Thursday, April 7, 2011

Sucker Punch sort of Review or Why Speed Racer is the Greatest Movie Ever and Scott Pilgrim is alright too

Speed Racer> The Matrix>>>>>>> Sucker Punch

People seemed to like the Tron article so maybe I’ll keep doing these barely coherent “sort of” reviews that are pretty much just glorified, opinionated streams of consciousness.

You guys should know by now that I’m pretty nerdy and like nerdy movies and if that title didn’t already tell you, I sometimes can also have a hipster appreciation of bad movies so strong I don’t even know when my enjoyment of something is legitimate or not. What I do know is that Sucker Punch is a straight up bad movie despite its hilariousness.

It’s directed by Zack Snyder whose credits include Dawn of the Dead, 300 and Watchmen, three movies I thoroughly enjoy, as well as the upcoming Superman movie and for some reason Legend of the Guardians: The Owls of Ga’Hoole. This marks Snyder’s first non-adaptation, the first red flag.

So again, I don’t intend for this to be a traditional review but let’s get some basic stuff out of the way. The plot sees a young girl, referred to as “Babydoll” and played by Emily Browning (who you may remember from A Series of Unfortunate Events aka Jim Carrey being Jim Carrey this time based on stupid stupid books), getting locked away in a 1960s mental hospital by her evil stepfather and being scheduled for a lobotomy to be performed in five days by Jon Hamm of all people. In order to escape she imagines herself inside a brothel where her and a bunch of other sexy girls, including Vanessa Hudgens and the chick from Dragonball: Evolution, form a plan to break out. To do this they all imagine themselves inside various crazy, Alice in Wonderland meets nerd visual splendors doing everything from gunning down dragons to chopping apart steampunk-robot-zombie-nazis with samurai swords.

And there’s also this dude who keeps showing up to deliver great advice like “Don’t write a check with your mouth that you can’t cash with your ass.” This is Snyder’s first self-written script. Pray it is his last.

It’s a shame that whenever the phrase “dream within a dream” is brought up people think of Inception but there are some comparisons. Both seem pretty easy to follow at face level but have unexpected room for alternate interpretation, like what characters are actually supposed to represent. However, while Inception is typical Chris Nolan super-seriousness, Sucker Punch is typical Zack Snyder super stylization to the so-bad-its'-almost-good extreme. Funny, but so, so bad that further exploration of it is not even warranted.

Also, I kind of cared about the characters in Inception whereas Sucker Punch’s biggest problem is that nothing has any meaning.  Ridiculousness is fine. It’s great in fact as I’ll get to in one minute, but it has to have some genuine core to it to keep me invested in the proceedings. Sucker Punch lacks that. As bad as it may sound, perhaps it is because as a man I can’t relate to women-driven action movies as well but girls I know who have seen this movie don’t seem to like it either. The last time I was forced to think about sexism was when the game Metroid Other M came out, look up that story if interested, and the decision I made was even if I don’t think something is sexist, I’m a man so my opinion can only mean so much. Girls, or anyone else, comment below with what you think.

This is so much better for reasons that will be clear soon

The numerous overwrought dramatic scenes, which are ponderous about nothing at all,  never work or inadvertently work for the wrong yet hilarious reasons (I hate guns), but the action scenes are visually exciting. However, even within the context of the movie they have no meaning. There is some legitimate peril later on but the actual craziness never justifies itself. You can’t be both crazy and meaningless while pretending that you aren't

It might as well just have been a crossover between Snyder’s other movies. Like all of sudden Leonidas and Dr. Manhattan just start fighting and then some owls fly by. It’s not like I wouldn’t have made any less sense. The orc costumes already look like some leftovers from other studios. He missed the chance to make the Super Smash Bros. of movies.

Here’s the Speed Racer connection. These two movies are probably the closest thing we will get to live-action anime (unlike the cheap 70-minute, Mexican desert adventure called Dragonball Evolution which has now been twice referenced in this article for no reason) for a while but here’s why one fails where the other succeeds. Speed Racer is also an absurd, neon, colorful dreamscape but it’s all played completely straight. It’s like completely not self-aware or so self-aware that its irony has reached this transcendental point where it has become at peace with its own ridiculousness. Pure hipster nirvana.


Also, unlike Sucker Punch, Speed Racer’s weirdness has meaning within the context of its own world. We in the real(ish) world think it is crazy when John Goodman starts fighting ninjas but in Speed Racer world it’s just how things are. Meanwhile, Sucker Punch’s weirdness has this knowing, pandering wink that just lessens it so much.  I could write pages and pages about why I love Speed Racer but the main point is that it completely gives itself over to the crazy forsaking anything else whereas Sucker Punch wants it all, nerd crazy and insightful drama, and gets nothing.

Sucker Punch did have good music though. Like this one perfect harassment anthem. It also continued the Snyder tradition of awesome, music video style openings.

There’s another movie that sort of had this problem too despite being way better, Scott Pilgrim vs. The World. The difference though is that movie was actually funny, had a plot with trace amounts of meaning, was more committed to its craziness and besides Scott himself had kind of likeable characters. It too is a little too pandering to the Comic-con audience, full of half-baked visual and audio references. By staying mostly within the realm of video games though, Scott Pilgrim managed to work, but Sucker Punch spreads itself so thin across so many nerd tropes (sci-fi, WWII, fantasy, anime, video games) that, again, nothing has any meaning and no artistic consistency or internal logic like, say, Speed Racer.

That’s my main problem with nerd movies now and why I feel audiences may be starting to turn on them. Sucker Punch opened weak and dropped hard in its second weekend. Outside of major superhero movies, they are too reliant on just straight-up reference to 1940’s-1960’s pulp. We can’t just be content with that. They are too backwards looking towards old styles and it obscures whatever new styles a movie or director (like the Wachowski siblings or Edgar Wright) may be attempting to create. It’s almost like those bad post-Scary Movie 4 parody movies in a way. At least Scott Pilgrim is a shout-out to something slightly more recent, 1980’s video games. To be fair though, I’ve never enjoyed movies that throwback to time periods I have no interest in. That’s why I don’t care about Indiana Jones. I also hate adventure. And indie comics. And indie music.

When Babydoll does her seductive dance the craziness happens. But we never see the dance except during the credits. Here’s what I think really happens

Some have said this is Snyder’s, terrible, self-indulgent M. Night Shyamalan’s Lady in the Water-esque nadir which is pretty accurate. But hey, I can’t blame a guy for using millions of dollars and total creative control to put his pure vision on the screen even if it only makes sense him. That’s totally what I would do. Watch out soon for Pie Planet: The Motion Picture.


and speaking of self-indulgent ego-stroking cash grabs, just take a look at this. There’s nothing to be said except this is what Stan Lee does now when not cashing in his fat Marvel checks.


  1. speed racer is better than the matrix? maybe I should see it.

  2. Interesting article, dude. I've been trying to think of other movies that have tried to do the same thing and haven't fallen completely flat. What do you think of Kick Ass? Obviously it wasn't the perfect movie, but I feel like it had just the right amount of campiness/action to make it pretty awesome.

    That said, I really need to see both Speed Racer AND Suckerpunch now... =P

  3. I liked kick-ass a lot actually. It kind of abandoned its "comic book heroes in a real world" theme to just being a straight up comic movie but I still liked it. I was actually watching it for the first time on dvd when I found out I was living in crc so that was a good day

  4. I love metroid series. I discovered it in '06, Super Metroid and I think it's critically underrated predacessor, Metroid other M, are some of best games of old school ever. I bought it from at PIJ,its really superb!