Review: SUCKER PUNCH - Better Than Inception

rating: 4

(The second very positive review of Sucker Punch at OWF, this time from Adam Rayner, with the movie out in the U.K. today) €˜It doesn€™t know what it wants to be€™ is a stock phrase batted around a lot in film criticism; Sucker Punch seems certain to receive this more than most movies. Zack Snyder€™s latest film is another action-packed, CGI-laden feast of the senses that like his earlier effort, the wonderful Watchmen, does itself no favours with mainstream audiences by overcomplicating what on paper is already a somewhat convoluted concept; a thriller set in three parallel worlds all existing simultaneously. However, while many may view this as a flaw - I view it as a virtue; it is not that this film doesn€™t know what it wants to be, but rather it knows exactly what it wants to be: ambitious, bold and challenging. We begin with Baby Doll (Emily Browning) discovering her mother has died and learning that she and her little sister will be left in the care of their twisted and sexually abusive stepfather. When Baby Doll€™s attempt to shoot her stepfather results in the accidental death of her sister, she is shipped off to a mental institution. This opening all unfolds in the style of a music video that Evanescence would be proud of, backed by a haunting cover of The Eurhythmics€™ €˜Sweet Dreams€™ sang by Miss. Browning, who in addition to turning in a compelling acting performance here shows she is more than capable behind the mic; not just with this song but on a number of tracks throughout the film. Her duet with Yoav, covering The Pixies€™ €˜Where is my Mind€™ is the pick of the bunch, and beautifully suited lyrically and tonally to back Baby Doll€™s admittance and initiation into the mental home under the watchful eye of the sinister Blue Jones (Oscar Issac) €“ it is very much a case of out of the frying pan and into the fire for poor Baby Doll. Here she meets Amber (Jamie Chung), Blondie (Vanessa Hudgens), and sisters Rocket (Jena Malone) and Sweet Pea (Abbie Cornish) €“ none of whom, like Baby Doll, seem to have anything mentally wrong with them and thus have been wrongly committed. The one force of support they have on the inside is devoted Polish doctor Vera Gorski (Carla Gugino) but her power is limited under the all controlling Blue, who rules with an iron fist. When Baby doll is medicated to be prepped for lobotomy, she descends into an alternate world where the mental institution is replaced by a burlesque club, the inmates fellow dancers and Blue and Gorski the operator and dance instructor whose duty it is to prepare Baby Doll for the €˜high roller€™ who will be arriving in five days and has his eye on her. To deal with the embarrassment and stresses of erotic dancing Baby Doll escapes into her imagination €“ a world of fantasy where she is a warrior princess, set a task by The Wise Man (Scott Glenn €“ showing why he could have done justice as Tarantino€™s Bill) to find fire, a map, a knife and a key in order to secure her freedom. This is where the kick-ass action kicks in with Baby Doll recruiting the girls to aid her in her/ their quest to break free from the burlesque club/ mental institution. While in the mental home Baby Doll is medicated, in the burlesque club she is made to dance which she does with great effect, taking the breath away from anyone who witnesses her show. Everyone that is, but us, because what we see is her exploits in her world of fantasy where she and the girls are set missions by The Wise Man to acquire the tools for survival; giant, stone Samurai demons and genetically engineered Nazi soldiers, Dragons and armies of orcs are laid waste by the Kung fu-kicking, scandalously clad fab five femmes, who decapitate and gun down anything in their paths. But with each item €“ in reality €“ coming into their possession - they steal them while everyone is spellbound by Baby Doll€™s exploits - Blue becomes suspicious and soon his violent retribution in the burlesque club rivals that in the Baby Doll€™s fantasy world. It would be very easy to write-off Sucker Punch as an exercise in self-indulgence and titillation; a personal project that Snyder thought up when he was a geeky teenager playing video games alone in his room. However, the fact the emotional hook is so strong and conveyance of a basic story so imaginative and compelling sucked me into the world and took me on the emotional rollercoaster that Snyder€™s movies purport to do and the reason I visit the cinema. Many will contest that the film is overly convoluted. Setting it in three different realities is mildly jarring at first; however unlike Inception, which is perhaps the most convoluted film ever made, Sucker Punch does not bore nor demean its audience with reams of expositional dialogue. A simpler version of this film could have been told, 300 has one of the simplest narratives in film history, but I didn€™t find that an inventive film, nor a rewarding movie going experience. This cannot be said of Sucker Punch. We are well aware of Snyder€™s stylistic talents and penchant for non-diagetic music and songs to compliment and often support his images, which he excels with once more. Emiliana Torrini€™s cover of White Rabbit is one of the songs superbly used to punctuate and bookend Baby Doll€™s entrance and exit from her mind. The visual effects are unsurpassable, with levels of detail that Kubrick would have struggled to better. The sheer opulence of scenery is simply breath-taking and at times left me wanting to pause and study the designs that Snyder and his team had created and conveyed. The choreography and action scenes are among the best you will see; the cinematography is of the highest standard and the sound design tops that of Inception which I thought was perhaps the best example of how to effectively employ sound in an action movie. If Sucker Punch has failings, or perhaps comparative failings would be fairer, then it is in the performances and dialogue. Emily Browning is fantastically expressive; she can say more with a look than many of her contemporaries can with dialogue scripted by The Bard himself. Sadly her execution of dialogue is sometimes flaky. The same can be said of her follow fighting femmes; they€™re all competent, without being dazzling. Maybe this is down to the dialogue, which is obviously not Snyder€™s strong suit. It might say what is needed to be said, and is thankfully a million times less expositional than €˜Inception€™ but lacks the wit and subtly to match the class of the rest of the piece. Sucker Punch is far more than scantily clad, jailbait babes kicking ass and dancing in a burlesque club. This is a thought provoking piece about human survival, triumph over adversity and the power of the mind to help overcome the most insurmountable obstacles, cleverly - perhaps too cleverly - packaged in a cross genre fantasy-action-adventure-thriller. It€™s a must for fans of graphic novel adaptations and fans of Snyder, whose stamp is all over this as he continues to distinguish himself a contemporary auteur of films of this ilk. It might not make as much money as €˜300€™ and may well fall foul of the same savagery as €˜Watchmen€™, but this is not just a credit to Snyder but to cinema and Hollywood, that a movie with so many innovative ideas and such visual opulence is getting made; albeit around the deluge of derivative drivel that continues to spew out of the pipeline.
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Frustratingly argumentative writer, eater, reader and fanatical about film ‘n’ food and all things fundamentally flawed. I have been a member of the WhatCulture family since it was known as Obsessed with Film way back in the bygone year of 2010. I review films, festivals, launch events, award ceremonies and conduct interviews with members of the ‘biz’. Follow me @FilmnFoodFan In 2011 I launched the restaurant and food criticism section. I now review restaurants alongside film and the greatest rarity – the food ‘n’ film crossover. Let your imaginations run wild as you mull on what that might look like!