Zack Snyder’s Sucker Punch hit theaters in March earlier this year, but it’s road to theaters felt like watching a train hit the emergency break. The year before it came out, the film wowed comic-con audiences, and Warner Brothers had set visits – Snyder was still seen as a wonder boy, even if Watchmen didn’t take it home. But by the week of release, Warners couldn’t hold it in the bag: Sucker Punch is a weird movie that doesn’t totally work for a number of reasons.
It’s one of the great “I made a big hit movie, I’m going to go make my art” films that fails in interesting ways. And now there’s a director’s cut, which hopes to solve some of those problems. Emily Browning plays Babydoll, a girl with a traumatic past who’s put in an insane asylum with a bunch of other girls, and leads a fantasy life that transposes her inmates and doctors into dancers and pimps. My review of the Blu-ray and director’s cut of Sucker Punch follow after the jump.
The film opens with a proscenium arch and a silent sequence where Browning does a cover version of “Sweet Dreams” – a song that loses its creepy cool when the creep factor is played up. This is over the top, but in both cuts, there is hope that the film is something of a musical. Or if nothing else, that Snyder knows where he’s going with this. Babydoll is put in an insane asylum with a bunch of girls, with Sweet Pea (Abbie Cornish) Pea’s sister Rocket (Jena Malone), Blondie (Vanessa Hudgens) and Amber (Jamie Chung). The group of girls are defined mostly by their looks, which plays into the film’s subject/object discussion about women in film, but the film hedges its bets. In the asylum Blue (Oscar Isaac) tells Babydoll’s guardian that he can get her lobotomized. Therein lies a ticking clock. But as a man (Jon Hamm) is about to give her the lobotomy, she flashes into her imagination, where she’s to be sold to the big spender (Hamm), and all the girls who were in the asylum are now dancers/prostitutes.
The lone female doctor is now the dance teacher (Carla Gugino), and she wants Babydoll to dance. But instead of showing Babydoll dancing, Snyder instead shows her fighting giant samurai. There are four of these sequences, and they are dreams within dreams, and here is where Snyder loses his own film. Though these sequences viewed on their own are immaculately put together, their connective tissue to the main narrative feels forced, and the film would have been better served by actual musical numbers. The fact that these third level dreams keep happening doesn’t enhance the central narrative, but creates a large section of eye candy, which – others have noted looks – like it would be rad as van art.
It’s fair to say that Zack Snyder was wrestling with a number of interesting themes, and perhaps he wanted to do his spin on something like David Lynch’s Mulholland Dr., but either he doesn’t have the intellectual weight, or the narrative was too compromised by making a studio picture (I’ll give him some wiggle room for attempting something this audacious) to fully form all the ideas that are apparent here. And now that the film has flopped, watching it again there is a certain sympathy for what he was doing, and the actions sequences are spectacular. But it’s still a really mixed bag.
There was hope that the director’s cut would solve some of these problems, but what it does is move the musical number that was in the credits into the film – which sadly confuses the point more. The number is done between Blue (Isaac) and Dr. Vera Gorski’s dream version (Gugino), and the problem with having your villain do a song and dance number is that it makes you like him more. Had the rest of the film had more dance numbers, this might be forgivable, but perhaps the whole thing was doomed to be half-ingenious ideas from one of the great visual filmmakers of our time.
And there is so much here to like, but I wish more of it worked in context. And the one thing I would have hoped for is more context of the girls before we enter the dream world, so the idea that the dream characters relate to the surface world would have more resonance, but… nope, which makes the ending a mess in both cuts. The musical number is the biggest addition, the other big one is more with Jon Hamm in the dream world. It’s a good scene, but the problem (something that isn’t fixed on repeated viewing) is mapping out the narrative grid. What makes Inception work is that the multiple levels don’t really reflect on the narrative so much as create a more complex location for the story to take place. You’re not trying to keep track of what things mean, because they mean the same on each level, and you can interpret the film as you see fit – but the film works whether or not you think the main character was asleep or not the whole time. Christopher Nolan has his cake and eats it, for sure, but the audience isn’t cheated. Here, in either cut, you keep feeling like you’re playing catch up with a film that keeps wanting to skip two steps ahead. Which gives the film a sense of weightlessness. Again, there’s so much talent here, that I wish it all came together. But it didn’t and it doesn’t. Still, it’s fun to sift through.
Warner Brother’s Blu-ray edition comes with the film in the theatrical cut, and the Director’s cut. The theatrical runs 110 minutes, the director’s cut 127. Both are presented in immaculate widescreen (2.35:1) and in DTS-HD 5.1 surround. On the theatrical cut are four animated shorts (11 min.) that expanded the third level dream world stuff. They look great, but – again – a dream within a dream. There’s also a promo for the soundtrack (3 min.) and bonus trailers. The director’s cut offers Maximum movie mode, where Zack Snyder hosts clips and looks at the making of the film, and his thoughts on some of the ideas behind it. Mostly he just talks about the making of the movie. The set also comes with a DVD and digital copy, but only of the theatrical cut.