Sucker Punch (2011)
Directed by Zack Snyder
The human mind has an incredible capacity to help us to cope with any situation, no matter how terrifying and traumatic. This bit of knowledge is the foundation of the special effects bonanza they call Sucker Punch. Trailers flashed visions of giant samurai-wielding Gatling guns, kung fu battle robots, undead steampunk Nazis and even a whole castle packed with Lord of the Rings-esque goblins backed up by a fire-breathing dragon; but the details of the tale itself were left sketchy. They will remain that way even after you’ve had your first viewing.
Baby Doll (Browning) has had little time to mourn the loss of her mother when she is framed for a murder and sent to a sanitarium. In five days a man will come to lobotomize her, wrapping up all the loose ends. Baby Doll maintains her strength by imagining herself in a world just as dark, but with parameters in which she has the power to fight back and maybe even escape this small slice of hell. This alternate reality may be her salvation in the real world as well, but you aren’t allowed to see that.
The secondary world is far more interesting ... and sexy! In this world the ladies in captivity are forced to dance and “entertain” their boss’s business associates. When Baby dances, she is transported into yet another world where she is a ninja gunfighter in the most unlikely of high-heeled anime inspired outfits with her fellow dancer compatriots along for every battle. What happens in the secondary world while she is playing Buffy the Go-Go Dancing Slayer is a plot device you’ll have to see to believe and most likely laugh out loud at. That’s right folks. You get three layers of story for the price of one, but don’t believe the hype. To make any comparisons to Inception is like saying Star Wars shares the core themes of Meet the Feebles. To be more succinct for those who have not discovered the horrors of Meet the Feebles, Inception is thought-provoking and extremely intricate while Sucker Punch’s entire plot can be summed up in one paragraph of three sentences.
Lack of depth aside, Sucker Punch is a gorgeous film from its washed out reality to the sepia-toned dancer reality to, finally, the lush hyper-fantasy. Every detail seems thoughtfully placed and plotted to fully immerse you in each sequence. This immersion can only go so far in the psychotic video game world, as the brain will only allow you to accept so much. When presented with scantly clad, super-powered female warriors fighting steam-powered zombie Nazis with very little lead up to this drug-induced scenario, it all becomes hard to swallow. It’s like playing Asteroids with a new, epic story attached to it, and as you advance to a new level, you are thrust into a cinematic sequence that can only be found in the wettest of Final Fantasy dreams. The transition can be jarring and so far removed from the actual story, your only recourse is to shut up and take it. With a driving rock soundtrack setting the tone, all you are missing is Janet Jackson in a black vinyl outfit and smudgy makeup to make this the most expensive music video ever made.
The acting performances are enjoyable enough. The ladies spend half the film looking slightly hurt or doggedly determined before mystically donning their battle gear and putting on their ARGH faces. The lack of storytelling seems most apparent when weighing these performances as the ladies struggle to find emotional content where there is barely any. Sure, you can scream “OK...CRY NOW!” at an actor, and some will fall right into a tearful moan that will tear your heart out, but that doesn’t happen here.
The lack of depth and intimate moments with the girls further pushes you away, leaving you indifferent to their plight. Again, it’s hard to bite your nails over the possibility your favorite character might be eaten by a dragon that doesn’t exist and is established as such. Charisma can go a long way, and these ladies push that theory to the envelope. Unfortunately, there is barely enough here to make you grin for 30 minutes, much less applaud the slow-motion battles. The saving grace of Sucker Punch is the immensely enjoyable Scott Glenn as the Wise Man who delivers the details of each “mission” peppered with quaint fortune cookie knowledge bombs. What he says may not bear much relevance to the core of the story, but he’s damn fun every time he pops up.
To be blunt, Sucker Punch is a vapid conglomeration of geeky prepubescent fantasy. Some may say I am being overly hard on a film that is obviously “high concept”, but I have counter arguments for that. The first would be that I like a little story development with my flashing CGI orgy. The second being I all but forced myself to like this movie right up to the halfway mark, when my brain simply gave out. I love the works of Zack Snyder and, when asked about my anticipation for Sucker Punch, could be quoted as saying, “The man can do no wrong. If anyone can pull all these elements together, it’s him.” For fuck's sake, the guy had me cheering for OWLS. This project lacks the emotional content I felt was present in movies like 300 and Watchmen. Worse still, the story at the heart of Sucker Punch suggests such weight was essential. Something was surely lost in the hail of robots and biplanes and samurai swords and knights in armor, etc., etc. ad nauseam. After all, it’s hard to feel for the vulnerable Alice as she tiptoes through Wonderland if she is a kung fu master packing heat.
Sucker Punch is a video game. Granted, it’s the most awesome video game I’ve ever seen, only lacking in Vatican gorilla soldiers, skeletal cowboys and a 200-foot incarnation of Satan himself. If you are content to watch the cinematic scenes of your favorite video game strung together by the thinnest of threads, then Sucker Punch may be for you. Surely those attending who just come for the big boom will get their fill with the bonus of hot women in peril. Those looking for an epic will be left wanting. At best, Sucker Punch is the sexiest, most talented, dumbest stripper you’ll ever meet.
2 1/2 out of 5
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