Film review: Sucker Punch (2011), directed by Zack Snyder
Going to the cinema for the first time since Harry Potter 7 last year, and I was hoping to see a Captain America trailer. No such luck. Got one for Thor, however, which is one we’re likely to see when it comes out later this month.
In preparation for this film, not knowing anything about it, I read a couple of reviews I came across just to see what it’s actually about, as the trailers were … giving very little away. Matthew at Cinephilia & Sass was disappointed, and Daily Mail‘s Chris Tookey didn’t exactly pull any punches either. Having seen the movie as an outing with friends, I agree with them.
Sucker Punch starts out almost like a tragic rock video. A young woman (Emily Browning) and her little sister lose their mother and finding his wife left everything to his daughters, the creepy stepdad seizes the opportunity to get drunk and take revenge, like the song choice says: “some of them want to abuse you” (a cover of Eurythmics’ Sweet Dreams (Are Made Of This), performed by Emily Browning herself, apparently).
Trying to protect her younger sister, which is the one the man goes after when he fails to attack the older one, Big Sis fires a gun, accidentally killing her sister. Creepy Stepdad has her committed to a “no questions asked” mental asylum. A guy comes by ever so often to perform lobotomies on patients, and with that her memory will be wiped clean. No one will ever need knowing what happened and what the reason behind the shooting really was.
Big sis, or “Baby Doll” as the character is called (yes, really), instantly transports herself to a sleazy establishment where she is kept prisoner along with a bunch of other young women (Abbie Cornish, Jena Malone, Vanessa Hudgens and Jamie Chung). They dance, they make sure the clients have a good time, know-what-I-mean. While dancing, which is something that keeps all the men in the room enthralled, Baby Doll does another feat of impressive escapism and loses herself in yet another fantasy world of her own. One where she kicks ass and is super powerful and defeats various enemies. And then it’s back to the club again.
In her first second level escapism (supergirl) incident, she learns what she needs to escape and find freedom: four items. This then translates into the first level escapism world (sleazeclub), where she hatches a plot with some of the other girls to break free. And to get the items, she has to do some dancing. Meanwhile, the girls are trying to get the items in the club world and in the super world, we get high-octane battle scenes: Samurai robots in Feudal Japan, steam-powered German zombies with zeppelins and trenches, the battle of Helm’s Deep with added dragons and finally, a train heist in a futuristic/sci-fi setting. And that’s it, basically.
The real world of the asylum, where the lobotomiser is looming is translated into “the High Roller” in sleazeclub world (Jon Hamm, Don Draper in Mad Men), and other people are also transferred. An orderly at the asylum shows up as the club owner Blue (Oscar Isaac, Prince John in Robin Hood), the psychologist is the dance trainer (Carla Gugino, who was also in Snyder’s take on Watchmen), and so on.
When we came out of the cinema, my two companions (i.e. Mr T and our mutual friend) were raving about it. It was magnificent, though not Oscar-winning, and the genre-blending and battle scenes were awesome. My comment to them was not “were we watching the same film?!” but rather a dry “that’s because you’re the target audience” – i.e. they are a) heterosexual males and b) gamers. They are also into Feudal Japan, orchs, dragons and sci-fi. And they thought it was pretty good.
I thought it was pretty bad.
Baby Doll, thus called because that’s what she looks like – a doll, dressed in a skimpy Japanese Anime sailor outfit. She also only has the grand total of one facial expression in the whole film: Pouty Sexface. It gets a bit grating after a while. Apologists will say that her one expression is down to her dulled emotions from losing her mother and accidentally killing her sister. Bull! Her female friends had a bigger emotional range to display, and just as skimpy outfits. Fans of the female form, you’re in for a treat.
The story itself might be quite original, how fantasy and real life interact with one another, and yes, it’s fun to have the different genres and all, but it turned into a big visual spectacle (with slow-motion battle scenes which were new and unique in 300 five years ago, now old hat) without substance.
Who were these girls? They had no personality, there was nothing to either of them but a pretty face. Frankly, I couldn’t give a stuff what happened to them, and if it had been done differently and the focus been on something else, then perhaps the film would’ve been better. Girls trying to break out of a dodgy insane asylum before signatures are forged and they’re lobotomised – that’s actually a rather interesting plot. As it turned out, it was like a very long rock video or a cut scene in a first person shooter game. What did the movie try to say? “OMG this is so AH-SUM duuude!” followed by “I’ll be in my bunk”?
Sucker Punch is like a visual wank. Fun while you’re at it, perhaps, but in reality, it’s just a pubescent mess.
1.4 out of 5 stages.