As this movie begins, we see the 20-year old girl who becomes known as Baby Doll on a theatrical stage, which immediately shifts over to her “real” life in presentation. She’s frightened because her mother is at death’s door and she and her little sister are looking at spending their lives with their wicked stepfather. Baby Doll’s fears are realized and her stepfather is livid over the idea that the girls stand to take everything from their mother’s inheritance. He lashes out and intends to inflict sexual harm on the girls, but Baby Doll fights back, inadvertently killing her little sister in the process. With the police on his side, the stepfather has Baby Doll committed to an asylum where he has signed papers to have her lobotomized. With five days remaining to her before the procedure, Baby Doll attempts to escape using the power of her imagination.
That’s a pretty simplistic overview of the set-up for Sucker Punch the latest movie from visionary director Zack Snyder. Now I’m a big fan of Snyder’s, I’ve loved all of his previous films which include the re-make of Dawn of the Dead, and adaptations of Frank Miller’s 300, Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons’ Watchmen and Kathryn Lasky’s Guardians of Ga’Hoole adapted as Legend of the Guardians: The Owls of Ga’Hoole. They’ve all been very entertaining rides extremely true to their sources and so for me, Snyder has been batting a thousand…
… and stee-rike one! Well, to be fair, it isn’t a total loss, there’s a lot to recommend about Sucker Punch and good portions of it that I did find extremely entertaining and I expect for a certain audience range, they’ll think this is pretty special. To some extent, they’re right to do so, though I expect that all depends on how much you want this to weigh with it’s narrative as opposed to it’s flash and style.
A popular thing to do with music these days is the mash-up, merging together two songs for something that will be effective. Sucker Punch is the ultimate mash-up movie. From the start, to me, it looks like Snyder is mashing together filmmaking styles like those of Jean Jeunet and Dario Argento. This shifts over to a mash-up of genres from samurai movies, to fantasy movies to war movies to science fiction movies to anime to psychological drama. In the big picture sense, it could be seen as a mash-up of a high-powered action movie with a musical thanks to it’s effective use of songs. To a comic book fan, I’d describe this as Danger Girl creator J.Scott Campbell’s version of Shutter Island.
On this level, Sucker Punch succeeds wildly as sensory overload. The action sequences occurring in Baby Doll’s mind are absolutely spectacular and one of them in particular involving Baby Doll and friends assaulting a train filled with killer robots is about as good as an action sequence gets.
Where this falls apart though is in it’s narrative, but again, that’s only if that’s going to be that big a deal to you. it was for me simply because with a few more scenes, this could’ve been filled out to actually have that make sense in it’s own way. Baby Doll, obviously a female, tries to find her escape through her imagination. Only her imagination is that of a twenty-something male who plays a lot of video games and reads a lot of comics and fantasy fiction. Now I know that may sound entirely sexist, but without any sort of set-up, that’s just how it comes off. Some sort of scene showing Baby Doll embracing these male fantasies near the start could’ve gone a long way to making this make sense, but as it is, it doesn’t. At the same time, I don’t necessarily think that’s a major concern of Snyder’s either.
The end of the film, literally the sucker punch the title refers to basically comes at you from left field. it’s really hard to go into this without spoiling it, and I don’t want to spoil it. But again, a little more set-up into that could’ve gone a long way to making that a lot more effective.
Finally there’s Baby Doll and the other girls. While in the asylum, Baby Doll builds a friendship with four other girls, Sweet Pea, Rocket, Blondie and Amber. The actresses involved, Emily Browning as Baby Doll, Abbie Cornish as Sweet Pea, Jena Malone as Rocket, Vanessa Hudgens as Blondie and Jamie Chung as Amber all come off as very plastic. They’re pretty good together in the action scenes, but scenes with them “bonding” just tended to make me snicker a bit. On the other hand though, this characterization and their look are true to some anime I’ve seen and so on that level, I guess it does work.
What works better for me are the brief appearances by Carla Gugino as Dr. Gorski, the doctor in charge of the girls and Jon Hamm as the doctor who’s scheduled to give Baby Doll her lobotomy. Oscar Isaac plays the orderly who’s essentially the villain of the piece, and really he just wasn’t that threatening. Scott Glenn plays an advisor of sorts in Baby Doll’s fantasies and he certainly lends some credibility to them.
In the end, as a sight and sound experience, Sucker Punch is indeed spectacular and is about as well technically made as it gets. I’d actually like to see this again, but on a second viewing, I’d like to see it with a Zack Snyder commentary just to get into his mind about what he was wanting to accomplish with this. As a story, it’s all pretty shallow though it tries to give the impression that there’s a lot more depth to it. With a few more scenes, that could’ve been resolved to some extent, but as it is, I really didn’t find a lot to give a damn about when it comes to the actual characters of the piece. This isn’t for everybody by any means, it’s a love letter of sorts to all of the stuff that Snyder is a fan of which just happens to be a lot of the same stuff that fans of genre fiction, comics and video games share. I’ve heard some refer to it as a love it or hate it movie. Well, for me, I was in the middle, and so this gets a marginal recommendation.