Let’s get all up in ‘SuckerPunch’

Posted: April 5, 2011 in Action Movies, Jeff Holland, reviews, Threat Quality
Tags: , ,

I can’t imagine Zach Snyder’s feelings were hurt when everyone agreed SuckerPunch was, at best, a bit of a mess, and at worst, a crime against cinema.

I’ll bet he was braced for it the moment he realized his half-hour short film, “A Salute to Awesomeness,” had to be padded out to be an actual, y’know, movie. With, like, a plot and such.

As a series of interconnected music videos, the thing’s gangbusters – provided all you want to watch is five geek-fetish mash-up short films scored by heavy-bass/techno beat cover songs.

But that means there’s no sense in trying to watch the movie like a thing that tells a story and means something at the end, as it actually starts asking you to do, with a straight face.

Because seriously, once you try to parse the narrative the whole thing… “falls apart” isn’t quite right. “Explodes into a mess like a True Blood vampire, but also in slow motion” is probably more accurate.

(I’m just now astonished that after steampunk-nazi-zombies, dragons and robots, Snyder didn’t try to cram a vampire-pastiche in there too. We shall call that “restraint.”)

The action-footage parts of the movie work just fine on their own because nobody expects a story out of them – they’re just exciting moments in time, designed to get you from the part where Babydoll says what they’re going to do, to the point where it’s done. But they’re 100% embellishment. If you remove them you have not changed the plot.

The plot, so we’re clear: girl (“Babydoll”) accidentally shoots sister while trying to protect her from monstrous step-dad; Babydoll is shoved into mental institution where corrupt orderly forges a lobotomy order; Babydoll imagines visually interesting burlesque reality where she’s supposed to rescue other mental institution inmates, and her hypnotic dancing is represented by the video-game-cut-scenes; Babydoll sacrifices herself to free fellow inmate/dancer (“Sweetpea”).

Now, this plot’s already a little rickety, structure-wise. So a little added pressure means things utterly collapse.

Look, nobody talk shit on Scott Glenn, okay? Scott Glenn is great.

Because this is where the story’s supposed to mean something. And ignoring the fact that every scene that doesn’t take place in the action-fantasy wonderland is staggeringly tedious, about 10 minutes from its conclusion, it becomes actively insulting.

Because, the movie tells us we’re supposed to have realized by now, the movie wasn’t actually about Babydoll – the viewpoint character we followed, from her origins to her incarceration, and then got to watch all her imaginary what-have-you. No, apparently the movie was always really about Sweetpea, who Babydoll was in the asylum to rescue so she could continue having her own story.

In Return to Oz fashion, all the things we saw her do in the awesome-verse she also did in the asylum, they were just action-dramatized for us, the audience. But don’t worry about her – worry about the woman whose personality and motivations Babydoll clearly imagined because that’s what the movie’s first five minutes told us was going on.

In other words, a movie that got the audience in the seats in the first place because they were sold on scenes where pointless awesomeness would happen, finally tells the audience that it is not paying enough attention, because the plot-such-as-it-is was actually about this (mostly imaginary) supporting character the whole time, except ah god damn it blood just started shooting out my ears.

It may be because the opening Portentous Voiceover is so vague about this to the point of making no real sense, and then the closing voiceover maintains that overly-serious tone, but with a slight “Hey, it’s not our fault you didn’t realize who this story was really about – you’re the one who listened to it and made the decisions, we’re just the ones who told you it, and what IS a story, really…” kind of attitude that’s not just unearned, but also a bit dickish, that all this started to bug me more than it might’ve.

Or it may be because this closing, “Hey, get it now, doofus?” voiceover came just after providing a plot hole that, if addressed, would’ve negated the existence of 90% of the movie. And THAT came nearly two hours after introducing another odd plot point that ALSO, if addressed, would’ve made the OTHER 10% not happen.

The first is an early scene where the evil step-dad fills out a form at the asylum stating that Babydoll is 20 years old. Now, I can figure out why that scene is there. It’s the same reason gunfire erupts so you can’t hear another character curse: to get a PG-13 rating and negate some of the creepier fetish aspects by saying, “Hey, no, she’s an adult so it’s all okay.” But it also begs a couple questions:

  1. Why is she wearing pigtails and dressed in short pajamas like she’s 9, and
  2. If she’s well past legal age, why is she having any kind of struggle with an evil step-dad?

Okay, so now we’ve got to ask what a 20-year-old woman was doing living in her mom’s house and why she didn’t get her sister out of the house if she suspected her clearly evil stepfather had killed her mom for the inheritance. An inheritance she probably already knew about. At the very least, why she didn’t think about calling the police BEFORE the violent drunken rampage.

The answer to all this is that would require Babydoll to behave as an adult, rather than a helpless child who can’t even hold a normal-sized gun straight enough to hit her broad-side-of-the-barn-sized stepfather. And if any of that happened, the movie wouldn’t.

(Either that or Babydoll was already either developmentally or psychologically off, which opens up a few newer, ickier cans of worms.)

But let’s just be charitable and go with the answer, “She needs to be helpless in this opening scene, so that she can be sent to the asylum where she can learn to become a survivor by imagining a world where she’s powerful before getting lobotomized.”

(This would be the point where everyone who heard the cast and crew talking about how “empowering” the film is thought, “I do not think that word means what you think it means.” Especially considering the dialogue of every Not-Scott-Glenn male character could be replaced with the phrase, “Listen, you wanna get raped? Because I can MAKE THAT HAPPEN. Rapity-rape-rape.”)

Now we come to the second plot-whoopsie, where Jon Hamm cameos as the doctor who gives Babydoll her lobotomy. Who doesn’t bother to check in with the doctor who signed off on the lobotomy before performing the procedure.

Why doesn’t he check in? Because otherwise the movie doesn’t happen.

So, just to review: the entire narrative is the result of a doctor just wandering in and pounding a nail into a patient’s eyeball without bothering to meet the patient’s psychiatrist.

Apparently the actual protagonist of this movie

This isn’t to say the movie COULDN’T have happened in some form – just that Snyder clearly out-thought himself with this whole nesting-doll style of storytelling.

If he’d told it Calvin-and-Hobbes-style, as a psych patient aggrandizing her small acts of defiance (leaving out all the burlesque parts that are also just figments of her imagination, because WHY WOULD SHE IMAGINE HERSELF IMAGINING HERSELF?), it might work – and it would also more clearly convey that the fantasy-versions of the girls are actually aspects of their own characters, not Babydoll’s.

OR, just lop off the asylum bookends that overcomplicate things by asking us to consider the movie as the story of the real-life template for a figment of Babydoll’s imagination – and have it be a stylized fairytale of a woman who imagines her and her friends’ escape from slavery as an epic video game.

Or – and this is really the easiest way for you, the half-curious Netflix renter in three months, to also become the movie’s editor – just select the chapters where it looks like something cool might happen, watch that, and if you liked it, skip ahead to the next cool-looking chapter.

And enjoy the hour and a half of free time you now have to watch My Dinner With Andre or whatever more important viewing you had lined up.

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