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Sucker Punch

Warner Bros. // PG-13 // June 28, 2011
List Price: $35.99 [Buy now and save at Amazon]

Review by Francis Rizzo III | posted June 18, 2011 | E-mail the Author
In 10 Words or Less
A beautiful, though ultimately empty, dull action movie

This image is for illustrative purposes only, and does not represent the disc's quality

Reviewer's Bias*
Loves: Comic books, Visually brilliant movies
Likes: Zack Snyder
Dislikes: Getting depressed
Hates: When audacious movies fail

The Movie
I vividly remember from my college days, a heated discussion between my film school friends, about whether a movie needed to have a strong story if it was visually exciting, I came down on the side of story (naturally) though I fully appreciate the power of a strong graphic element (and I believe a short film actually could substitute visuals for storytelling.) If only Sucker Punch was around at that time, I could have pointed to it as the defining example of why story matters. As I took my seat in the theater, my mind was swimming in the gorgeous images of the trailer. As I watched the film unreel, I kept thinking of Southland Tales, another money-losing, reputation-damaging work by a hot-shot, young, visually-focused director, As I left the theater, I asked my friend, "How could a movie with so much action be so boring?"

Well, first there's the story. Babydoll is a tragic young girl who winds up in a mental institution, where she faces a dark future, thanks to the machinations of her step-father. To escape this bleak life, she takes refuge in an alternate reality, where the asylum is a whorehouse, and her and her fellow inmates are performers/hookers. There, she makes plans to escape, thanks to a magical ability to entrance men with her dancing, a skill that takes her to yet another reality, where she leads the girls on a five-part quest as a team of super-soldiers battling through anachronistic wars involving samurai monsters, Nazi zombies, dragons and more. That's a lot of story for anyone to swallow. It's like the fever dream of a 15-year-old heterosexual boy, as he tries to balance a life steeped in comic-book fantasy with one only recently dominated by the discovery of the fairer sex. And it gives director Zack Snyder plenty to work with, which results in a movie full of stunning eyecandy, along with a soundtrack full of unique songs and excellent covers that really are entertaining (it would be hard to imagine some of these scenes without the songs, especially Bjork's "Army of Me," a folksy take on the Pixies' "Where is My Mind?" and Emilianna Torrini's version of the ultra-cinematic "White Rabbit.")

This image is for illustrative purposes only, and does not represent the disc's quality

While the visuals and music are far from an issue, as one would expect from an artist like Snyder, the problem is mainly in the structure, which falls on Snyder and his co-writer, first-timer Steve Shibuya. Like a video game, the film is cut-up neatly into sections, which makes it such a start/stop exercise. You'll have a fantasy battle raging, and then it's a complete 180-degree turn to the darkness of the asylum. But then, Babydoll starts dancing again, and we're back to fantasy-land for more chaos. This happens again and again, like clockwork, shoving the film off balance and making it repeat itself. This momentum-killing predictability is unfortunately enhanced by the numbing overload of action. For some reason, during these scenes, every moment of the fight is shown on-screen, not unlike the progress of a video game. It's simply too much for its own good. A healthy amount of trimming would go a long way toward making these scenes flow better, with more of an impact.

That the film attempts to be a bit too deep for its own good is a problem as well, as it's hard to take the more serious elements, well, seriously, when they are smack up against the film's more preposterous leaps. For instance, the voiceover at the top and bottom just seems ridiculous thanks to everything that happens in between. Admittedly, the concept of the film is serious at its core, and the title is sadly very accurate in relation to the story, but you'd be hard-pressed to try to find an element that fits appropriately into that overall idea outside of the bookends. That's rather unfortunate, since there are a lot of questions that could still use answering and which are interesting to think about, considering it's a movie about the layering of reality and how dreams and desperation combine inside the mind to shape what is perceived as reality. But since you can't deal with those issues with swords and bullets, they fall by the wayside.

With the story being a problem and visuals being the main thrust, there's no denying that the film's most obvious and probably biggest strength is the attractiveness of the main characters, and no one exemplifies that more than Emily Browning, who, as Babydoll, gets more mileage out of rosy cheeks, pale skin and big soulful eyes than anyone this side of Clara Bow (while also singing several songs in the film quite well.) She's perfect as The Most Vulnerable Girl in the World, and she looks great in a Japanese schoolgirl outfit. But as a character, she's barely there, which may explain why they went through so many options in attempting to cast the role. If any actor's performance shines (Oscar Isaac and Carla Gugino succeed mainly due to the over-the-top nature of their roles) it's Scott Glenn's, who, as the team's para-military leader, may be the best veteran hardass since R. Lee Armey's Sargeant Hartman (though I admit I originally thought he was Eric Roberts.) He may just be delivering a big pile of cliches, but he does it with relish.

