One day, lad, all this will be yours ...
I had concerns.

As soon as I saw the first trailer and realised that this film contained Anthony Hopkins as Odin, chewing up the Asgardian furniture, I knew they had chosen not to follow the path laid down by J. Michael Straczynski’s reboot of Thor.

That had Thor beginning with nothing and building up Asgard, and its pantheon of gods, from the ground up.  It would have lent itself perfectly to filmic adaptation.  But the trailer had Odin, and Odin didn’t appear in JMS’s version of Thor, so I knew that’s not what they were doing.

And that was a concern!

It turns out they have taken some of Straczynski's ideas, but they're mostly the earthbound ones.

We begin, instead, with the en-vogue start half-way through with something exciting then rewind to see the events that led to the exiting thing structure which is, I think, lazy script-writing but I understand that producers are frightened their audiences won’t have the attention-span for introductions and character development without having had an exciting carrot first.

After this whizz-bang intro, we then get a good twenty minutes of Asgardian doings, involving Frost Giants on other planets, and a football team of new characters, all in Jack Kirby’s trademark architectural hats, with which we must quickly become familiar.
That's one bad hat, Loki ...
Asgard itself looks lovely, but there’s no obvious structure to it, it looks more like a mad castle than a city.  It’s gorgeous, to be sure, but the camera swoops over it so quickly that we do not get time to give it a good look.  There is little sense of coherence about the city.  Unfortunately, that stands as emblematic of the film as a whole.

None of which is helped by the dim, fuzzy and entirely pointless 3D process.  As usual, this adds nothing, but takes away the vibrancy of the colours and the clarity of the hi-def effects work.  But I’ve not been shy with my thoughts on 3D, so we’ll move on …

Chris Hemsworth finally gets his teeth into the role when he has crash-landed on Earth and conveniently meets some non-specific scientists out in the desert studying Non-Specific Sciencey Stuff.  He very quickly comes across as a personable chap who is, I am reliably informed by my beloved, ‘well fit’.  Well, he did work out for several months before filming began but I don’t think that’s what she meant.
Hemsworth gets his tits out for the lasses.  As my partner helpfully suggested: “This should have been called Phwoar, not Thor!”

I feel that these scenes would have been more successful if they had been the introduction to the film – if we had become invested in the character before all that show-boating in Asgard and points north.  As in JMS’s take on the character, this gradual process would have helped the audience along by gently introducing them to the idea of ‘gods’ and built-up to the reveal of The City of the Gods in all its glory.

There is a fair bit of slapstick in these ‘getting-to-know-you’ scenes, involving Hemsworth doing little more than prat-falls, but this is genuinely amusing and certainly breaks the emotional ice, but it jars when played so soon against all the thee-ing and thou-ing upstairs.

Of course, Hemsworth is required to play these scenes differently because he has to learn not to be the spoiled, arrogant brat he was at the film’s beginning, in order to worthy of his god-like hammer Mjolnir (It’s pronounced “Muh-yoll-near”, by the way … I’ve only been reading these comics for about thirty years and I didn’t know that!)
It's hammer time!  ... What? What?
Now, what is interesting, is the way the film rationalises the ‘gods’ by borrowing Arthur C. Clark’s ever-reliable Third Law, to wit: “Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic”.  It suggests that they aren’t Gods at all, just ‘advanced beings’ which the primitive Norse worshipped as Gods.  Good little ‘No Prize’ for that one.  Maybe that explains the presence of Tadanobu Asano as Hogun – a Japanese Norse God? 

Also, The Frost Giants are from the ‘realm’ of Jotunheim, which is clearly a planet – which leads me to think that the fact that there are nine realms suggests there’s one per planet in our Solar System … Or am I thinking about that too much?

Portman is fine as the ditzy genius and expert on Non-Specific Sciencey Stuff, but she is pretty much acting on auto-pilot here.  Still, now she has a gold doorstop, it’s not like she has anything to prove.

