This week London empties itself out in fear of being associated in any way with The Last Seven and Zack Snyder has had way too many sweets as he vomits up the multi-coloured fantasy fest that is Sucker Punch.
The Last Seven promised me a couple of things: that it was some kind of post apocalypse movie, which it isn’t, and Danny Dyer, who it transpires is merely a bit part player. Come on man, you don’t waste and asset like Dyer. And in this movie, that’s not even ironic. It’s terrifyingly true.
A man wakes up, face down, on a wet London street, all alone. All. Alone. We follow him around the grey, empty streets as he tries to find out what’s gone on. It’s all so hauntingly familiar at this stage. But we won’t let that get in the way of our enjoyment of the film. In fact, it’s pretty much the least of our worries in that regard. Our guy is walking the empty, rain slicked streets of the City of London. Clearly it’s easier to film as it’s deserted on weekends anyway. See 28 Weeks Later for further reading. In fact, it seems as if many of the scenes, the overheads, that pickle shaped building that wasn’t there when they made 28 Days Later, but featured prominently in 28 Weeks later, built in a funk of over-adrenalised productivity by the not-quite-zombie denizens of London while coked up on blood lust and the rage to just get things done. I digress: Our dude, William, walking aimlessly, lost, confused, alone, differs in one salient aspect from Cillian Murphy’s damaged wretch in 28 Days, in that after a while he not unreasonably loses his nut over the fact that there’s no one around and fucks up somebody’s car with a bin. That scans that little bit better than wandering into a church because, well, you’re Irish, and that’s where the answers traditionally are, right? But enough of the comparisons, we do Messers Boyle and Fresnidillo a GREAT disservice.
William tramps through a deserted building, taking to the roof to check out the view of the entirely empty city below. But he’s no longer alone. He’s been joined by a couple of clichés. A posh guy, swigging on a crystal decanter of brandy, a fey looking young one, a gruff and potty mouthed soldier with a gun. They are likewise confused, not sure of why they are there, or indeed who they are, although the soldier thinks that logically there was a terrorist scare and the city has been evacuated. We’re privy to flashback, disjointed narratives. Some nails, a hand, a hammer, a gun going off, the aforementioned Dyer, some verbals from the characters. Lots of oblique shit like that. They wander around and happily bump into a few other people. Phew. A city the size of London, with, as the title suggests, only seven people apparently left alive, and they bump into the only other souls out there. Thank god, eh? Among them there is, of course, the guy who spouts biblical rhetoric. Isn’t there always? All along the gang are being followed by a flitting, shapeless, dark character, that fackin khaaant Dyer. There are some attempts at scares, using the eerie emptiness as our atmosphere, but they fail to raise a hair on the neck. Not one hair. It gets daft when the scariness becomes prompted by a strobing, pulsating blue light that’s supposed to be spectral or something but just looks cheap. As the characters begin to disappear, one begins to envy them. The reveal is unrevealing, like waking up from a dream to find yourself in the same bed that you went to sleep in, in fact you weren’t even dreaming, just nocturnally passing wind.
It’s been done before, there’s that prickly sense of embarrassment at watching knowing that nearly every aspect has been, well, lifted. There’s a kernel of a good idea here, one can imagine Hollywood filling the cast with a few Dicaprios, emptying Chicago for a weekend, adding a couple of explosions and turning it into a bit of a money spinner what makes you think. Here, it’s all a bit belaboured. The dialogue is heavy handed and unedited and the actors are either weighed down by it or just not competent enough to make it work. I suspect it’s a bit of both. It’s a kind of community centre acting class on a day out kind of thing, or one of those hammy, not-quite sci fi, really low budget programmes LWT used to fart out back in the seventies. Like Day of the Triffids without the superior acting ability of the Triffids.
The characters themselves seem as clichés; you may think that this is initially a device, that, due to their circumstances and amnesia, they’ve reverted to a kind of type. It may, however, simply be that, like the dialogue, and indeed casting, not a great deal of thought went into their creation. Obviously the creation of this movie took up every single waking minute of someone’s life for a year or two, and, despite appearances, it wasn’t knocked together over a weekend, but unfortunately it’s not worth the effort put in, assuming there was any. The script is just unreal, forced, leaden with cliché, the acting is plywoodian, the direction is non existent. Empty, desolate London looks good. Cold and still and jarring, the many useless, empty ornaments of mankind laid to waste, but we’ve seen that before, and better. The only thing the movie does ok is a total, verbatim, rip off. Ho hum.
We must take a moment to admire the genius that is Danny Dyer. He has an innate ability to choose movies that are so bad that he does not look like the worse thing in them, in fact he often comes across as the chummy lad who’s really doing his best with the fackin drivel what he’s bin forced to say, innit bruv. Here he has his wasted, serious face on, smudged with make-up devised by a sausaged brained 5 year old and applied by a walrus brandishing a paint roller. He still manages to be the best thing in this crock. Enjoyably bad, if bad is something you tend to enjoy. If you enjoy decent cinema, why are you even reading this?
