Sucker Punch: Lives Up To Its Name In Every Way

26 03 2011

While Zack Snyder is known for his masterful adaptations (Watchmen, 300) Sucker Punch is his first attempt at directing a film based on his own original script. Here’s the breakdown:

After being institutionalized by her evil stepfather, Baby Doll (Emily Browning) must delve into a layered realm of alternate realities in order to collect the necessary items needed to escape. Fellow patients Rocket (Jena Malone), Sweet Pea (Abbie Cornish), Blondie (Vanessa Hudgens) and Amber (Jamie Chung) join Baby Doll in her fight for survival.

The Monkey: This movie is a study in stylized filmmaking. From its brain-buzzing soundtrack to its gratuitous slow motion, Sucker Punch has no qualms about being a sensory feast. It owns it and drives it home so hard, you can hardly argue with the execution. The term “eye-candy” seems far too subdued – Sucker Punch is more like an eye-gasm. For every single one of its 109 minutes, Sucker Punch gives the audience something to look at. Whether it’s absurdly perfect eyelashes or a full-on mechanized-Nazi-zombie brawl, every frame is gorgeous. And yes, I just said mechanized-Nazi-zombie brawl. More on that later.

The movie’s structure was far more complex than the trailers implied, and anytime a movie offers more than a trailer promises, it’s a win. The story takes place on three planes of existence: reality, a subconscious realm and an even deeper level – a psychological battlefield. This Inception-esque layering was well done and easy to follow; plus, it gave Snyder free reign to, quite literally, do whatever the hell he wanted.

The subconscious level sees Baby Doll and her compatriots as prostitutes in a lavish bordello, run by the evil Blue Jones (Oscar Isaac). Isaac’s villainous portrayal was one of the best in the film, maybe even of recent movie memory. His pencil mustache and flamboyant panache belied his black heart, making his slow descent and loss of control even more enjoyable. The madame of the bordello, Vera Gorski (Carla Gugino), was the perfect mix of seasoned mother-figure and hard-bitten taskmaster – heavy Polish accent and all. While these scenes house the major plot of the movie, it’s Baby Doll’s trance-like state that launches Sucker Punch into the fantastic.

Forced to dance for customers, Baby Doll is able to mesmerize her audience, giving her friends ample opportunity to collect a number of items needed for escape: a map, fire, a knife, and a key. As her eyes flutter shut and the dance takes over, Baby Doll is transported to fantastical worlds wrought with danger. What follows? A series of mind-warping, eye-gasmic, awesomeness: five beautiful girls fighting mechanized-Nazi-zombies in a biplane and zeppelin riddled WWII landscape; hordes of orcs and fire-breathing dragons in a besieged castle; massive, gatling gun wielding samurai warriors in a snow-swept monastery; and legions of gleaming robots aboard a high-speed hover train. Sound like a trip? You bet your ass.

Critics are complaining about Snyder’s gratuitous use of slow motion. Screw that. There could have been more. The action is so well choreographed, so visually entertaining, you want it to last for as long as possible. Go back and read the above paragraph again and tell me you don’t want to see that in glorious slow motion. Thought so.

Jena Malone and Abbie Cornish were the standout performers. As sisters Rocket and Sweet Pea, their relationship was the most solid and believable of the film, which, by the end, made perfect sense. And Scott Glenn as “The Wise Man” was perfect, his weathered frame taking on the roles of general, monk and yes, even bus driver. His pre-mission bits of wisdom (always prefaced with, “Oh, and one more thing…”) were quirky and sincere, helping craft one of the most memorable characters of the whole movie.

Three words: buy the soundtrack. From haunting covers (Sweet Dreams) to bone-jarring remixes (Army of Me) the music was the ultimate companion to the over-stimulation onscreen. It’s also worth noting that Baby Doll actress Emily Browning lends her vocal talents to three of the tracks as well – and she’s pretty good too.

Quick side note: those who are suddenly voicing concerns about the upcoming Superman reboot (reportedly titled Man of Steel) based on their opinion that Sucker Punch was sub-par…they need to calm down. Superman is hardly a Snyder original idea, and he’s shown in the past that he can knock an adaptation out of the ball park. And with Christopher Nolan involved, there should be no concerns…so take a deep breath naysayers…geez.