As for the other actors, Tom Hiddleston does a fine job with Loki, but then, he has the best material.  Rene Russo makes a good fist of the All-Mother, Frigga, especially since she is given sod all to work with.  But Idris Elba (who is deemed of such consequence he is sharing poster-space with Hemsworth, Hopkins and Portman); is all-but unrecognisable under bad hat and contacts and is given very little to do.

He is the guardian of The Bifrost, which is, essentially, a teleportation device for dumping gods in New Mexico (where else?)  Thing is, this gadget is of key significance to the movie and yet its powers and function are never clearly explained.

The film is just uneven.  What’s with Jeremy Renner and his bow?  His cameo as Clint Barton (aka Hawkeye) goes without introduction or explanation and he doesn’t even get to fire his arrow, before disappearing again.  Literally pointless!

The Destroyer as depicted in the film -

- and as originally depicted back in April 1968.  Pretty close, guys!
The fight-scenes seem shoe-horned in, such as the one Hawkeye watches, but doesn’t participate in.  The arrival of The Warriors Three (well, Four since they bring Lady Sif along) doesn’t propel the story along much, save to give an excuse for The Destroyer to be sent earthward to … destroy.  It is worth it, mind, since this is the best single conflict in the movie, even if it is lifted from Superman II (1980) and a million comic books.

Interestingly, seen from the perspective of Thor (sorry, ‘Donald Blake’) and his new mortal Scooby Gang, SHIELD are very much set up as the villains of the piece, but that, of course, distracts the unwary viewer’s attention away from the real bad-guy.

The dénouement relies on characters acting on knowledge which we, the mere mortals in the audience, have not been prepared for, and there is the laziest and most literal deus ex machina I’ve seen in a film in a long ole time.

It is easy to see why Marvel thought to hire Branagh to direct this, as Stan Lee’s original Thor dialogue tended to wax Shakespearean and, if you’re thinking Shakespeare, you are inevitably thinking Dear, Dear, Sir Kenny. Thing is, surprisingly, the dialogue is delivered with more conviction and makes the film all-the-more watchable during the conversational earthbound scenes.

The Asgardian sequences, on the other hand, might not have the acting, but they have a grandeur and visual splendour that manages to be both super-futuristic and impossibly ancient, with set and prop design to die for.  They either built some gigantic sets or the actors spent a lot of time standing on green boxes looking at wonderful things that would be put in later.
See, the sets are jaw droppingly detailed - even more so in 2D because then, at least, they are in focus. 

Click to enlarge and have a proper look!
Nice to see that Kirby and the other creators who have immortalised the character over the decades, get a mention at the end – even if it is merely a catch-all “Oh, and by the way …” type of credit.  The way Marvel dealt, particularly with Kirby, back in the 1980s is now a matter of common knowledge. The legal wrangling still, sadly, rolls on, but a particular take on the origins of this struggle for recognition and reward can be found in this fascinating article.

Yes, you do have to sit through the rubbish rock song over the credits, in order to get to the inevitable cameo at the end … But it is worth the wait!

I make it a rule of thumb that any film with more than three writers is lucky to make sense … Thor has five credited writers – including Straczynski – and the result is a mushy, convoluted, unconvincing mess which has gorgeous visuals but which are entirely buried beneath a gloomy fuzz of half-baked 3D processing.

So go see it, by all means, but save yourself some cash and a headache and seek out a 2D performance!

But, before you do; you know I can be merciless with the marketing of some movies, well Marvel have actually excelled themselves here – demonstrating a humour which I thought they’d lately lost … This ad is official, it's modelled after the Darth Vader ad VW recently did.  Enjoy:

Dir: Dear, Dear, Sir Kenny Branagh
Stars:  Chris Hemsworth, Anthony Hopkins, Natalie Portman, Tom Hiddleston
Dur: 114 mins
Cert: 12A


There's a bomb on the bus ... Sorry, train ...

The secret to a good mystery is the delayed release of information.  The facts that the protagonist needs to know are revealed bit-by-bit at dramatically expedient moments, mixed-in with a good proportion of red herring clues that lead nowhere.

