SUCKER PUNCH - Blu-ray review

The movie probably has more going on in it for less purpose than any film you can name.

John J. Puccio's picture
John J.
Puccio
William D. Lee's picture
William
Lee

"If you don't stand for something, you'll fall for anything."

Note: In the following joint Blu-ray review both John and Will comment on the film, with John also writing up the Video, Audio, Extras, and Parting Shots.

The Film According to John:
Director Zack Snyder started off strong with his first feature film, the remake of "Dawn of the Dead" (2004), and followed it up with two more box-office hits, "300" (2006) and "Watchmen" (2009). It appeared he could do no wrong. Then, with the feature-length cartoon "Legend of the Guardians: The Owls of Ga'Hoole" (2010) things started to go south. When he made "Sucker Punch" (2011), it was his first outright bomb. The only people who hated it more than critics were audiences. The film lost nearly $50,000,000. Deservedly.

The movie's opening narration sets the tone: Pompous and pretentious. Empty words sounding important but meaning nothing. The plot involves a story within a story within a story, which Snyder, who co-wrote the script, must have thought was quite clever. It's not. Like the film's bloated visual style, the plot is harebrained and self-important.

The narrative begins as a twenty-year-old woman (referred to throughout the film as Baby Doll) loses her mother. Even though she's old enough to live on her own, she remains at home to protect her younger sister against the predatory advances of their stepfather. When Baby Doll accidentally shoots her little sister while trying to ward off the step dad (what are the odds?), the step dad shunts her off to an institution, Lennox House "for the mentally insane." The nut house, of course, is just as evil as the stepfather. Once she arrives, she imagines the place is a high-class brothel, and she tries to organize the other girls to escape.

Within this secondary story structure, Baby Doll further imagines herself and her friends battling all sorts of demons, warriors, dragons, Nazis, and the like in elaborate, Walter Mitty-like fantasy sequences where, thanks to the guidance of a "Wise Man," they always defeat their wicked enemies. The Wise Man tells her that she and her friends must obtain five objects, the final one unnamed, in order to break loose of their miseries, so, naturally, Baby Doll seeks out these "magical" items and more fantasies ensue.

In the event the viewer hadn't caught on by this point that Snyder is trying to be very symbolic and insightful, in a bonus picture-in-picture feature Snyder tells us how really symbolic and insightful he's being. Actually, he's indulging himself in all the CGI gimmickry money can buy for no other reason than to show off his flashy directorial style. The movie probably has more going on in it for less purpose than any film you can name.

The remarkable thing is that for all its sex and violence, the movie is extraordinarily dull. The girls are all gorgeous young foxes and the men are all sleazy pigs, none of them possessing an ounce of personality. Now, I understand this isn't the kind of film where one would look for deep characterizations, but at least the characters could have had some life or color. Robert Rodriguez managed to put life and color into his cartoonish "Sin City" characters; it's not impossible. But Zack Snyder's characters just sit there on the screen devoid of any discernable identity.

What Snyder does do, and quite well, is create fancy, intricate visuals, his flair for atmosphere evident in every shot. But movies have to have more than fanciful imagery to succeed; they need thought and characters and story and dialogue and motivation and common sense, all of which this film is sorely lacking. Rather, it's all gaudy, salacious, mildly titillating nonsense. The scenes of Baby Doll's reality are intentionally dull and drab, and her fantasy sequences come out of left field, most of them looking like mindless (though well-staged) video games, none of them with any substance beyond the repetition of violence.

Snyder probably thought he was making some kind of statement about the human condition in "Sucker Punch" and was supporting the rights of women everywhere to assert themselves, demand equality, and other such noble and uplifting sentiments. What he made was closer to misogynistic.

John's film rating: 3/10

The Film According to Will:
It's ironic that Zack Snyder calls his production company Cruel and Unusual Films, because his latest picture is a cruel and unusual experience. "Sucker Punch" is a tedious and exhausting exercise in sensory overload. Snyder has been marketed as a "visionary director" for helming a surprisingly good remake of George Romero's "Dawn of the Dead" as well as the meticulously faithful comic book adaptations, "300" and "Watchmen." Visionary? I actually agree. It takes a man of unique vision to make such a dull movie, despite the fact that it revolves around beautiful young girls armed to the teeth with automatic weapons, swords, and mech-suits.

