Contributor: Henry T.
Written by Zack Snyder and Steve Shibuya
Directed by Zack Snyder
Count me disappointed, blind-sided, and wondering if I should have asked for my money back. I was hoping, at least based on the awesome-looking trailers, that I was going to have a great time with an action-packed two hour film featuring scantily-clad young women. Sure, it delivered that and rather striking visuals, but ultimately, the story ends up way too thin to support those visuals and provide any context for what was happening. It wasn’t anywhere near involving and felt like we were in a video game, playing without a controller. It wouldn’t matter because there are no stakes in everything that they’re doing. I would have cheered for the main characters if that were so. Instead, it goes out with a whimper.
What starts out looking like a complicated story really isn’t much of one. Baby Doll (Emily Browning) is institutionalized by an evil-ish stepfather and immediately put in for a frontal lobotomy. Snyder wastes no time on this, even though he’s completely in love with slow-motion for no particular reason. She’s under the care of Dr. Gorsky (Carla Gugino) who somehow consents to this horrible procedure. Once Baby Doll is put into the chair for the procedure, we go inside her head with basically a re-dressing of the insane asylum into a high-price brothel. Baby Doll consigns to escaping the brothel with a cabal of other “call girls” (Jena Malone, Abbie Cornish, Vanessa Hudgens, and Jamie Chung). Her plan involves the acquisition of five simple objects for which somehow, Baby Doll entrances people with her dancing while entering a secondary dream world where the girls take on dragons, Nazi’s, robots, and other things.
I came into the film with high, though not unreasonable expectations. What a letdown. Snyder has had an inconsistent track record as a director and with it being his baby as co-writer, it isn’t much better. He’s so overly in love with slow-motion and much of it didn’t service what transpired onscreen. His music selections for the soundtrack have been questionable in his last film, “Watchmen”, and now, here as well. They aren’t subtle at all. Many of the songs have the word “mind” in it and I think Snyder chose them to say, “Look at the story being told in her mind! The music reflects that as well since the music mentions the mind.” Those were the more stylistic concerns. I didn’t really mind the blatant objectification of young women being perpetuated throughout the film, mainly because I was so bored throughout most of it.
The action is well set up and visually stunning, but there needed to be context behind the action. There also need to be stakes behind everything. That’s precisely the problem. The action exists in Baby Doll’s mind so there is no worry that any of the girls are in any danger. It’s implied that Baby Doll’s dancing is so entrancing that the girls can easily get away with whatever they’re trying to do, which usually involves stealing from the over-the-top villains. The plan is made so obvious by the girls that frankly, I was surprised the bad guys didn’t figure things out sooner.
The girls also jump onboard with the plan with little resistance, but that’s treated almost as an afterthought. Blue (Oscar Issac) threatens the girls because he seems to have figured out their plan, but doesn’t do anything about it until it’s too late. It’s also implied that during the epic action sequences that the girls are carrying out aspects of their plan, but it’s hard to reconcile slaying a dragon with getting fire, for example. Or taking out a bomb nicknamed “Kitchen knife” (like I said, not real subtle) as a substitute for an actual kitchen knife on one of the guys. We know that Baby Doll eventually gets out of the asylum and when they reach the end of their journey, Baby Doll inexplicably sacrifices herself so that Sweet Pea (Cornish) can get out. Sweet Pea had spent the entire movie as a wet blanket, criticizing Baby Doll’s plans and wasn’t even the one we were rooting for, yet she gets out. It’s unsatisfying as a payoff to say the least.
So what does this film teach us? Well, I have to think the lasting message is that it doesn’t matter how good your film looks. The story and the characters have to matter. When there’s no substance behind the characters or we don’t know what their motivations are, there’s little reason to care about what happens to them onscreen. The structure of the story doesn’t help things either. Little time is spent in what seems like “reality” to them inside the asylum, too much time is spent in the brothel, all of it in Baby Doll’s head, which isn’t very interesting to begin with. It’s so bad that I can’t even bring myself to care about the sexual titilation that runs rampant throughout the movie. That’s a big problem. I really want my money back.
An interesting code to this review: While I haven’t seen the film yet, I’ve read a lot about it, and it would appear that at least one of the original intentions for the film was to demonstrate how “hot action chicks” are not female-empowering, but rather, just a different form of male exploitation. It definitely seems like that would bring a new layer to what was on-screen, at least in terms of what it says about the characters.
That said, even the reviewers taking that philosophical layer into account seem to agree that this is a question of interesting ideas with poor execution. Whether or not the infamous behind-the-scenes turmoil between Snyder and the studio had anything to do with that impression, I don’t know; certainly, the news of a vastly extended director’s cut already planned for DVD/Blu-Ray release seems to suggest a better version might exist. Then again, it might be even more of a hot mess than the studio cut!
But I can say that I’ll be checking it out, even if this review is a bit daunting.