In the first eight minutes of Source Code, we learn that Colter Stevens (Jake Gyllenhaal) has jumped back in time and is wearing someone else’s face, like a refugee from Quantum Leap (that over-valued time-travelling version of The A-Team).  Then everything explodes and it turns out that he is actually wired-up to a simulator like something out of an early Twilight Zone

And that’s just the first eight minutes.

Of course, this is complete misdirection because, revealed so early, this information can’t be of any great consequence.  This is simply introducing us to the framework, the structure, of the story into which we are being propelled.  We need to find out why he keeps waking up in the past, on a train; why the train will explode at a precise moment; who is behind it and, ultimately, what he can do about it.

These questions are what involve Stevens for the film’s first act but, of course, even they aren’t the really important questions.  What he really needs to be asking is quite how he can travel back through time to this same train for these same eight minutes.

The answers to that question are far more important and far more satisfying!

This 'time machine' is sadly not as slick as a Delorean ... But it does have cable!

This is a very smart, very well-structured film.  On one viewing, I can’t fault its far-more-complex-than-it-looks structure nor its ferociously complicated logic.  Script-writer, Ben Ripley has done a fantastic job here, largely because he had the luxury of working alone, without time pressures but with the interest (and financial support) of a producer.  Scriptshadow interviewed him about this – here - well over a year ago, and he talks openly and eloquently about the process of creating this script.

You would think that a time-traveller who constantly gets to re-run the same eight minutes would fairly quickly run out of interesting things to do, but every time Stevens travels back, he learns new, fascinating details, he learns from his mistakes and he gets into a variety of fights.  The film also manages to escape the shackles of its structure by remaining a compelling and exciting mystery!

It is to the credit of Ripley and director, Duncan Jones, that they make every repeat of those eight minutes exciting, compelling and different; whilst the intermissions between them, when Stevens reports back to his mysterious ‘handlers’, Goodwin and Rutledge (Vera Farmiga and Jeffrey Wright) become increasingly significant as the tale develops.

The two threads of the narrative (both on and off the train) weave cleverly around each other, feeding each other just enough to keep you keen.

The film has inevitably been compared to Inception (2010) and Groundhog Day (1993), but the similarities are really only in the beauty of the structure and in the way it credits the audience with the wit to keep up.  Narratively, Source Code is more like a mixture of Vantage Point (2008) and Déjà Vu (2006) with maybe just an intriguing splash of Robocop (1987) added for taste!  It also has a similar underlying theme to Jones’ debut, Moon (2009) and, I have to say, if you are going to have echoes of anything, four films I absolutely love is a good mix!
Somewhere there is a copyright infringement happening!  Sorry, I know it's wafer-thin, but any excuse to publish a picture from one of the best SF films ever made has to be exploited!

 But these similarities – whilst in no way being a criticism - are the reason why the film is only good instead of great!  The territory Source Code is covering is familiar to us and that is a shame because there is some very clever film-making going on here.

In deference to this being an American movie with a relatively big American star – and the concomitant need to draw a big American audience - the focus in the third act changes from (quasi) science to (secular) faith, but that cleverly allows the film’s two narrative threads to have two very different endings which, instead of being the cheese-board I feared, are beautiful, satisfying, reassuringly-complicated and right!

Of course, as ever, the marketing people have simplified the concept as much as they could and their poster makes the film look like a mixture between The Adjustment Bureau (and you can find my thoughts on its appalling poster here) and a Disney DVD logo.
Make every POSTER count, dammit!
All of which fails to communicate the film's mystery and its literal race against time.  I think the version below, done by designer Olly Moss (whose delightful blog is here) succeeds with both of those elements, but also adds the sense of a 1960s Hitchcock thriller, which this film also has, especially at the beginning and especially thanks to the excellent (and hopefully breakthrough) score by Chris Bacon.
See?  I'd buy THAT for a dollar!
A far better piece of marketing is this 'infographic' (as our colonial cousins seem to call what is, in essence, a glorified graph) which was circulated by Summit Entertainment, the film's US distributor, and which you'd probably better not study too closely if you have yet to see the film yet!
Remember "What is The Matrix"?
 Oh, and when you do, read the credits carefully for a clever little nod and wink to his film's similarity to Quantum Leap!