Snyder unleashes his first film based on an original idea, fleshed out by himself and co-writer Steve Shibuya. However, all "Sucker Punch" proves is that Snyder doesn't have an original idea floating around in his head. Just bits and pieces of all those issues of Heavy Metal he used to read as a kid along with whatever hip video games, anime, and comics the kids are all talking about these days.

"Sucker Punch" opens with a wordless prologue set in the 1960's and featuring Emily Browning as a blonde, pigtailed girl known only as Baby Doll. The actress provides something akin to narration with a melodiously melancholy version of "Sweet Dreams (Are Made of This)" by The Eurythmics. Baby Doll's mother has passed away, leaving her and a younger sister in the charge of their wicked stepfather (Gerard Plunkett), who is angered at being cut out of the will. Baby Doll accidentally shoots her sibling while trying to stop step dad from molesting her. As a result, he has Baby Doll committed to a mental institute. It's a feel-good movie for the whole family.

The ticking clock counts down when the stepfather bribes a crooked orderly, Blue (Oscar Isaac), to forge a signature from Dr. Gorski (Carla Gugino) in order to have Baby Doll lobotomized. She must find a way to escape from this gothic horror show and does so in more ways than one. Baby Doll imagines the insane asylum is now a high-class nightclub/bordello where she and her fellow inmates are forced to work as dancers and hookers. Blue is reimagined as the owner/pimp with Gorski as their demanding dance instructor. As Baby Doll is forced to strut her stuff, her mind travels deeper into a second fantasy world where we go from "Black Swan" to "Kill Bill" with our heroine dressed in a black schoolgirl outfit and looking like the pinky violence version of Sailor Moon. There, she is tasked by the Wise Man (Scott Glenn in the David Carradine role) to gather a collection of objects which will facilitate her escape.

Soon, she is joined by Sweet Pea (Abbie Cornish), Rocket (Jena Malone), Blondie (Vanessa Hudgens), and Amber (Jamie Chung). Trading in burlesque outfits for dominatrix combat gear, they become an elite fighting force battling Nazi steam-punk zombies on an apocalyptic WWI battleground, Orcs and fire-breathing dragons in a dark "Lord of the Rings" inspired castle, and gleaming robots on a speeding futuristic bullet train.

The action sequences are undeniably the main attraction of "Sucker Punch." The marketing has revolved entirely around ass-kicking girls. The over-the-top fantasy realms Snyder has dreamed up are stunning, confectionary visuals for the undemanding moviegoer seeking sweet, sweet eye candy. These scenes revel in their ludicrousness. In the first fantasy, Baby Doll delivers a death blow to a giant samurai armed with a Gatling gun then walks away in slow motion as everything explodes behind her and all set to Bjork's "Army of Me." The very idea seems fun at first until you realize that there are no stakes or emotional engagement. Snyder makes no attempt to blur the lines between reality and fantasy. We know we are in the protagonist's imagination as such we know the girls are in no danger because none of it is real. Once the novelty wears off, the spectacular set pieces become increasingly dull and repetitive to the point where the final sequence descends into a chaotic mess as Snyder crams as much as possible into every shot. Snyder tops it off by drowning everything with fem-rock covers of tunes by varied artists like the Stooges, the Beatles, and the Pixies ("Where is My Mind" to really drive the point home). Some of the songs are quite good such as a cover of "White Rabbit" by Emiliana Torrini (another Icelandic artist), but an obnoxious gangsta rap mash-up of Queen's "We Will Rock You," succinctly signifies exactly what went wrong with this jam session of half-baked concepts.

