‘Sucker Punch’ & ‘Scotty Pilgrim Versus The World’
Today’s Movie double is a no-brainer. These are 2 films that essentially bring video game graphic sensibilities into the movies. As such it seems fitting to at least bash these 2 coconuts together to have a look at what comes out.
‘Sucker Punch’ has been getting some strange responses around the traps. I think it’s one of those films where it provokes a certain kind of wowserism out of all sides of the political spectrum. Personally, I don’t see what the big deal is with girls showing off their figures in dance studio trainers and fishnet tights if it’s set in an asylum brothel cabaret. Yeah, it’s degrading to women, but it’s degrading to men too. In fact, most of our civilisation is degrading to everybody. It’s not a good excuse, but sometimes some things are not as particular critics make them out to be. The point of ‘Sucker Punch’ seems to be – if it can have anything so poignant as a point – is that life is full of ugly men and a gal’s simply got to fight her way through the crap they dish up.
In most part, the action of the girls shooting and stabbing and punching their way through fantasy fight sequences that looked like something out of Final Fantasy was reminiscent of ‘Sailor Moon’. Nobody really complains about Sailor Moon’s skirt being too short. Or maybe they do. I personally feel like I’m just too old for this stuff to be impressed by it, but even allowing for it, the film has some interesting moments.
‘Scotty Pilgrim Versus the World’ by contrast draws much of its inspiration from arcade game beat’em ups. The moment they start fighting, the scores start dialing up in the frame. The graphics work over time to convey the sense of frantic movement in combat games while hyper-real depictions of over-the-top-impossible action makes for some pretty plastic viewing. It’s not good or bad, it is beyond that kind of critique; it’s more surreal and dream-like without being beholden to Dali’s vision of the surreal. No melting clocks, no references to Dali.
In each instance, the exaggerated action and elastic portrayal of time harks back to manga and anime. It’s not hard to see the gush of ‘Cool Japan’ washing up on the shores of Hollywood and getting appropriated.
Conflict Without Drama
There’s a lot of killing and maiming and blowing things up in both films. What’s interesting in each instance is that no matter what the stakes, there is no doubt whatsoever about who is supposed to win. As such, the suspense is less than optimal. To remedy this problem ‘Sucker Punch’ resorts to killing off the team members to show the conflict is deadly. This makes the film far less sentimental – which is a good thing – but in turn gives it a new problem of making the audience wonder about the narrative displacement. Every time the girls go on a mission, the film’s narrative switches over to a computer game fantasy combat sequence. At one point the narratives overlap and we see how the two lines interconnect when Rocket dies; but it raises the question as to why the metaphorical combat sequence is truly necessary. Maybe there was an even more thrilling film in telling the straight up story of breaking out of the asylum. By displacing the narrative to the fantasy space, it actually detracts from the drama, not heighten it.
‘Scotty Pilgrim’ too suffers from the same issue. If the combat scenes are in fact ‘real’ in terms of the action on screen, then the film is simply too silly to sustain a full viewing. It is only when we understand the combat sequences as metaphorical representations of the interpersonal conflict, that the film starts to have any kind of emotional depth, but again the dissociation kills the drama.
It’s an interesting development in narratives but I don’t know if it really can sustain a lot of meaning. It’s the opposite of a film like ‘Never Let Me Down’ I wrote about yesterday because in that film, the drama is particularly poignant because the problems for the characters are inescapable problems of the story. Once the problems get re-stated in these metaphor sequences, somehow the problems also get abstracted.
That being said some of these sequences on both these films are pretty spectacular and delightful to watch. Just don’t look too deeply for meaning. Too much irony will kill a film.
Chicks With Guns
We’re in a new period of cinema where guys like to watch girls beat up on bad guys. We can call this the Cinema of Ange, after Angelina Jolie who has been kicking butt since playing Lara Croft. Angelina Jolie has had a string of films where she plays the kick ass woman – ‘Wanted’, ‘Salt’, ‘Mr & Mrs Smith’ and in the wake has been an acceptance that maybe watching the feminine form – read “Hot Body” – beat up on bad guys is more fun than watching another bloke do it. This transition was particularly pronounced when Angelina Jolie got the role for ‘Salt’ instead of Tom Cruise.
Suddenly there is no shortage of movies where females are toting guns in sexy garb, showing a bit of leg in fishnets. It’s like some BDSM fetishist dream come true, but there they are in ‘Sucker Punch’. I found myself laughing mostly, but I can well imagine the film is going to be some kind of cult hit for years to come. It’s a lot sexier than Snyder’s other offerings in ‘300’ and ‘The Watchmen’. ‘Scotty Pilgrim’ also slides into the weird terrain of girls high-kicking with long leather boots. I mean, if there were girls like that back at my school, my high school days might not have been so miserable. Then again, they might have been worse.
The point of all this is unclear, but there seems to have been a change in demographic in the Hollywood system that readily accepts this and ever more vampire stories. Oh look, they’re planning another incarnation of Buffy the Vampire Slayer.
Post-Modernity Goes Rococo
Both these films are pretty mannered. They have many sources which they then milk for effect and move on to the next influence they can milk. Both films are a kind of testament to the victory of form over function, style over content kind of movies – but for once the styles are enjoyable enough that you don’t care too much about the shortage of content. After all, if you find yourself watching a movie with chicks in tight clothes fighting orcs, mechanical zombies and droids, while a B-24 Liberator dogfights with a dragon, just what kind of content is going to satisfy you as being sufficiently ‘content-y’? Isn’t it the case that sometimes, one should just go with the flow of visuals? Maybe at that point one should admit, asking for the kind of rich, thought-provoking content like in ‘Cracks’ or ‘Never Let Me Go’ is an entirely incorrect expectation for such films.
Anyway, I though I’d mention that because it’s not as if I didn’t have fun watching these films. It takes all kinds of films to make up cinema after all. We might have bitched about the obscurantist terror that is post-modernism back in the 1980s but at this point in time it is interesting to see that workable method of narrative has emerged from that soil.
Rickenbacker Bass Mention
It goes without saying, the coolest thing about Scotty might be his flame-glo Rickenbacker bass. Why that is his choice of bass guitar escapes me; maybe I missed it, but the choice gets my vote.