Like Moon, this is a film which won’t break any box-office records, but it will grow in stature over the years and, as such, forms the second step in a career for Mr. Jones which, if he is wise and fortunate, will see him climb to the critical heights and box-office clout of fellow-Brit, Christopher Nolan.

Dir: Duncan Jones
Stars; Jake Gyllenhaal, Vera Farmiga, Jeffrey Wright, Michelle Monaghan
Dur: 93 mins
Cert: 12A


Did I ever tell you I wrote a film (well, co-wrote, with the director).  No?  Well it's here:

Monkey Trap
Tags: Monkey Trap

Feel free to be mercilessly frank in your appraisals in the comments ...


I'm not a big fan of the zombie genre.  It seems so reductive and repetitive.

Yes, I admire Night of Living Dead (both the original 1968 version and Savini's much-better-than-expected 1990 remake) for their political nous.  Romero's original was shocking not just in the savagery of its violence but also in that its main character was black.  Savini's remake took our deep knowledge of the original and used it as a weapon against us and added a positive, powerful feminist message - which was (and, sadly, still is) unusual.

Poster-art legend Tom Chantrell's magnificent British quad for the 1976 re-issue.  I loved this poster for years before I got to see the film (and was consequently disappointed - at first - that the film was in black-and-white)

Dawn of the Dead (1978), on the other hand, is one of my absolute favourite films.  Even given the various diluted and adulterated forms we've had to suffer over the years.  Its scope, as well as its oh-so 70s, post-Watergate, post-Vietnam political ambition marked it out as a remarkable piece of work that also happened to be remorselessly bleak and horrifying, like a good horror film should be.  Romero is one of the few writer/directors who, far from being limited by the horror genre, was liberated by it and explored new, extraordinary stories he could tell with it - rather like David Cronenberg and Clive Barker, among a select few others.

There it is, the rallying-cry the nascent sub-genre: "When there's no more room in Hell, the dead will walk the Earth!"

Then, after Romero, rather like the undead themselves, the evolution of the sub-genre pretty-much ground to a halt.  The rules were set: they eat flesh (though no-one knows why), they shamble (something to do with the ankles), they out-number the living (otherwise there's no drama) and they win (after the credits roll).  Those rules stood, pretty-much unchallenged, for nearly 25 years.

Then, after decades of being all-but ignored, zombies rose up again, initially with Danny Boyle and Alex Garland's reinterpretation of the rules: 28 Days Later.  Their zombies weren't slow, because they weren't dead.  This seemed to fire off the long-dormant imaginations of a million young men and, seemingly without preamble, zombies were everywhere.

There are vast numbers of fan-fiction zombie stories out there, in every conceivable medium (including musical theatre) but, unusually, mainstream cinema was also incredibly quick to react.  The 'Zombie Apocalypse' sub-genre was born.  Within two years we had a perfectly serviceable remake of Dawn of the Dead, we had the far superior parody of it, Shaun of the Dead and, in comic-books, we had The Walking Dead.

There is something quite special about The Walking Dead.  Maybe it is the starkness of the black-and-white art; maybe it's the change of medium from big-screen to graphic-novel; maybe it's the fact that it's really a soap-opera with the occasional zombie incursion; whatever it is, I thoroughly loved The Walking Dead comic when I discovered it a few years ago.  It was different.  Not in the sense that it was the first zombie apocalypse comic - Deadworld had that distinction back in 1986 - and it wasn't even the first comic called The Walking Dead - that seems to have been this standalone story from 1972 and they both, of course, took the title from this 1936 film by mad Michael Curtiz.

I can't explain why TWD affected me so strongly - unless it's because I bought the first fifty issues in one go and ploughed through them in two straight days - giving me a sense of intimacy with the characters which picking it up an issue a month would struggle to emulate.  The point is, I genuinely cared for these characters and there were moments when I was viscerally scared for them.  I even wept at one point.  First time in nearly 25 years a comic has moved me to tears.