This Blu-Ray offers an extended cut (in addition to the theatrical one), bringing 18 previously unseen minutes to the party, along with a change from a PG-13 rating to an R. One of the biggest additions is a big musical number early on, where Snyder manages to pack in every fetish not covered in the theatrical cut, while at the same time delivering a near-perfect movie musical presentation that wouldn't be out of place in a Baz Luhrmann film. There's also an additional scene toward the end between Babydoll and the High Roller (played by Jon Hamm) that really adds a nice touch to their storyline (and fixes a line that made little sense in the original cut.) That these very different scenes are such welcome changes, really points out the issue the film created by stacking very similar scenes throughout. Beyond that, you won't notice most of the additions.

This image is for illustrative purposes only, and does not represent the disc's quality

The Discs
Each version of the film gets a Blu-Ray of its own, while a third disc is a DVD holding the theatrical film and a Digital Copy of the movie (the activation of which expires June 28, 2012.) This arrives in the standard Blu-Ray case with a tray, wrapped in a gorgeous foil-embossed slipcover. The static pop-up menu offers options to watch the film, adjust languages, select scene and check out extras. There are no audio options, though subtitles are available in English SDH, French, Spanish and Portuguese.

The Quality
As you'd expect, the 2.4:1 1080p AVC-encoded transfer looks beautiful, delivering each CG-drenched scene wonderfully, while keeping the film's muted palette from becoming muddy. Blow it up nice and big or get too close and you'll notice a good deal of possibly distracting grain to the image (possibly an overcompensation to cover the CG work) but it looks impressively sharp otherwise, kicking out a ton of detail and deep black levels, while showing no obvious compression artifacts.

The Dolby DTS-HD MA 5.1 audio track is explosive, befitting the action in the film, delivering the dialogue crisply and clearly, while spreading the soundfield neatly over the surround speakers. Music fills the sides and rears to enhance scenes, while the action sound effects utilize impressive channel separation and dynamic mixing to swirl around the room and give the blow-outs dimensionality and the music an enveloping quality. Heavy low-ends give the proceedings (filled with explosions) real punch.

The Extras
The main event is the Maximum Movie Mode, as Snyder guides you through the extended cut of the movie, appearing on-screen as your host, as he show comparisons between the film and rehearsal footage, slideshows of on-set photos, storyboards and interviews with the cast and crew, all of which are displayed while the film plays, in a neatly integrated presentation. The moments when he's on-screen are the most interesting, as he'll point out things to watch, and even pause and rewind the film if he wants to illustrate something. At one point, Snyder mentions a theory about the film that seems intriguing, and claims the evidence is there to support it, but I don't buy it. At least this gives him a chance to talk about it though. I still would have preferred a feature-length audio commentary, which could have gone into more detail, but this is definitely the kind of behind--the-scenes feature that strikes a balance between the interests of mainstream movie watchers and cinephiles.

Flip over to the theatrical Blu-Ray to check out the other extras. Music's a big deal to this film, and it's one of the best executed elements, so a "Sucker Punch: Behind the Soundtrack" featurette makes a lot of sense, but it's unfortunately very surface-level and is simply an ad for the CD, as Snyder and music supervisors Tyler Bates and Marius De Vries (who worked on Moulin Rouge! (See? the Luhrmann angle isn't far fetched.) spend 2:41 talking about the value of the music. They don't get an deeper than Browning's involvement on some of the songs, making it a kind of pointless extra.

The final extra is a quartet of animated shorts by Ben Hibon that served as promos for the film. Each tackles a different part of the film's bombastic fantasy world, delving into that universe before bringing it back to the film. Though hewing closer to motion comics than full-fledged animation, they look great, just don't expect any kind of revelatory "prequel" stories like the packaging hints at.

While trailers aren't usually something too exciting, here you get an extended 1080p trailer for Batman: Arkham City, the upcoming video game sequel, and the trailer for the upcoming (and fantastic-looking Crazy Stupid Love.)

This image is for illustrative purposes only, and does not represent the disc's quality

The Bottom Line
If someone's going to fail, better they fail with some ambition, rather than fail because they did the same old thing, and better that they fail in a big way, rather than with a whimper. Such is the case with Zack Snyder and Sucker Punch, an over-indulgent heist flick that would have benefited from some artistic restraint, even if it is a sensual feast. The Blu-Ray looks and sounds great, and offers a nice supplemental package that's of value to any Snyder fan, but the movie itself is a bit of an effort to watch.

Francis Rizzo III is a native Long Islander, where he works in academia. In his spare time, he enjoys watching hockey, writing and spending time with his wife, daughter and puppy.

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*The Reviewer's Bias section is an attempt to help readers use the review to its best effect. By knowing where the reviewer's biases lie on the film's subject matter, one can read the review with the right mindset.

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