Review: SUCKER PUNCH - Zack Snyder's 'Sweet Dreams' Are Made Of Shit...

rating: 1

(Our third review of Sucker Punch, and the one I have a feeling I will most side with when I get around to seeing Zack Snyder's movie). WARNING: This is a critique, not a review, and as such contains discussions of detailed plot points that are almost certainly spoilers for those of you who haven't seen the film. "Sweet dreams are made of this" state the Eurythmics, as a child loses her mother and is physically abused by her stepfather, "who am I to disagree?" The answer to that question should be: any reasonably minded person. Of course, we're supposed to believe it's an intelligent juxtaposition. The dreams aren't sweet at all! Hahaha! We're making a joke of this young girl's suffering in a hideously sepia-toned MTV throwback of an opening. Is that OK? Maybe it is. Maybe we're all supposed to laugh as Emily Browning, who, according to one shot added late in editing, is 20 (despite being dressed as a schoolgirl, wearing pigtails, being shot to look small, and named 'Babydoll') is brutalised in this insane asylum where attractive teenagers are pimped out by an orderly. I don't find that poor-man's attempt at dark irony very funny. And it's about as original as using 'Where Is My Mind' by the Pixies or 'White Rabbit' by Jefferson Airplane in a tale of mental illness, which, by the way, Zack Snyder actually does. Even less funny are the legion of basic filmmaking flaws that riddle this story from start to finish. The story is centred on Babydoll (Emily Browning), a girl who has lost her mother, been molested by her father, shot her sister, and is now in an insane asylum where her stepfather has bribed an orderly to fast-track a lobotomy to erase her memory. Once inside, she escapes the ordeal of her system rape by imagining herself in a brothel (yup, I'm serious, she ESCAPES to a brothel) where she must dance for prospective 'clients'. Whilst dancing she imagines computer game parodies: dragons, steampunk Nazis and massive samurai, literal representations of the figurative demons she is fighting. This all sounds very clever doesn't it? Three levels of reality, each representing a part of her consciousness. It's a layered, ingenius idea, not a middle-aged wet dream at all. Honestly. It's a bit like 'Inception' some might say. The trouble is that Snyder utterly fails to reconcile the three universes in any meaningful way, Babydoll fantasises the brothel out of nowhere once she enters the asylum and we never know quite how the two fit together. Similarly, her visions that come when she dances are the only thing we see once the music starts. How does her vision interact with the brothel? Or the asylum? What does her dance look like? We're never told. And we're not supposed to care because we're distracted by nonsensical CGI and Emily Browning's pants. Worse still, in abstracting these character's problems so far into fantasy Snyder utterly detaches us from their plight. Something I would argue is worse than negligent, it's a cynical ploy to get the 12A certificate that allows markets this story of abused teenage girls to be marketed to teenage boys. Healthy stuff. Babydoll's struggle is represented entirely in a 5-minute music video and a series of computer-game battle sequences. We never hear her speak, we never see her suffer. When we're in the brothel, we only ever cut to his sepia-soaked computer-game-fetish worlds and NEVER, not once, cut back to the reality of the mental institution. The result is not only that we can't ever grasp enough of Babydoll's tortured existence to truly empathise with it, (even in the final lobotomy cut stolen directly from Terry Gilliam's 'Brazil'), but that we are invited to join in with the sexualisation of Babydoll and her scantily clad friends. We're supposed to forget the yucky stuff and just gawp as her skirt rides up in this sequence of king-fu kicks, gleefully imagining what wondrous, sex-tastic dance this equates to in the brothel fantasy. It's cheap and, worse still, boring. If I wanted porn I could just go on the internet. Her cohorts are just as superficial. Sisters Rocket (Jena Malone) and Sweetpea (Abbie Cornish) are supposed to be the heart of the story. But all they ever do is wander around announcing their emotions in the long, drawn-out, dull dialogue sequences that populate much of this film. They, too, supposedly had a troubled childhood, but we saw nothing of it. And when the story ultimately flips and it turns out that the heroine is not Babydoll at all, but Sweetpea, that she was the one destined to go free while all the others die of get lobotomised, I couldn't bring myself to care. Who is she? Why is she happier going home to the parents she left years ago to tell them that her sister is dead? How is this a victory for feminism as Snyder is so desperate for us to believe? The biggest flaw comes in the fact that Snyder masquerades this film as an intelligent story of empowerment. Here's a clue as to why that's obviously a front for some jailbait lechery: the girls mostly die. Other subtle hints include Emily Browning's shrinking outfit, the fact that 60% of the film is set in a brothel where the girls are imprisoned, and that the girls only know what to do at all in this film because they are guided by a mysterious man who really does have their best interests at heart. Worse still, after the whole ordeal, Sweetpea can't even get on a bus without a man helping her get past the nasty policemen. These are problems Snyder has blindly ignored as he spent hour after hour watching VFX guys render his dragons and samurai, and sat choosing shorter and shorter skirts for Browning to wear. Still, at least it's good, mindless, entertainment... oh wait, it's not. The visuals are grey and drab, derived from the screenshots of a dozen video games from 'Dead or Alive' to 'World of Warcraft', the battle sequences have zero peril because they occur only in Babydoll's mind, so there is no thrill or drama to the action, and any dark insights into this horrific world are totally annihilated by the 12A certificate, complete absence of views of the mental ward, and the decision to replace genuine characters with scantily-clad ciphers. This is bilge of the highest order. When I watched the trailer I was among few people anticipating an interesting, dark story from a director with a talent for visual splendour. Unfortunately he has dashed my hopes and left me blistering my fingers as I type critique after critique in penance. Thanks for nothing Zack Snyder. Sucker Punch is in cinema's now.
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Michael J Edwards hasn't written a bio just yet, but if they had... it would appear here.