Then, of course, along came Frank Darabont's TV version (only now debuting on terrestrial TV here in the UK of A).  Suddenly, all those zombie motifs, transplanted back into the medium that spawned them seemed sadly pedestrian.  Even the last couple of episodes where it deviates substantially from the comic seemed ... Familiar.

That's not to say I didn't enjoy the show, nor that I don't wish it well and won't tune in to series 2 because I do and I will.  But the TV version didn't seem as intimate nor as chilling as the comic.

I heartily encourage you to read it!

You might also enjoy visiting a typically exhaustive fan site called Walking Dead Theatre which, among other things, creates graphics like the one below to compare comic to TV show:

click to enlarge ... or don't, y'know, choice is yours.

Meanwhile, the point of this typically meandering post - a couple of pieces of Walking Dead humour that have emerged over the last couple of days.

The first is a comment on the nature the comic-book series (which is now some 80+ issues in) and explains quite why writer, Robert Kirkman, may very well get to write it until he retires, as he says he happily will:

Again, unless you have incredible eyesight, feel free to click and enlarge.  I won't be offended.
The second reason to be cheerful was reported originally, I believe, by Obsessed With Film, although it was quickly picked up by the national media and you may, therefore, have already seen it.  It was, needless to add, an excellent piece of 'accidental' viral advertising for the show's upcoming encore on Channel 5:


You will have noticed I don't dedicate this weblog to posting the latest gossip and guesswork from Hollywood.  No point, there are gazillions of websites doing that already.

But today is an exception because today a matter of great consequence happened with regard to a film that isn't out yet: Peter Jackson posted the first 'vlog' from the set of The Hobbit.

Peter Jackson, barely half the man he was ten years ago, making Lord of the Rings ...

So, apart from my own considerable excitememt about this film, why is this worthy of note?  Well, because of the incredible level of access Jackson granted us - the wide wired world - during his last big movie, King Kong (2005).

The website Kong is King posted 'Production Diaries', sometimes several a week throughout the entire production process from pre to post.  There was no aspect of the film that these Diaries did not delve into, no job on the movie set that they did not spotlight.  These Diaries were - and remain - an unprecedented education in how big-budget movies get made.

They weren't just hand-held goofing-about slapped on the net as though by accident; they had proper production values and stand as mini documentaries, produced to a very professional standard.

The post-production diaries are still available on-line, here, for you to watch for free.  Meanwhile, the shooting diaries were packaged up and sold as a DVD seperately from the film and, if you have any aspirations to work in the film industry or just have an interest in knowing what it really takes to make a movie - they are a must see!

But, here's the problem: Those documentarians had such unrestricted access that no aspect of the production went unreported ... Which meant that the film had no surprises left by the time it was released.

So, the video below is a wonderful appetite-whetter, you get to see Martin Freeman, James Nesbitt, Ken Stott and a very-different-looking Aidan Turner blocking out a scene.  You get to see the production being blessed by a haka - after all, The Hobbit is crucially important to New Zealand's economy, so no wonder the locals are glad to see production getting under way.

But, as I watched the video ... Part of me was thinking "Don't show me too much".  I love learning how films are made, but only after I've had chance to see the finished product and let it weave its magic spell over me.

I'm not sure if I'll watch more of these videos as they appear.  I might save them up and watch them at the end ... But that's gonna be three years away so ... I dunno.

Anyway, it is viewable on his Facebook page which is here, so make your own mind up.


So, Sucker Punch.

What is a sucker punch?  It’s an American phrase that hasn’t really been adopted here on the right side of The Atlantic.  In boxing, a sucker-punch is one that you are not expecting, such as one from the left when you are busily defending yourself against the punches coming from the right.

It’s a surprise.  Something unforeseen and against which one has no defence.

In cinematic terms it’s finding out what Rosebud is, or who Tyler Durden is, or why Andy Dufresne really wants a poster on his wall.  I’m sure you can think of a couple of dozen examples of your own … It’s a big twist ending; the sort of thing Rod Serling elevated to an art-form back in the 60s.