There is a scene at the beginning of Suckerpunch, where rain streaking a car window coalesces into the title of the film before sliding away again. It’s a neat trick that no doubt cost more than the entire budget of The Last Seven. Having no budget doesn’t mean that you have to make a bad film, of course, and having an articulated lorry full of used notes and a warehouse full of RAM-crammed servers doesn’t, by the same token, guarantee that you’ll make a good film. Oh dearie me, not a bit of it.
In zack Snyder’s Sucker Punch, Babydoll, our preternaturally tiny protagonist, is committed to a skanky looking asylum by her apparently abusive step father who wants to get his hands on the inheritance she’s due since her mother passed away. That and the fact that she shot and killed her younger sister. Sure, she was aiming for the abusive step dad, but still. It seems to me if you shoot, and kill someone, take your fucking medicine, no? The place is a rundown, corrupt, filthy bedlam, run by the nefarious orderly Blue. He arranges it so that that Babydoll will get a lobotomy in 5 days time, for a certain price of course, nullifying her as person, and thus passing on the inheritance to the dastardly step dad. Babydoll then reverts to a fantasy world in order to escape from this living hell. The asylum turns into a brothel, her abusive step father turns into a paedophilic priest with, naturally, an Irish accent, Blue turns in to a shiny suited, tiny moustached pimp. It’s good that Hollywood still uses to the Irish accent to convey a certain ecclesiastical evil. It’s good that we’ve imported more than just drunk writers and corrupt bankers over the years, isn’t it? It was a proud moment, like when Brenda won that Oscar or all those Hollywood films with IRA blokes, Brad Pitt and Tommy Lee Jones and who have you, back in the nineties.
Into this sleazy bordello/dance club, where ladies dress in hot pants, and dance and shag for money, (because, clearly, on some level all women fantasise about being prostitutes, right?), Babydoll descends. Unimpressed with a career path in harlotry she concocts a plan of escape, co-opting four other young ones in on her mission. They agree to go along despite having no personalities or motivation and armed only with winning smiles and legs from here to ya ya. They need to appropriate certain objects from the various sleezes around the club, and to distract them Babydoll dances to some awful music. While she dances, she slips deeper into fantasy, a dream within a dream, and her fantasies become crazy fight sequences against incredible foes; massive Samurai, the Boche, some silver robots, a dragon, and as each is vanquished, so each aspect of the escape plan is achieved. Or not. It’s super-slowed down; spent cartridges arc for an age in the air, choreographed moves, like violent ballet, show off various knickers, extraordinary things happen while all along Scott Glenn looks like a preserved raisin and dispenses wisdom. It’s really quite dull, and I wondered when it would all end. Frankly if I weren’t bound to get to the end of it, I wouldn’t have. It’s visually stunning, for sure, but fails to engage the brain, and everything is smothered in noise and music and artifice. The girls are scantily clad, spending all the film in mini skirts, and it comes across like the kind of thing that the police would find outlined, with fat-breasted illustrations, in a dog eared notebook in the knapsack that Eric Harris used to carry all his ammunition in prior to deciding to kill everyone. It’s a high school outsider flick for the ADD generation, wank-fodder for twenty-something adolescents.
And the music! Non stop music. Each new mission and dance presaged with yet another awful cover version, sickening misinterpretations of classics, like Search and Destroy by the Stooges, mangled, or White Rabbit by the Airplane, fucked. The film at times seems like little more than the commercial to sell its own soundtrack. It’s a convoluted, confused, egotistical mess of ideas and visuals, bound by no rules. But how can this be? we stutter, how does that happen? we ask, confusedly. It’s fantasy, we’re told. But why are the characters two dimensional and irritating, and why could I not care less if they all lived or died, and what’s up with the end, that’s just fucking nonsense, and the narrated coda is just the lyrics to The Greatest Love Of All but written by a confused sixteen year old on the front of her biology folder one wet afternoon down the back of the library during a free class, right?….. But it’s fantasy…we’re told. It’s a fantastic load of barse. At least The Last Seven has an excuse for being terrible, this was just charmless fudge.
Zack Snyder divides the critics. His remake of Dawn of the Dead, while undoubtedly exhilarating, seemed to miss the entire point of the original. Watchmen was so literal it lacked nuance, and, despite one of the greatest graphic novels of all time as his source material, it was dull. There’s something in Snyder’s work that always seems to be missing the point, or it’s me who’s missing his point, not being fourteen. As a one time director of commercials, he clearly knows how to appeal to people with no attention span, and a commercial is what Sucker Punch feels like all the way through. There’s no space, no time, no reflection, no characterisation, there’s just action sequences and music, neither of which represent “plot” or “narrative”. But perhaps I’m wrong in this, perhaps plotting, narrative, dialogue and characterisation are now the poor cousins of stunning visuals and sumptuously choreographed fighting. After all it’s Snyder who’s the minted Hollywood professional, and I’m clearly showing my age. Go back to the sepia tone and the tongueless kiss, granddad. Go back to Jimmy Cagney’s fifteen minute death throes, why don’t you. This is modern cinema, brash, loud, soulless, immediate and obvious. So like life. Back in my day….zzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz…snore….zzzzzzzzzzz…sorry what? An exploding Zeppelin you say? Oh, okay then.