After my post last night, I had a friend respond on Twitter. As I considered responding, I realized my response would entail several tweets and decided to expand upon my reaction and response here.
I felt that of the characters in the movie, I found, in order, Abbie Cornish, Jamie Chung and Emily Browning to be the most well-developed/well-acted of the bunch. The other two girls were Jena Malone and Vanessa Hudgens. My initial reaction to Jena Malone was, “oh, it’s that girl I’ve seen before with a really scary mouth and teeth.” Her mouth, when she talks, always distracts me much more than it should and I kind of feel bad about feeling this way, but is just one of those things. Throughout her time in the movie, she was used as solely a person who was there to whine or disagree with her big sister. Her big moment of (SPOILER ALERT) giving her life so her sister could continue on their mission rang hollow for me and was simply a plot device. Also, her dying line of “Tell Mom I love her” was a perfect example of the dialog built upon cliche (see also, “If you don’t stand for something, you’ll fall for anything” and the cringe-worthy “Don’t write checks with your mouth that you can’t cash with your ass”) because of a lack of character development.
Vanessa Hudgens, on the other hand, was held as the melodramatic character who only had a place in the movie because we needed someone who couldn’t carry the weight of what was happening and would need to snitch. Whenever a character says anything involving the phrase, “You have to promise not to tell anyone,” it is certain that someone will overhear or walk in as it is happening. Way to go Vanessa Hudgens, you got yourself and Jamie Chung killed. But, as far as Jamie Chung goes, she fit, for me, in the scheme of things much the way Joseph Gordon-Levitt fit in Inception. We need a character who is always in control and will be the anchor to keep everyone in line and Chung did that superbly. She didn’t have to do a lot and wasn’t an expositional voice as much as Gordon-Levitt had to be, but she anchored everyone and worked to make sure the plans were executed properly. She is probably the most undeniably attractive girl, but I don’t know that she fit as fluidly in the movie as Cornish and Browning. Those two carried themselves with the most confidence, which is what I found most important.
That three-part idea, that the movie had to be cut and watered down speak to the heart (or lack thereof) of what was wrong with Sucker Punch. The movie clearly had it’s dialogue cut from more profane and explicit – for example, Vanessa Hudgens is shooting a .50 cal machine gun at a dragon and yells something along the lines of “TAKE THAT MOTHER ______!” and it is obvious that the audio was dropped rather than her only saying “mother” with an inferred “fucker”) – and the way that these people spoke and interacted had an undercurrent of more gritty dialogue that saying “bullshit” a couple of times. The strict guidelines utilized for language in movie ratings is insane, in my opinion, while the content question continues to grow softer over time. But, that’s America for you.
I feel that the movie was watered-down to grow its audience of females much more than appealing to a wider overall audience, which might backfire because of the critical backlash to its “sexploitation.” Instead of encouraging young women to get out and see the movie, it is going to open the doors for young, teenage boys to come in and explore what they think happens in the minds of women, when it is actually a more direct description of what happens in the mind of a visionary director with women substituted in his place. The watering-down and cutting of the movie leaves a lot of development, character and story growth on the cutting room floor, leaving us with a dumbed-down, visually spectacular action movie. I honestly loved the fact that the movie is led by these 5 women instead of being an all out action fiasco with Sylvester Stallone and his buddies deciding who has the biggest dick of the bunch. The Expendables was an atrocious movie, in my opinion, and I think that Sucker Punch can save itself from becoming a female version of that movie by giving us a more comprehensive director’s release when it reaches the DVD/blu-ray home market.
That director’s release will need to be a more comprehensive look at the themes only hinted at in the movie (feminism, female sexuality, reality v. fiction, all of which Madison noted) and give us a character-driven story instead of a plot-driven story. Abbie Cornish and Emily Browning did an interview with HitFix.com that I didn’t see until late last night but found telling of what is going on with the movie. When the interviewer asks them what they thought of the final cut of the movie and mentions all of the footage that didn’t make it, that assures me that there is a better version of the movie out there, if only in Zack Snyder’s mind. These two feel like they were in a different movie than the final product we received. The movie they acted in was one that turns a lot of the ideas explored in the theatrical release on their head, because we care about those characters, whereas in the movie we care only about what these characters are doing. It’s a difficult dichotomy, but it is an important differentiation to make. I would love to see what is actually happening in the second level of this dream as the girls are executing their plot to find the items, while also get a glimpse of what it is that Emily Browning’s character is really doing (is it a striptease? is it an entrancing belly dance? is it a beautiful integration of movement and sound? let me know something!), rather than only seeing the result.
There is a lot of good in Sucker Punch but it gets muddled and lost in, as I said last night, a plot that wants to move forward as quickly as possible. The first 30 minutes of the movie are all we receive as far as character development goes, and those first 30 minutes are gorgeous on the surface, but lacking beyond that. The differentiation in realities is well-done and I honestly enjoyed a lot of what was happening there (not as detailed as Inception, but I didn’t need it to be), even if I didn’t totally understand why she went to these places. In the trailer I posted at the start, one of the phrases is “Reality is a Prison” and that is something both overt (Browning’s character is in an actual version of a prison in reality) and conceptualized by where these girls go with their imaginations, when they marry their talent and their mind. Further evolving that thought and how it plays out makes this a much more substantial film.
Finally, there is a lot to be said for Snyder’s execution of this world and his vision. The movie never fails to be a visually delighting film. I can’t argue about anything that is in the movie, all I can do is argue for there to be more in the movie. Of course, how many men are you going to get to head out to a 2 1/2 – 3 hour movie empowering women and showing the struggles they have with their feminism and the fetishism that is rampant in every area of their life? Not a lot and that’s important because these men are the ones who will flock to a movie with beautiful women and light plot and tell their friends to do the same but would not if they were challenged by what it is that motivates these women and gives them strength. Coping with struggles isn’t a bad thing and I had hoped Sucker Punch would let me into the psyche of these girls. But, in the end, all I felt that I got was a raw preview of an impressive film that left me wanting more, much like the preview Baby Doll gave the Mayor.