Right, I thought, as I paid cold, hard cash to get in to see Sucker Punch, that means all this form-over-content stuff in the trailer is just a rope-a-dope and the film is really gonna be packed with meaning and it’ll have a kick-ass surprise ending!

I had faith … I put two of Zack Snyder’s movies into my top ten of last decade.  Seriously, I don’t mind a film looking like a hundred million dollars, provided there is some meat beneath the glamour of the polished and perfect skin to nourish my appetite for something other than spectacle.  I stand by both 300 (2007) and Watchmen (2009).  They are not only excellent adaptations they are impressive visual treats with enough substance to keep my mind from ossifying in my head.

There was no sexual objectification in 300 at all, okay.  None.  Just so we're clear.
Visually, Sucker Punch is everything one would expect from one of the pioneers of literally-anything-is-possible digital film-making.  Even from its opening moments it has a visual richness which will look magnificent on Blu-Ray and which I wish I had the opportunity to see on an IMAX screen.  It is also a fantastic aural experience, demonstrating, particularly in its use of music: The entire soundtrack featuring excellent cover-versions re-imagined on a massive scale and re-purposed to very dramatic ends. 

You’re waiting for the ‘but’ … So; I’ll tease you no more: 

But the problem is all of the music is pre-existing, it has simply been re-mixed or re-recorded and therefore they represent what, I feel, is the biggest problem for the film … Snyder’s previous successes were all adaptations of works by great writers.  Or, in the case of Dawn of the Dead (2004), a re-make and up-date of a film many (wrongly) considered old-fashioned.  Sucker Punch is all Snyder’s own work.  Well, co-written with his old college-mate Steve Shibuya but based, reputedly, on Snyder’s own dreams. 
The film begins, a la Baz Luhrmann, with a curtain parting to reveal a stage.  This tells us very simply that what we are about to see is not real and not meant to be taken as such.  It’s a quick, visual way of saying “Once upon a time …”  Then we get a quick prologue, played out in mime, of our main character being locked up and abused by a wicked step-father (a not-insignificant role-reversal on the traditional fairy-tale trope) leading to her fighting back and being locked up in an asylum, on the fast-track to a lobotomy. 

The asylum is named Lennox House (after Annie Lennox, whose ‘Sweet Dreams’ forms the musical accompaniment to the story so far) and its common room is called ‘The Theatre’ because it has, at one end, a stage.  This, our protagonist is told, is where one learns to use one’s imagination to control the world. 

So, our main character promptly disappears into her own imagination where she is sold into prostitution in a brothel. 

Sorry?  Her escape is to a brothel?  Yep.  Oh, and it’s about this time that we discern that our character’s name is Baby Doll.  A nick-name, surely?  Some ironic sobriquet meant to allude to Tennessee Williams and Elia Kazan’s 1956 film of the same name, the one about abusively sexualised childhood?  No.  It’s her only given name. 

So, it’s fair to say that, ahem, ‘Baby Doll’ has self-esteem issues.
Ah, the giant-samurai-with-a-machine-gun, that ole chestnut!

Then, when she is required to debase herself by dancing (which is, of course, the PG-13 / 12A version of what a brothel is really there for) she withdraws even further into herself and escapes into a third level of unreality in which she wears a school uniform and wields a sword with Thurmanesque proficiency.  She first gets to demonstrate this by fighting giant demonic Samurai who are, of course, carrying mini-guns; all to the accompaniment of Björk’s ‘Army of Me’.

So we get to the point of the film, the two framing devices are really just an overly-elaborate excuse to parade a string of short films elucidating all of Snyder’s fantasies, which mostly seem to revolve around video-game conflict and hentai anime.

See, pop-culture in Japan is replete with so-called ‘Magical Girls’: Sword-wielding, super-powered school-girls fighting everything from demon rapists to giant robots.  Now, some apologists for this would have us believe there is nothing sexual in middle-aged men reading comics and watching cartoons featuring stylised, Westernised young girls indulging in thinly-veiled S&M.  I remain entirely unconvinced by this argument!  
Magical Girl archetype Sailor Moon.  No, I don't get it, either.