The Weasel: Emily Browning was rather drab and unaffecting as the lead character, Baby Doll. Her eyes, while wreathed with perfect eyelashes and bleached-blonde hair, were vacant, and her performance lacked the energy needed to match the film’s tone. And can someone please stop hiring Vanessa Hudgens? Hopefully after her ridiculous overacting as Blondie and her disaster of a film that was Beastly, this recently Zac-Efron-less “actress” will cease to invade screens, both small and large. Jamie Chung and John Hamm were criminally underutilized.

The critique that Sucker Punch moved along like a video game is warranted: collect item #1, collect item #2, etc. In the end, it lent the movie a familiar skeleton to drape its CGI trappings over, but was really neither here nor there.

The shift in focus away from Baby Doll at the end of the movie was the most unsettling, especially because the whole opening scene (one of the few scenes that take place in the real world) was centered around her. If it was meant to be a twist, it failed, although I think it was due to a lack of script editing more than anything else.

Was the plot groundbreaking? No. Did Emily Browning deliver an Oscar-worthy performance? No. Is there any rhyme or reason as to why Baby Doll sinks into a dance-trance and fights insane battles? Absolutely not. Should you care? Hell no.

4 Death Stars out of 5

What do you think? Did Sucker Punch live up to your expectations? Should Zack Snyder stick to adaptations, or did you enjoy his original story? What was your favorite fight scene? Share your thoughts in the comments!

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14 responses

26 03 2011
Aaron Shively

I agree completely about Emily Browning. She just wasn’t there, it seemed like especially since we were in HER mind. Vanessa Hudgens I heard about twenty “Thank God”s when Vanessa Hudgens… well, you know.

26 03 2011
Dustin

Ha! Thanks for the spoiler-free comment 😉 Yeah, and too bad about Emily Browning – I’ve really liked her other stuff – hopefully she’ll redeem herself in future projects!

26 03 2011
scarletsp1der

ha! I rather enjoyed reading your review more than usual! Nicely done! Good call on Jon Hamm’s being underused, Snyder’s great use of slow-mo, and Rocket and Sweet Pea’s relationship! Agree on all points!

Visually amazing, but the ending is really what undid all of the work for me! I felt…suckerpunched! ha!

Oh, and I’m so glad you spoke up about Snyder and Nolan and Superman. Thank you! (okay, got that off my chest!) 🙂

26 03 2011
Dustin

Thanks for the comment! And yeah, definitely still have faith in the Superman reboot – they won’t fail us! 🙂

28 03 2011
Katie

I LOVED this movie! Thanks for the awesome review Dustin – it got me totally pumped for this last night. I only disagree on two things:

1. I was ok with Browning, she was sort of weird and static but I almost liked it. Like she was Zombing through the motions towards this inevitable end, fighting but in a really subdued almost fatalistic way. Anyways, I think I liked, not loved, it – but felt like defending her a bit anyways.

2. I LOVED the ending! I don’t want to put too many spoilers in but since you already mentioned the “shift in focus” I’ll just refer to that. I actually think it was a really cool literary device. I mean think about it – we *always* watch the story of the hero, when do we ever see the story about the sidekick? Anytime someone tries that the sidekick inevitably *becomes* the hero, we can’t help it. The “hero’s journey” is well documented but what about all the other characters in those stories? They all have stories of their own, told in their own perspective but where they don’t come out the triumphant star at the end. And this might be the special treats I ate while watching the movie talking, but I think we don’t ever see that because it’s unsettling to us because what does that mean for us? I mean aren’t we all the heroes of our own stories (as common as they might be) so what if we discover at the end we were only a supporting actor in our own play? {{cue slow creepy soundtrack music – which, btw, I also found to be absolutely amazing!}}

3. I don’t think this counts as disagreement because I’m saying the same thing as you but in a different light. to the criticism that it moves forward like a video game – I think that was the only authentic way to present it. Remember that the second and third levels of the movie all exist inside Babydoll’s mind, so she’s trying to make sense of what’s happening around her by putting it into a story that she can control. If you think about it that way, the plots inside those sublevels HAVE to be very simple and I’d venture that that was a purposeful move by the writer/director. She lives in a complex reality where she has little to no control but apparently hatched some sort of plan. Then within her psyche she broke that plan into actionable segments, telling herself if she accomplished each of them she would be able to save everyone. But that simplicity didn’t translate to reality as directly as she hoped. I think the structure supports the symbolism of the two sublevels perfectly. So I agree it was video-game-esque but then I go further to say that that choice was spot on.

