dir: Zack Snyder
A lot of people get their panties in a bunch because of the descriptor usually applied to Zack Snyder, either by reviewers or the marketing people marketing his movies: “From the mind of visionary director Zack Snyder…” goes the line on the poster.
They (the collective ‘they’) got sick of always applying the term to Tim Burton, so now they have someone else to pin it to like a badge of dishonour.
I think it’s an adjective that’s appropriate. At least as far as it applies to lots and lots and lots of visionary visuals, he’s got them pouring out from every diseased orifice.
Directors, or at least the cinematographers and programmers the studios hire, are all about the visuals. Getting the look right is their main task, you’d think, it being an entirely visual medium. If he was producing radio plays I’d say he was a failure, but that’s just my opinion.
What Snyder clearly isn’t about, is writing or that pesky acting stuff. I’m sure he’s capable of possibly getting decent performances from humans, but he seems to do much better with computer generated graphics instead. So I guess it’s unfortunate that there are so many people standing around messing up his effects shots in Sucker Punch.
Sucker Punch is a very strange and pointless flick. It’s not strange that Snyder could get it made, since his stock seems strangely to keep rising for reasons not immediately obvious. Sure, a lot of people wanked openly over 300 in every sense of the word, but he’s not exactly an unalloyed success as a director. Mostly, people have him rightly pegged as a director more focussed on flashy visuals more so than rudimentary storytelling.
Not many people liked Watchmen, but I thought he did a decent job with some very hard to adapt subject material, and, blasphemous as it may be to say, I thought he created a better ending than the graphic novel. And he was (generally) able to use his hyperkinetic visual stylings to good effect.
Sucker Punch possesses an absurd abundance of visual styling, but not much else. The storytelling here is… very strange, to say the least. What’s most strange about it is that Snyder thinks any of the story could mean what he thinks it means to anyone else apart from himself. It happens. I can attest to that. Sometimes you write or create something and assume, downright expect that other people will see what you see when they look at it. When others don’t have your perspective, at first you might blame them. Later, with some perspective, or earlier, if someone can pierce your bubble of self-importance soon enough, you might see the places in your construction where there are gaps that your mind fills in because you know what belongs where, and the significance thereof. Other people, not having your brain, might not.
This flick seems, except for a lot of the visual / geek frippery, like Snyder thought it was saying something meaningful and poignant in between being all kick-ass and awesome. But I’ll be damned if I can figure out what that merit or meaning is.
A waifish waif who comes to be known as Baby Doll (Emily Browning) and her sister, lose their mother, inherit her wealth, and run afoul of their evil stepfather. Baby Doll is incarcerated in an insane asylum for a crime she hasn’t committed, and despite not being insane, as far as we know.
Once inside the institution, her evil stepfather bribes one of the doctors (Oscar Isaacs) to schedule a lobotomy for Baby Doll in five days. So Baby Doll has five days to escape before she is lobotomised by the High Roller (Jon Hamm, in a throwaway cameo, what a fucking waste).
And then, her reality / perspective shifts, and the insane asylum becomes a gangster’s nightclub/brothel, and she becomes a dancer enlisting other dancer / prostitutes in an elaborate plan to escape.
And then, when she’s trying to organise elements of her plan to escape the asylum/nightclub, she envisages herself in these fantastical landscapes where she has to fight with blade and bullet whilst wearing fetish gear in order to survive.
Snyder is alleged to have pitched this story to studio executives as ‘Alice in Wonderland with swords and guns’, and on some level maybe we can accept that? It seems churlish to point out that the distance between what Lewis Carroll achieved and what Snyder thinks he achieved is comparable to the distance between our galaxy and any other galaxy you care to mention. Somehow I doubt that Lewis Carroll was firing up a meth pipe, being blown by a prostitute, and being beaten around the head by a colourful Japanese transsexual dominatrix when he was writing Alice’s Adventures through the Looking Glass, which seems to be Zach Snyder’s general work environment, based on the end result.
He might think that the story comes across to audiences as deeply allegorical and empowering and metaphorically complex and all that bullshit, but honestly, it couldn’t be convincing to anyone who isn’t brain damaged. The scenes where hot girls are fighting steam-powered Nazi zombies, dragons, robots and any other kitchen sinks you care to imagine just looks like someone with no impulse control and speeding off their nut sat there for a few hours just shouting various geeky things he wouldn’t mind seeing, shouting at an assistant “Wouldn’t it be cool if…?”
