They say that variety is the spice of life. In a continuing attempt to embrace that variety here with One Movie | Each Day, I’ve decided to dedicate each Wednesday review to the stranger side of cinema, the type of movies that I’d never normally watch admit to watching, but that I’m kind of secretly glad exist. So, in celebration or in condemnation of the eccentric, the odd, the freaky, the kinky, the ghastly, the freaky, the fearful, the flaky, and the freaky, I now present a slightly more mainstream though no less weird film in this, the twenty-second edition of Wednesday Weirdness.
It’s like Life of Pi except sexier, and the nuance all fails, and it doesn’t make sense… and actually it’s really not at all.
Today’s movie is Zack Snyder’s 2011 flop Sucker Punch. I actually saw the R-Rated extended cut of this movie a while back, but I wasn’t sure what to make of it. I then learned that there was really a lot of material cut for the PG-13 theatrical version, so I decided to wait a while so the extended cut wasn’t quite fresh in my mind, so I could watch and review the theatrical somewhat impartiality.
That was the plan at least. This plan, much like this movie, didn’t really work.
The thing to understand about this movie is that the title is actually fairly accurate. However, it doesn’t refer to the movie itself but rather to the experience of watching the movie. Rest assured, the one on the receiving end of the titular sucker punch is the viewer. That this was apparently intentional doesn’t cause me to feel any more affection for the otherwise excellent Snyder.
The movie features three different levels of “reality.” In one a young woman called only Babydoll (Emily Browning) is committed to a women’s mental institution by her abusive step-father who bribes the corrupt head orderly, Blue (Oscar Isaac) to have her lobotomized. In the second “reality” Babydoll is an orphan given to high-class brothel (that mostly looks like the mental institution). All of the same people are here but they’re sexier.
It’s not clear which of these two “realities” is the real one. The more popular theory is that the more depressing version, where the institution is real, and the cat house is a coping mechanism. I sort of think this is Snyder’s intent, though I’ve decided to accept the slightly less bleak interpretation that the cat house is reality, and the institution is a product of Babydoll’s imagination (based on a “play” pefromed in this version of the reality.
The third “reality” within the movie is both obviously not “real” and probably the most interesting. In this Babydoll envisions hereself and her companions in the institution/brothel, (Sweet Pea (Abbie Cornish), Rocket (Jena Malone), Blondie (Vanessa Hudgens), and Amber (Jamie Chung)), as fighters in a series of bizzare sci-fi/fantasy/steampunk fight scenes in heavily CGI-laden environments. These action sequences formed the basis of most of the film’s marketing, and are almost entirely irrelevant to the main plot.
Sucker Punch is essentially three different movies. An over-the-top popcorn sexy action movie. A sexy, slick and stylish caper, and a sexy bleak drama on the horrors of life in a early twentieth-century institution. The problem is that these three genres don’t go together at all.
What’s worse the audience having been sold a big scoop of reality “C” with a dash of reality “B” is treated to a big heaping helping of guilt for having a libido, and thinking these poor scantily-clad girls are sexy by the “A” reality. Boom, sucker punch.
When I watched the extended cut, there’s enough material to sort-of compartmentalize the three plots and there’s enough to the heavier elements to salvage some meaning and sense of what the writer/director was going for. Unfortunately, the theatrical version cuts a good sixteen minutes, and it’s probably sixteen of the best minutes. Some of what gets lost is more or less crucial plot information. Were I officially reviewing the extended cut here I’d say that it’s just worth seeing.
However, I’m not. When I look at the theatrical version we’re left with a nonsense mishmash that seems to want to make the viewer feel bad for wanting to watch the film that the marketing says this movie is. I suppose some credit can be given to Snyder for trying to go high-concept. Also, even here the action sequences are first-rate fun, and the visuals and cinematography are fantastic throughout. Unfortunately this just isn’t enough to overcome the many failings and the problems with the plot(s). So, I’ve got to conclude that Sucker Punch is not worth seeing.