I don’t know. I guess I thought I expected this movie to be a fun action flick that would awe in 3D and I was surprised to find it had much deeper undercurrents – but it’s like when we read Neverwhere, you can choose to explore those themes or just enjoy it on the flick level which is, I think, the mark of a great movie.

Totally agree with 4/5 but I might even go so far as 4.5 🙂

28 03 2011
Dustin

LOVE your comments, Katie – and I’m SO glad you loved the movie! 🙂 Great points about the video-game plot being a reflection of Baby Doll’s lack of control in the real world. And the commentary about the “sidekick” – I totally get it, and I’ll probably watch it again in a new light. Because of that, though, I bet this story would have been an even better book!

Can’t wait to see this again in the IMAX! 🙂

29 03 2011
Katie

oh you TOTALLY *have* to see it in IMAX!!! It was insane. And yea I would have loved this as a book – cool that it’s an original screenplay, just bummer that there’s no book to read! P.S: If you do go see it again in IMAX, I recommend bringing treats.

30 03 2011
Dustin

Katie, I saw this movie again the other night and loved it EVEN MORE! I think I’m going to write a follow up post to this review – more of a commentary this time. I caught SOOO many more things the second time around! 🙂 Definitely a 4.5 in my book now, and my favorite movie of 2011 so far!

31 03 2011
Cal

i really want to see this movie again. I feel like I missed a lot of things in the beginning, just trying to figure out what was gong on. I feel l like Emily Browning had 3 lines in the whole movie which was kind of effective, but still seemed like they just wanted her face as “baby doll”.
It was just a clever story that MADE you pay attention to every single line and scene in the movie. The visual effects were absolutely stunning. It would be worth seeing for that alone!
I can’t wait to see it again!

31 03 2011
Dustin

Yeah, you’ll definitely pick up on so much more the second time around. Working on a follow up post now, highlighting some of the really great imagery and metaphor that I think went over most people’s heads, especially at first viewing. People who are hating on this movie just didn’t get it, lol 🙂

1 04 2011
Erica

Concept-wise, this could have been a really kick ass film. I totally dig the whole One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest-esque theme, but when it came to the script and development, it really disappointed me. Emily Browning only has about 5 lines and then the rest of the movie, all she does is grunt during the fight scenes (which were AMAZING). There really wasn’t much acting done in the movie because bulk of it was really just fighting. And that really just irks me because I love Emily Browning as an actress. There really wasn’t enough real acting in the movie to clearly distinguish her skills as an actress.
The ending was quite unsettling the way it switches focus, but like I said, it’s like One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest- everything is about McMurphy up until the end (and if you haven’t read/seen One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, I recommend that you do- it really makes Sucker Punch easier to understand).
But, all in all, what Sucker Punch lacked in development, it made up in badass girls, amazing CGI effects and an ear orgasm generating soundtrack.

3 04 2011
Dustin

Nice comparison with ‘One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest’, I hadn’t thought of that! Definitely loved the visuals and the soundtrack as well. I would give the movie a second look, though. There is a lot more going on that gets a bit drowned out by the visuals on a first pass. And the more I think about it, the more I think a bit more creative editing could have solved a lot of the plot inconsistencies, rather than huge script revisions. I’m working on a commentary piece for this movie now, so check back and see what you think!
Thanks for the comments! 🙂

29 12 2011
Per

I must say I was utterly disappointed with this movie – I couldn’t even bear to finish it, after 40-some minutes. There was no point, nothing that caught my interest, no emotional catch. You want to care about the protagonist, but the movie completely failed to get that across. Acting was non-existent. It was ‘dead’, and I think I’d rather watch paint dry.

28 02 2012
Dustin

Yeah, I can see where the emotional “hook” could be found nonexistent. Maybe try viewing it as more of a metaphor, an allegory of sorts? Or, just skip it and find something that’s more your cup of tea 🙂 Thanks for the comment, Per!

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