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Sucker Punch (Extended Cut)

I feel confident in saying that Sucker Punch is the most controversial film of 2011. I know that’s quite a statement, especially since the year’s only half-over, but I’ll be very much surprised if a movie comes along in the next six months to top this one. Though its box office returns were far from ambiguous, its reception among critics and moviegoers was and is very divisive. I’ve seen this movie called a masterpiece and I’ve seen it called the absolute nadir of big-budget cinema. People either get this movie or they don’t, that’s all there is to it.

For my part, I already threw my lot in with the “Don’t get it” crowd, much as it broke my heart to do so. On the absolute polar opposite end was my friend AYBGerrardo, who’s always been a vocal supporter of the film. At the time, I really did want to know what he and so many others were seeing that I wasn’t. Then, as now, I really did want to like this film.

I wasn’t going to waste a second ticket on the movie, but I was going to give the film a second chance when it came out on DVD. Maybe some time and distance from the film’s premiere would help give me some new perspective. I even gave the film another advantage, choosing to see the Blu-Ray Extended Edition.

My spoiler-free impressions are that the extended cut is indeed far better than the theatrical cut and that the second viewing was much more enjoyable than the first, but this film is still no masterpiece. For my thoughts with SPOILERS INCLUDED, read on.

***

First of all, one of my primary complaints about the movie was in the layered dream worlds. I failed to see how any of these layers affected the others or what the burlesque fantasy had to do with the mental asylum. Part of this matter was solved with an epiphany early on: What if there are only two layers? What if the strip club and the fight sequences are all one continuous daydream that just changes settings? They’re different ways of seeing and experiencing different events in the narrative. Already, this made for a simplified and more enjoyable viewing experience.

Additionally, with this second viewing, I finally saw just how flimsy the barrier was between the fantasy and the reality. All too often, there are scenes in which the characters and their costumes are burlesque, but the grungy setting is clearly asylum. In fact, there were a few scenes — those involving the cook, mostly — when I could actually see through the fantasy and get a good idea of what was really going on.

As for the connection between the club and the asylum, even that was cleared up on the second viewing. This time, I caught a line from Rocket early on (was it even in the theatrical cut?) explaining that the club was actually a front for Blue’s illicit money-making activities. This meshes perfectly with Baby Doll’s knowledge of how Blue uses his position of authority to collect bribes.

However, the imagination aspect of this movie isn’t perfect. Take the fight scenes, for example. Though they are easily the best part of the movie — beautifully shot, gorgeously presented and even better with the extended footage — they seem unfocused. Given the wide scope and the nature of what’s being presented (strippers, zombies, dragons, robots, etc.), it’s hard for me to imagine that this is all coming from Baby Doll’s head, given how little we know about her from before the asylum. It would’ve helped if Snyder had given us some glimpse into her mind at the movie’s outset. Some slight knowledge of what interests her and how she uses her imagination would’ve been quite intriguing and useful. Just seeing her read a storybook before her mother’s death would’ve helped a lot in this regard. Better yet, what did her confrontation with the step-dad look like through her eyes? Did she think she was fighting an ogre or a big bad wolf that whole time? I honestly think that if Snyder had presented that scene as a short fantasy sequence, intercut with the actual confrontation, it would have served as a solid introduction to the concept and a dynamic visual explanation of how it works.

Speaking of which, I may as well address this film’s feminist leanings. At its heart and core, the film is about rebellion against power. Snyder chose to portray this by way of young women fighting against male authority figures, but the message would have been just as clear if the genders had been reversed (as in One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest). In this case, Snyder made a film that’s all about young women rejecting the notion that they are property to be disposed of as their chauvinist overlords see fit. Yes, they’re wearing blatantly sexual clothes the whole time, but that isn’t by their choice. In this case, the skimpy attire is more or less their prison uniform. Moreover, the sexual clothes aren’t even real, but Baby Doll’s perception of the inmates’ place in this asylum. In short, the sexual attire doesn’t detract from the movie’s feminism, but magnifies it.