 Never-the-less, let’s conceded that we in the West only have the sketchiest idea of the immense range of manga and anime out there because very little of it is ever translated and made commercially available over here and what there is, is heavily biased towards the ‘Magical Girl’ trope.

Over here, in our media, these images just mix in with the cocktail of exploitation and degradation that even established and immensely popular female performers feel they have to put themselves through in order to get noticed.  They’ll tell you it’s ‘attitude’ or, once upon a time, ‘girl power’ but it’s not; it’s sexual exploitation.  It’s what the entertainment industry has, sadly, always relied upon.

Yes, I know she's doing it ironically, but she's still doing it - Even Lady GaGa feels she has to wear next to nothing and set her tits on fire to make people pay attention.
... And she does love appearing nearly nude in the papers.  Click to enlarge, if you want to, y'know, read the headlines ...
Meanwhile, the equally-successful Rihanna seems to feel that a singer can't be taken seriously unless she performs nearly nude.  A fine role-model from which our children should learn their behaviour, I'm sure you'll agree.*

What the publicists would have us believe is that this is a tale of female empowerment; that Baby Doll’s fantasies are really her taking control in her mind when she can’t in reality.  But surely, if this were so, she would derive some pleasure from these fantasies, but she doesn’t.  The close-ups of her face we get are, without exception, deeply disturbing depictions of misery and suffering … But what fucking use is an escape if the place you hide in is worse than the place you’ve hidden from?  What kind of masochist would you have to be for that to make any kind of sense?

So, no, this is not about empowerment in any positive sense.  It is about objectification and that age-old saw, The Male Gaze.  Whenever Baby Doll starts dancing, all the men in the brothel gather to watch and, afterwards, they are sweaty, palpitating and spent.  One of the most interesting decisions that Snyder has made (and one that helps stop me damning the film completely) is that we never see the dances; we see the video-game levels taking place in her mind instead.

These, frankly, stunning sequences, involve steampunk zombie Nazis (now how’s that for covering your demographic bases?) powered-armour and airships to the accompaniment of the ever-reliable ‘White Rabbit’, here extended, expanded and given orchestral grandeur, while a subsequent level gives us leather-clad schoolgirls vs. Orcs and a B52 bomber vs. a Vermithrax Pejorative (look it up).

Dragons vs. WW2 aircraft over Middle Earth ... What else could a young girl want out of life?
These sequences contain literally everything an emotionally-stunted, seventeen-year-old, anime-watching, cathode-ray-tanned game player with an over-developed right arm would want in a movie!  Of course, the girl who is actually fantasising about them is drawing them up from nowhere, since there is no indication that she has spent her childhood glued to her 360 and, if she hasn’t, where does she get all this imagery from?  It certainly ain’t from the music.

Problem is, even taken on a purely visceral level, there is no tension in these sequences, they have some spectacular explosions, sure, and some beautiful design, some exquisite animation, but no genuine drama.  The end-result is pretty-much inevitable.  Also, the fact that each of the sequences is, essentially, an extended video for the featured song that Baby Doll is dancing to off screen, actually becomes wearying by the time we’re into the fourth iteration of it.

Because of the film’s need to be family-friendly, despite its loathsome subject matter, the threat Baby Doll is under is drained of any credibility.  At no point is Snyder honest about what is really going on in his character’s minds; instead, like bad soft porn, he teases, he exploits, he frustrates, but he never admits what he’s really doing.  Maybe, if the film had gone for a more mature R / 15 certificate, he could have dealt with some of these very adult issues in a more adult manner and admitted that the worst thing that can happen to women in a brothel is not dancing on demand.  Maybe he could have been less coy and therefore less manipulative.  But, if he had, he would not have been given the budget to create his dragon and robots and therefore the point would be moot. 

For those of you with long memories, much of this will possibly stir up thoughts of a film from 1985 which featured a giant samurai, a protagonist who seeks empowerment in dreams and a complex ending: Terry Gilliam’s magnificent Brazil.  That film had layers of complexity within it that boggle the mind.  Sucker Punch has, deliberately or otherwise, taken some of Gilliam’s imagery, but washed it clean of all subtext and significance.

