Saturday, March 26, 2011

What if 4chan Made a Movie?

I’m almost kinda-sorta serious here. If 4chan made a movie, what would it be? How about hot, slinky prostitutes in outrageous, sexy outfits take on a world where every man is a slimeball, wuss, or asshole by fighting their way through the trenches of steampunk WWI, Moria’s orcs, and a bunch of robo-terrorists. Swipe your themes and characters from early Mercedes Lackey books, your visual style from computer games, and your (barely there) plot beats from Joss Whedon, and you’re good to go.

If that’s what you want, “Sucker Punch” delivers. It is exactly what you saw in the trailers, with hot remixes of classic ass-kicking tunes, crazy action set-ups (mecha vs. Fokker tri-planes, dragon vs. B-17 flying fortress), and barely enough plot to string them together. This is not a movie about girls stuck in a mental institution with brief flights-of-fantasy snippets a la “Brazil.” This is an action flick, with barely enough plot to justify the crazy visuals.

All that said, the film does feel like a near-miss. Frankly, I think it tries too hard, and tries to have it both ways. Its sexualization of the girls is enough to make certain folks’ heads explode, and it rubs in that point by making every male character in the entire movie (with the exception of the mentor, who basically serves as that guy in WoW with the gleaming exclamation mark over his head and little more) a tool, scumbag, or monster. It’s almost as if the movie is saying to the audience, “You should be ashamed, ashamed of yourself for enjoying this. But ain’t it fun?!?”

The movie also wants to have heft it never earns. It tries really hard to be a movie about something, not just over-the-top action sequences. It tries speaking directly to you to inspire you, it tries killing characters (and, after “Serenity,” killing just one character brutally won’t cut it, so now the go-to play is to kill multiple characters), it tries to have a heart-warming message about family.

Unfortunately, the central question of the plot (I won’t say what it is here, but you’ll know it when you see it, because they directly ask it a handful of times in the last half of the flick) is, ultimately, the sort of question that only makes sense in a story. In the end, the deaths, the triumphs, the terror, all feel hollow because this film never lets you forget you’re watching a movie. The failure here isn’t that you’re never clear what is and isn’t reality in this movie; the failure here is that even the movie’s “reality” feels fake because the sucker punch of the title is built around a notion that can only make sense within the confines of a story; it makes no sense to ask this question in reality, because reality isn’t plotted like a story, and doesn’t have the mechanics of a story.

And so the audience just goes along for the ride. Luckily, it’s a fun ride, a veritable summer blockbuster of a roller-coaster. Be sure to sit through the credits for additional over-the-top WTFness. Enjoy it for the light popcorn fare that it is. You won’t be talking about this film years from now, and it doesn’t seem to have the right balance of camp-to-earnestness to become a cult favorite. But, if you liked what you saw in the trailer, you’ll have fun watching this film.


Anonymous said...

Your opinion of the movie is along the same lines as mine but considerably kinder . . .

David Larkins said...

I'm 99% sure I'm going to skip this one, but there's one thing that's majorly bothering me having not seen it: is there ANY reason the movie is nominally set in the 50s? It would have been interesting to explore a 50s-style fantasy world, but it seems like everything is almost over-the-top 21st century imagery, from the fan service to the costuming to the hair and make-up. Any insights for the uninitiated?

trollsmyth said...

seaofstarsrpg: Yeah, I went in ready to ignore whatever lame plot ZS served up and just wallow in the over-the-top visuals. As far as that goes, it wasn't as good as I'd hoped, but it delivered what I felt was promised by the tailer. So yeah, not a good movie, by any means, but I'll offer a categorical recommendation to those who can appropriately set their expectations.

sirlarkins: The baseline reality requires a patriarchal hell in which a wicked stepfather can consign a girl to spooky, run-down mental institution where there won't be too much oversight and were an orderly can forge documents to arrange a lobotomy in a week's time. Hence, the pre-70's baseline reality.

But really, if this sort of thing bugs you, you shouldn't see this film. Worrying too much about why a girl from the '50s is hallucinating about mini-gun armed mecha mowing down the steam-powered zombie soldiers of the Kaiser is affording this movie far more brainpower than it deserves, or is even required to enjoy it. It's far better approached in the same spirit as "Fantasia" in terms of making sense of any sort of overarching plot. ;p

David Larkins said...

Yeah, I'll be saving my "geek movie" ticket for when Your Highness comes out in a couple weeks.

I do find it funny that there was some effort made to plausible reality in that regard alone, considering how detached from any sort of reality or plot the rest of the movie seems to be.

trollsmyth said...

sirlarkins: Yeah, I agree. It'd almost have been better, I think, if they'd dropped the whole institution/brothel angle, and just have had her hit her head, a la all the old flash-back episodes you used to see on TV in the '70s and '80s, or "The Wizard of Oz." But again, I think they wanted more emotional heft to the flick, and their reach exceeded their grasp.

Alex Schroeder said...

That movie was depressing. I was going in expecting light hearted entertainment but the sexualization and bleakness of it all left me emotionally drained. :(