Why does everyone hate Sucker Punch? Was it the giant samurai robots toting artillery guns? Was it the WWI steampunk German zombies? Was it the fire-breathing dragons or the armies of orcs? Or was it the emphasis on over-the-top, stylized visuals over a bleak and irrelevant storyline? Does anyone really care about the depressing fable of a young girl, abused by her stepfather and left to rot in an asylum, escaping into a fantasy within a fantasy? Well, it is no crazier than the much more successful and well-received mind-bender, Inception. (No, I’m not saying that Sucker Punch is as good as Inception. I’m just drawing some parallels. Chillax!) To be fair, many male-oriented action flicks feature equally implausible stunts and meaningless narratives, but I guess they try to pretend that they’re realistic rather than attempting an artsy dreaminess. Plus, all these elements are really nothing that we haven’t seen in a number of hit video games (and I’m sure that’s part of the problem in the minds of many reviewers).
The “real world” portion of the story is unnecessarily dark. When Baby Doll’s mother dies, leaving her fortune to her two daughters, the sleazy-cruel stepfather decides to take it out on the girls. He kills the younger sister and sends Baby Doll into a 1940s asylum. As if that wasn’t bad enough, he bribes the warden to have Baby Doll lobotomized (Fun stuff, I know). In the five days before the doctor arrives to give her the procedure, she fantasizes that she’s not in an asylum but instead she’s in a night club where she and the other girls are dancer/whores (Don’t ask me why). She needs to lead them to escape before the “high roller” comes to claim her in five days. Where the plot takes an even more surreal twist is that when Baby Doll dances, she mesmerizes the people who watch her and we go even further into her mind where she fantasizes that she and a group of the other girls are following the guidance of a wise man (played by Scott Glen) to get the objects that they need to escape. Lost yet? It’s a much more straightforward thing in the movie (Think of how the convolutions of Inception made much more sense on-screen).
To the haters, I concede that the characters were very broad and the performances weren’t exactly subtle. Emily Browning (who’s got some experience playing the disenfranchised young orphan girl from her role as Violet in Lemony Snicket’s A Series of Unfortunate Events) was expressionless for most of the movie. Jena Malone was pretty good as Rocket, the younger of two sisters trapped in the night club/asylum, but to be fair, her character was the most three-dimensional of all the girls. On the other hand, Carla Gugino was a joke as the Marlene Dietrich wannabe, Dr. Vera Gorski. Her accent was terrible and she seemed like a ridiculous caricature (more so than the others who were obviously just one-note cartoons). I won’t keep bashing the characters or the acting because they clearly weren’t meant to be the strengths of this movie.
The fantasy sequences were very much like self-contained video-game missions. I kept asking myself why this wasn’t a game instead of a movie. I’m sure it would have done much better. Nevertheless, the combination of gravity-defying wirework and all kinds of CGI pyrotechnics looked great. The design of everything from the katana swords, to the girls’ outfits, to the many weird and wonderful creatures and enemies was pretty amazing too. I appreciated this movie mainly for these scenes. While the ongoing danger of the girls getting caught by the club owner as they plotted to escape was a bit of dramatic tension, those parts were mostly filler between action set pieces.
When I first saw all the bad press on Sucker Punch I was worried that it was going to be like The Last Airbender (i.e. the flop that made me turn on one of my favourite directors) but instead, I enjoyed the movie for what it was. It doesn’t quite stand up to Snyder’s past work, but it definitely bodes well for his next movie: the new Superman film. If he can make an exciting spectacle like Sucker Punch out of what seem like bits of a teenager’s daydream, think how much more epic will be his tale of the world’s most noble superhero. (4 out of 5)