Then there’s the matter of the ending, my second enormous gripe about this film.

First of all, my original review was written on the assumption that the movie’s central theme was “imagination as freedom.” This time, taking a good hard listen to the ending voice-over, it appears that I was mistaken and no mention of imagination was made. Indeed, the moral appears to be one of rebellion, taking freedom in any way possible. Indeed, the film seems to conclude that even death would be preferable to physical, mental and emotional bondage. This message worked perfectly fine in Brazil, but it doesn’t here.

See, Brazil was about an entire world that was bereft of imagination and under the thumb of a brutal dictatorship. In Sucker Punch, that rule only extends to the asylum and to Baby Doll’s home, so far as we know. The entire film is set up around the possibility of escape, with the certainty that there would be a better life on the other side of the walls. If that better life was an illusion or if Baby Doll had actually tried escaping instead of giving herself up for martyrdom, this approach might have worked. Otherwise, the death (such as it is) comes off as unnecessary.

Though to be fair, the extended edition does include a scene near the end that greatly enriches Baby Doll’s lobotomy. Not only does it make the fate more shocking, but it also gives a much more detailed look into her frame of mind at the time and it gives Jon Hamm his best scene in the whole movie.

On the other hand, Snyder keeps telling us that this is Sweet Pea’s story and it clearly isn’t. I’ll grant that this second viewing did yield a few subtle hints as to Sweet Pea’s importance in the story, but it just wasn’t good enough. Sorry, but this film is all about Baby Doll’s predicament, Baby Doll’s plan and it’s told entirely through Baby Doll’s imagination. This is her story and it did not pay off sufficiently enough to justify the deaths of her three comrades. Yes, she got her freedom by mental incapacitation, but I’d think that freedom by bus ride would have been much more preferable!

Also, I still don’t care for the Wiseman character. He works very well as an exposition device within the fantasy sequences, but those useless bromides still got old and his appearance at the end of the movie makes absolutely no sense no matter how you slice it. And anyway, a bus driver letting some strange girl on without a ticket? For no reason at all? After she’s been approached by police? Gag me.

In my last review, I concluded that Zack Snyder was a visual genius and a subpar storyteller. After seeing this Extended Edition of Sucker Punch, I stand by that statement. The film is visually gorgeous and the various metaphors are very skillfully used. Still, though this viewing did help a lot of my problems with the story and its presentation, I can’t help feeling like there were a lot of missed opportunities and muddled executions, especially with regard to the ending. The film is definitely better upon a second viewing and it may get better with a third, but I’m not inclined to find out. For now, I’ll simply commend Snyder for his ambition and his skill as a director, and wish him better luck the next time he decides to write something original.

Until next time, folks, I await your comments and replies.

2 Comments

  1. Ping from DannyDreiberg:

    I think I agree 100%.
    I couldn’t really put into words what bugged me about the ending, but you hit the nail on the head. Perfectly.
    I do think that overall the movie is an 8/10,
    but I haven’t seen the extended cut yet.
    So… *shrug*

  2. Ping from AYBGerrardo:

    You should stick with the “imagination as freedom” theme. The opening narration defines the role/purpose of angels as “reminding that it’s us, it’s every one of us, who holds the power over the worlds we create”. Gorski’s exposition about psychodrama, as Baby Doll stands in the theatre for the first time, is THE crucial dialogue of the film despite being background.
    As for your complaint that “Snyder keeps telling us that this is Sweet Pea’s story and it clearly isn’t”, NiteOwl said the same thing. Read my reply on this page of the forum:
    http://www.watchmencomicmovie.com/forum/viewtopic.php?f=11&t=2047&p=149789
    When I later saw the Extended Cut, it absolutely confirmed the theory for me. Your main problem with the film seems to have been, and remains to be, the story not making full sense for you. I’m sure, once you’ve read that post, you’ll enjoy it a lot more on further viewings.

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