Simply because the film features women wielding weapons larger than their petite frames, it is somehow meant as a rallying cry for girl power. On the contrary, "Sucker Punch" is merely an indulgent adolescent fanboy wet dream masquerading as female empowerment. It doesn't help that the leads have even less defined personalities than the Spice Girls. The outfits are certainly fetishized with Baby Doll and company going from bustiers, silk stockings, and high heels to bustiers, silk stockings, high heels, and machine guns. There's nothing wrong with that and it isn't dissimilar to the sweaty bare-chested Spartans of "300." No, the main problem is that nearly all the butt kicking the heroines supposedly do only occurs in a second level fantasy, a solitary refuge from a fatalistic world where abuse and sexual assault are constant threats. Even in this dreamland it is the Wise Man who offers the girls sage advice and points them in the direction towards the path to liberation. It's a surprise Snyder didn't go the more obvious route and place Carla Gugino's character into the role of mentor. Alas, the strong matriarch is reduced to either an ineffectual authority figure or a weeping mess brought to her knees by male brutality.

Has Warner Brothers' golden boy, Zack Snyder, lost some of his luster? It bares bad omens for his upcoming Superman reboot. With a production budget of over $80 million (not factoring in marketing costs), it had to be a more than a disappointment that "Sucker Punch" was sucker punched by the family friendly "Diary of a Wimpy Kid 2." The negative critical response probably helped in spreading bad word of mouth about the film. It will likely be a long time before Snyder is given free reign as he clearly bit off more than he could chew. "Sucker Punch" tries to be far too many things as if Snyder polled Comic-Con attendees about their favorite things and smashed them all together. It's "Moulin Rouge" meets "Inception." It's "One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest" with the Pussycat Dolls. It's "Girls with Guns, Interrupted." It's just a terrible mess, a thinly veiled video game brought to movie screens.

When "Watchmen" hit DVD and Blu-ray, it was released in both a Director's Cut and an even longer Ultimate Cut. Hopefully, WB goes the opposite direction with "Sucker Punch" and edits it down to a selection of random action scenes. Then, it could serve a higher purpose as demo material for your home theater system.

Will's film rating: 4/10

Video:
Warner video engineers use an MPEG-4/AVC codec and a dual-layer BD50 for each version of the movie, theatrical (110 minutes) and extended (127 minutes), transferring them to Blu-ray discs in their native aspect ratio, 2.40:1. This is mostly a dark film, yet the transfers reveal good definition, good shadow detail, and a fine, natural print grain. Even though the colors most often run to monotones of browns or greenish-blues, the hues show up well, veiled when the director intends them veiled, clear and bright when he intends them that way. Snyder obviously didn't mean the film to look pretty in the conventional sense, so don't expect blockbuster PQ; he purposely produced a dusky, dreary appearance for the film, which is what we get.

Audio:
Using lossless DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1, the audio engineers do what they can with the film's loud, pounding, generally raucous soundtrack. There is good directional activity in the surrounds and an easy-on-the-ear midrange, but not much extension in the bass or treble. Mostly, the sound is just noisy, as one expect from an action-fantasy flick filled with pop music.

Extras:
The movie comes as a three-disc "Combo Pack," containing a Blu-ray of the theatrical release in high def, a second Blu-ray of the extended cut in high def, and a DVD and digital copy of the theatrical release in standard def.

On the Extended Cut you'll find a "Maximum Movie Mode," a picture-in-picture affair where the director takes you behind the scenes as you play the movie. On the theatrical edition you'll get four animated shorts totaling about eleven minutes: "Feudal Warriors," "The Trenches," "Dragon," and "Distant Planet," which are really no more than trailers for the movie; and a three-minute featurette, "Sucker Punch: Behind the Soundtrack," which talks briefly about the music in the film.

In addition, you'll get a few promos at start-up, BD-Live access, and twelve scene selections on both Blu-ray discs; English as the only spoken language on the Extended Cut; English, French, Spanish, and Portuguese on the theatrical version; French, Spanish, and Portuguese subtitles; and English captions for the hearing impaired.

The third disc contains a DVD copy of the film and a digital copy for iTunes or Windows Media, the offer expiring June 28, 2012. A single-sleeved Blu-ray keep case contains the three discs, the case further housed in a handsomely embossed cardboard slipcover.

Parting Shots:
In the words of Shakespeare's Macbeth, "It is a tale told by an idiot, full of sound and fury, signifying nothing." The sad thing is that no doubt Zack Snyder felt he was making something significant, something profound, something symbolic and substantial in "Sucker Punch." Instead, he made a garish, dreary, self-indulgent muddle.

Ratings

Video
8
Audio
7
Extras
6
Film Value
3