls running around like superheroes isn’t anything new. Japanese anime has been doing this for decades. And doing it with better stories.
MA: Oscar Isaac makes for a competent villain as Blue Jones, but through most of the movie he doesn’t do all that much. He doesn’t get to shine as a true bad guy until the end. Scott Glenn as the Wise Man could have played this dull role in his sleep, and at times it looks as if he just woke up, but it was still good to see him.
LS: I thought Oscar Isaac was actually pretty annoying as Blue. He never seemed menacing enough. He seemed like an underling who thinks he’s in charge. An irritating weasel. I kept expecting one of the girls to kill him off without much effort.
Scott Glenn is okay, but once again it’s a role that takes no effort. And he does look like he’s doing it in his sleep!
And don’t forget about Jon Hamm (Don Draper from the excellent AMC TV series, MAD MEN). Here’s a great actor reduced to playing what are essentially cameo roles as someone called the “High Roller” in the whorehouse sequences (we see him in the audience once, but he has no dialogue and we don’t even really meet him) as well as the “Doctor” in the real world who performs lobotomies (and who has just a few lines of dialogue). What a complete waste of his talent!
MA: Gerard Plunkett as the Stepfather has minimal screen time and hardly any dialogue, but he sure makes a good evil bastard. I think he gave the best performance in the film, and he’s hardly in it at all.
LS: I wanted to know more about him, and about Baby Doll before she was brought to the asylum. I hated the opening montage/music video thing. I wanted some real character development, some real insight into what was going on, instead of the same old “by the numbers” version. We’ve seen all this before, so much so that Zack Snyder didn’t even have to use any effort in that part. And it could have been so much more effective. It’s like he didn’t want to bother with the effort developing things. He was too busy thinking up elaborate monsters for the battle sequences.
MA: SUCKER PUNCH is a mixed bag. Is it worth it seeing it on the big screen? Well, for its neat visuals, I’d have to say yes, it is worth seeing at the movies, but be forewarned, as a complete package it doesn’t hold up. It’s in desperate need of a much better story.
LS: Or any story at all.
MA: I give it two and a half knives.
LS: Man, are you generous.
MA: Well, I enjoyed the visuals a lot.
LS: Okay, here’s what’s good about the movie. The girls are hot. The battle scenes are visually interesting (well, mostly the first one with the samurais, but each of the battle sequences has something that stands out. I also liked the use of music. The use of that Bjork song as a centerpiece was inspired – it’s a good song and it fits its sequence perfectly – like a good music video….er…maybe that’s the problem. SUCKER PUNCH plays more like a big-budget string of music videos than a movie.
Overall, the choice of music is pretty good. We’ve got Eurythmics’ “Sweet Dreams (Are Made of This)” performed by star Emily Browning (which wasn’t completely awful; she also sings a cover of The Smiths’ “Asleep”), The Stooges’ classic “Search and Destroy” covered by Skunk Anansie, Jefferson Airplane’s “White Rabbit” covered by Emiliana Torrini, and even Carla Gugino and Oscar Isaac get into the act with a cover of Roxy Music’s “Love is the Drug” during the closing credits. Some of the covers work, others don’t, but they’re all interesting choices. And thankfully they didn’t have someone sing a cover of the Bjork song – it’s the real deal. Hell, the soundtrack is more inspired than the movie is.
MA: I agree. I loved the soundtrack.
LS: But the thing is, SUCKER PUNCH is more like a series of music videos, and sequences from video games, than an actual coherent movie. And by the end, it just feels so predictable and pointless, you wonder why they ever bothered.
I give it one knife. I wanted to give it even less, because it was such a waste of time. But the visuals are well done, and look good on the big screen. I can’t imagine it would look as good on a television screen. But seriously, it’s not worth the price of a theater ticket to see it. Once you dig beneath the look of the movie, it has no substance. It’s a void. Even the things that are good about it aren’t strong enough to overshadow what’s bad about it. SUCKER PUNCH? It’s more like a love tap.
MA: Well, it sounds like we agree the visuals were superb, and while you found the story nonexistent, I found it average. All right, that about wraps things up. Have you found those zeppelin instructions yet?
LS: Yep. I have them right here.
MA: What does it say?
LS (reads): “To drive this zeppelin, you need to find five items—a map, a key—.”
MA (groans): No way!
LS: Screw this. I’m jumping!
MA: Hold on. I’m coming too. (The two of them strap on parachutes as missiles explode in the sky around their airship). All right everybody, we’ll see you next week with another review of another new movie!
(They jump from zeppelin as the dirigible explodes in a gigantic fireball. They parachute to the ground, landing safely in the arms of beautiful, busty babes.)
LS: I love this job!
© Copyright 2011 by Michael Arruda and L.L. Soares
Michael Arruda gives SUCKER PUNCH – two and a half knives
L.L. Soares gives SUCKER PUNCH – one knife!