One of the ten best films of the 80s: Brazil.  Tomorrow was another day!

Have I mentioned Baby Doll’s friends?  No, I haven’t, with good reason … They are one dimensional ciphers.  Like her, they are not even afforded the dignity of a proper name, they are Sweet Pea (she’s the arsey one) and Blondie (she’s the dark haired one … can you see what they’re doing there?) and … There’s two others, but you can’t tell them apart since their roles seem solely to be to cry a lot.  The only character in the whole film who has a rounded personality and enough dialogue to make an impression is Oscar Isaac as the creepy Blue, who is variously the pimp or head orderly, depending on which reality you’re in.

I’m not even going to consider Scott Glenn’s aphorism-spouting Mentor character because he is a two-legged cliché par excellence and needs no introduction.  Just as well, really, since he isn’t afforded a proper name either.

Emily Browning: Look at all that Girl Power just oozing from every pore.
To be fair to Emily Browning, she does an excellent job with the little material she gets to work with, making Baby Doll suitably vulnerable and submissive and miserable in the first two levels of unreality, and an unstoppable action heroine in the third level.  She also has a pretty good set of pipes on her too, since she performs several of the songs in the crowded soundtrack.

At several points the girls are told that music is the short-cut to their imaginations and the empowerment of the self-hypnosis that brings.  This is an excellent notion and one deserving of further analysis; but here it just falls apart because the girls aren’t composing the music, they aren’t performing it, all they’re doing is dancing to it in their underwear like any ten-a-penny R&B performer.

Snyder requires us to care deeply about these girls, but this is simply not possible given the mono-dimensionality of their roles and the fact that it takes the best part of an hour to figure out their names.  But, further, in order to give a damn about them, we have to forget that opening shot: That curtain opening.  We have to forget that this is all taking place in someone’s mind and that none of these girls are real.

Click to enlarge and get a good look at all that head-to-foot Kevlar they're wearing.
So, as a very wise (and very tall) friend of mine – who thoroughly adores this film – pointed out to me that the real sucker punch in this film is delivered by the way its publicity led me to believe that it was going to be a cunning, post-modern, ironic dissection of sexist male-focussed entertainment tropes when, in actual fact, it’s simply the noisiest, highest-budget and most exploitative celebration of those tropes ever!  Well done, Mr. Snyder, y’got me!

The supreme irony of this film is that it passes The Bechdel Test, in that it features more than one woman with (sort of) names, who talk to each other about something other than men.  That is usually considered proof that the film is a female-friendly piece of work and one that feminists will embrace.  A little research indicates that such is not entirely the case …

If is to be believed here, opinions range from describing it as: ‘… ugly, stupid, offensive, depressing, sexist and boring in equal measures’ to possibly missing the point with: ‘… a lip-smacking piece of action burlesque, pulling one surprise after another from its splendidly filled fishnets’.  The two-handed critics have given the film an average score of 2 out of 10, whereas IMDB’s readers, who obviously must include a significant proportion of one-handed fanboys among their number, have given it an average 6 out of 10 here.

One reviewer, Adam Quigley – on the ever-reliable /Film – has ridden to the film’s defence with this cogent and intelligent piece which I thoroughly appreciate and with which I almost completely disagree.  By way of creating perfect balance, the same site also published this equally-intelligent but, to my mind, far more compelling dissection of the film’s fake feminism, by Angie Han.  I encourage you to take a few minutes to read both sides of the /Film coin.

But, of course, the film wasn’t made for us crits, it was made for the one-handed stimulation of … Well, people like Zack Snyder, I guess.

Dir: Zack Snyder
Stars:  Sailor Moon, The Bride and Obi-Wan Kenobi
Dur: 11 mins
Cert: 12A

* And, yes, including pictures of Lady GaGa and Rihanna and labelling them with the word 'nude' was absolutely a cynical ploy to increase the hit-rate on my blog.