3.27.2011

Sucker Punch Review

I realize this is an art blog, but I feel this movie review fits with that.  I went to see this movie based on awesome concept art.  The visuals did not disappoint.  As for the plot... well, keep reading.

Some plot discussion, but probably not too many spoilers 'til the end.

The beginning set-up was great.  The music (Tainted Dreams) perfectly suited it and was a great introduction to the movie.  Our introduction to Baby Doll showed her to be capable and very protective.  I should have realized it also set her up to not always make the best decisions.

This movie has awesome visuals.  I loved the kick-ass action and the pin-up girl outfits.  Those worked great.  The music was very cool, but unlike what I've heard other reviews say, the music doesn't sync with the action (like in Scott Pilgrim) at all.  The action sequences take place during dance seqences, yet the action isn't reminiscent of dance moves at all.

I'm about to go into the structure of the movie and how it sets up the action sequences.  Understand, I saw this movie because I saw Alex Pardee's concept art, then the live action posters based on it, and decided this movie needed to be seen.  I also decided I didn't want to know anything about it plot-wise.  I wanted to go into a movie without knowing anything besides that it looked kick-ass.  When I accidentally found out it was set in an old-time asylum, I started to wonder how they were going to connect these awesome genre-blending images into an asylum.  I imagined things like Alice in Wonderland, or more apt, American McGee's Alice. 

The movie has three layers- real world, burlesque/brothel, and imagine spot.  The problem is we only see the real world twice- at the beginning, and at the end.   We don't cut back to see how the other two things are happening in the real world, so when we hear dialogue or action that we know corresponds to some real-world event, we wonder how it's actually playing out.  It wouldn't be so bad except we cut into the other two layers too soon.  The other girls are not introduced in a group therapy session or at a lunch table, etc so we can find out why they were committed or what they are like.  We don't know why they have burlesque-layer nicknames like Baby Doll, Rocket, or Sweet Pea.  Amber is at least a real name and Blondie for a brunette could just be ironic. 

In the concept art by Alex Pardee, "Madame Gorski" is introduced with a whip, so I figured she was some sort of authoritative figure, maybe even a cruel one, in charge of the asylum and a sexier Nurse Ratched.  Instead, she's benevolent, which is okay, but in the brothel level, she isn't authoritative, instead being another victim of a horrible orderly (who in this level is a club manager and pimp.)  However, in the real world level, she's a doctor, he's an orderly.  Yet, when Baby Doll hears her evil step-father and the orderly discuss forging Dr. Gorski's signature to get Baby Doll lobotomized so the cops can't get any info out of her, she doesn't do to the doctor, she just keeps it a secret.  That might not have worked in burlesque-world, but here she's in charge of the institution.  Why not go to her?  Surely she's had therapy during the week prior to the lobotomy appointment.  She's even shown interacting with her in the burlesque level, so she's definitely had spoken with her in some way.

Speaking of therapy, that would have created a better story and structure for the action sequences: have each girl in therapy, she can either straight-out tell us her back-story, or the action sequence can reflect it.  I was positive each girl was going to be the star of her own sequence, which didn't really happen.  They might have gotten a little more spot-light, but the sequences didn't add anything to character development. 


Spoilers now as I discuss the ending and some earlier things.

As for the dance sequences being the segue into the action sequences: this isn't some magical dance that enables them to enter another world.  In one sequence the girls are alone with the cook in the kitchen, and they need to steal a knife from him.  They bolt the doors with broomsticks, throw things off the table, and Baby Doll climbs up and starts dancing.  Suddenly, this man who should be terrified these mental patients are going to harm him sits down and gives into watching the sexy dance.  Also, when the radio cuts out and we're taken from the action to the brothel level, then it works again and suddenly we are teleported back... what's with that?  It's not like music is some sort of mental cue for Baby Doll to go back to the 3rd level.  It isn't a switch flipping between worlds literally.  It only happens so we can see an awesome portrayal of a sacrificial death rather than a mundane and sad death.

As for the ending:
Why does Baby Doll give up?  All she has to do (besides the obvious tell the therapist idea) is wait for the cops to show up.  Why does she give herself up for Sweet Pea?  This is a character no one likes.  She never redeemed her snotty behavior.  Deciding to help out wasn't much.  To really redeem herself, she should have distracted the guards so Baby Doll (who can now go find cops and get her inheritance) can escape.  The entire goal of the movie was to escape.  Why did the lobotomist say she looked like she wanted him to do it?  Why give up?  Yes, her sister is dead and she was almost raped, but that isn't any reason to stop fighting now.  How is becoming brain-dead an escape?  Her life wasn't hellish just yet.

It occurs to me this vaguely resembles One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest (which I watched once over a decade ago, so forgive me if my details are off) in that she wasn't crazy yet ends up lobotomized while another patient escapes.  The downer ending works in OFotCN, but not here.  I can't remember the why of Jack Nicholson's character being lobotomized, but it was supposed to be tragic.  The point of Sucker Punch was her escaping and things turning out well.  Why did the movie suddenly say Sweet Pea was the main character all along?  We knew nothing about her except protective-of-sis.  I understand her and Baby Doll are similar for that, but why should she get away (alone)?

Overall, an awesome action movie with an incredibly lousy story structure and plot.  Go see it in theaters for two reasons: so Hollywood will give us awesome genre movies, and because the action is awesome and deserves to be seen on a huge screen.

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