Wouldn’t it be cool if you could remake Hamlet and gave everyone lightsabres? Wouldn’t it be cool if the good guys had guns in Lord of the Rings? Wouldn’t it be cool if a tiny girl had sword fights with giant samurai robots? Wouldn’t it be cool if Jesus climbed off the cross and killed all the Romans with a couple of Uzis? Wouldn’t it be cool if a dragon was fighting a World War II bomber? Wouldn’t it be cool if Godzilla and Gandhi had an arm wrestle and then took drugs and had sex?
Wouldn’t it be cool if you could drop certain directors into an active volcano, if only for the visual impact it would produce?
The problem isn’t the way the action sequences play out. The problem is that the entire structure, the entire concept of the whole movie doesn’t hang together. At all. This is my considered and professional opinion: It makes no fucking sense, it’s not meant to make any fucking sense, but we’re supposed to see the significance of these disparate elements as something cool or enjoyable or meaningful anyway. And that can’t possibly happen.
It wasn’t just the stunningly unaffecting ending that brought this into stark relief. Whatever Snyder thought any of this is supposed to mean beyond the jumbled up bullshit melange of ideas, genres and styles has failed to come across long before the dispiriting (but merciful) ending. By the end, Snyder lards on further confusion for the viewer by failing to connect any of the dots, and supplying a false happy ending that makes no sense considering who the protagonist was.
It’s churlish, churlish, churlish and unfair to point out that the main character is a terribly misconceived character. She could or possibly should have been played by an actual doll, moved and posed over here, just right. Now move her and pose her here, that’s fine. Most of all, she can’t get any of the painfully misconceived story across because Snyder clearly thought it would hang together the way he saw it in his head. Goddamn, does it not. We never get a single reason to understand why this character, who we don’t know at all, but we know has been falsely committed, retreats into a ‘fantasy’ world worse than the one she’s already in, who then retreats into further fantasy worlds far worse even than the other one. The fantasy action sequences rarely have anything thematically to do with what she’s trying to achieve in the ‘real’ or even the primary fantasy nightclub world. And in the end we’re left wondering why we were watching her story at all.
The script lacks any meaningful dialogue, or even any memorable lines, apart from a few spoken by Scott Glenn, who is a strange mentor character who pops up inexplicably at the end after only appearing in Baby Doll’s fantasy-within-a-fantasy sequences, where he gives very pointless advice. It’s another example of Snyder thinking he’s being clever, when it’s anything but clever. He thinks having a brunette character called Blondie is the height of cleverness as well, so what more can I really argue.
For all the magnitude of epic failure this flick represents that I’ve being trying to grasp and articulate for your benefit, dear reader, I didn’t actually hate Sucker Punch with a white hot passion. The reasons aren’t worthy ones, but they’re there, for some reason. I actually thought Abbie Cornish, as a snarky member of the insane asylum escape crew called Sweet Pea, for no earthly reason, came out of this okay. Sure, she’s trapped within the confines of a tragically ill-conceived lumbering monstrosity, but she looks and acts with real presence and life, unlike most of the rest of the cast. She looked like an Amazon compared to the rest of the wallflowers. And Jena Malone, as her little sister Rocket, also puts in a strong performance in a flick not worthy of it. They gift the flick with a kind of believability or urgency to the proceedings, a dynamic that the rest of the flick lacks.
In their action sequences, they don’t look at all believable as fighters, but much of the individual shots are amazing, even as you’re reminding yourself that they’re ‘cool’ even if they don’t connect to anything else. Abbie Cornish comes across like the only one who could really take apart a robot/Nazi/zombie/dragon, since she’s the only one who physically doesn’t look like she’d have trouble standing up against a gentle breeze.
Of course Snyder is always looking for and finding ways to undermine his actors, so he saddles them with dialogue, directions and an ending meant to always remind them: “You’re only props and scenery for my visionary visuals, remember that”, so he successfully stifles them at every turn.
How he thought this worked in its final form is the greatest mystery. He either doesn’t care, or sees something completely different from the rest of us. Maybe he’s hallucinating that he’s trapped in a gangster’s brothel, and the only way he can escape is by making visually stunning but narratively spastic movies, to release himself through our collective pain? You can’t prove it’s not true.
Sure, it’s a stretch, but it makes about as much sense and has about as much meaning as anything else in Sucker Punch.
3 times Snyder’s greatest crime was wasting Jon Hamm, which is not kosher, out of 10
“If you don't stand for something, you'll fall for anything.” – how empowering, you fucking hacks – Sucker Punch