There is a game that is played between critics and films sometimes. Occasionally a film comes along which is kicked to death in the street like some sort of cathartic act of bullying. I can only imagine critics walking out of certain films with some sort of mob mentality dropping on them like a Derren Brown collective piece of mind control. What causes this is the perfect storm often of excess onscreen, excess offscreen (in particular the press notes) and the film itself being no good. There are other things that will help this along. A commercially successful director who has never really produced anything all that brilliant. Use of the word vision: as in “from the visionary director”, or his own “unique vision”. Sometimes I wonder if it is just a matter of critical flexing of their otherwise weedy and Vitamin D deprived muscles. Certainly we saw it earlier this year with John Carter, a perfectly amiable folly which I rather enjoyed. Because that is the thing with these follies, they often aren’t the worst thing in the world, they are often rehabilitated, enjoyed for what they were, or even ironically taken up. As I said above it’s a game, and getting to the end of this list it is a game I am playing for the second time. I already slagged this film of last year, and had a perfectly good time in doing so. And a year on, I am starting to feel a bit bad about it, whilst having committed to playing this game one last time.
It is useful to have a general consensus that the worst film of 2011 was Sucker Punch. There are plenty of reasons why this film is terrible. Nested dream sequences within nested hallucinations. Gratuitous titillating video-game combat sequences which appear to be focus grouped by sixteen year old boys, yet a film that likes to think of itself as in the vanguard of female empowerment. An issues picture where the issue it is complaining about is the mistreatment of women in 1950’s mental asylums – bang on the button there. And of course all of these wild contradictions, all of these mecha-mistakes on narrative cinema, and even the state of current blockbuster cinema is why it really isn’t the worst film of last year. Its also what makes it so fascinating to talk about in a way that, say Scream 4 just isn’t.
I still feel comfortable in saying it was my worst film of last year (even if I got a much more visceral dislike from Confessions), as I cannot say I really enjoyed watching it. And sometimes I really do enjoy watching films other people hate, even I have to check myself when I say how much I enjoyed Speed Racer. But I have to say that all the time I was watching Sucker Punch I was also taking it apart in my head. Saving up the bizarre train rescue sequence, saving up the point and click “collect a key” structure to make some point about the video gamification of movies. As I said last year, the thing that really annoyed me about Sucker Punch was its structure was just like a musical, where the musical sequences were her replaced by over the top CGI combat effect sequences. I will still stand by that, but then I really like musicals. And I had heard that there was a point when there were musical and dance numbers in Sucker Punch, so perhaps I was lamenting the film I wanted to see. I want to see Zack Snyder make an OTT original musical, and why not have samurai swords and nazi’s and machine guns and everything in it, because that is what musicals are. And of course this is the problem.
There is a good chance, a very good chance, that all of the problems with Sucker Punch are laid bare in the movie. I’ve elucidated them at length. But there is also a good chance that the problem is with me. The trailer did say “from the visionary director of 300 and Watchmen”. I’ll go with that, he has a good knack for reproducing comic styles on celluloid. But there is a chance that Snyder is also a proper visionary director, ahead of his time, using this first opportunity to make an original film from his own bonce that stands so far outside mainstream conceptions of good narrative cinema that I, and most critics, could not appreciate it. After all I saw forty silent movies last year, I see too many films anyway and surely I would be the last person to recognise this. I think its unlikely, but maybe I should give him the benefit of the doubt. But to do that, I have to still say it was the worst film of last year. I want to eat these words in twenty years time!