Sucker Punch Review
Leaving the theater after my screening of Sucker Punch, I made a few tweets: “So Sucker Punch was pretty fun! Empty, but flashy. Like a straight man's Moulin Rouge. Lot's of cheesecake.” “…a burlesque version of Inception. With crazy girls.” “It's Onachebara with Strictly Ballroom.”
After a night of ruminating, I stand by these words. Sucker Punch is an empty film, a movie with very little substance but a whole lot of flash. I have to wonder if my impression of Sucker Punch is how Roger Ebert sees all video games: as technically impressive, even entertaining, but ultimately meaningless experiences. Sucker Punch isn't necessarily a bad movie, but it certainly doesn’t strive to be anything more than hot chicks fighting things.
I feel both good and bad about this. Probably no more than any other film I've seen, Zack Snyder’s mash-up of Alice in Wonderland/Inception/One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest/Moulin Rouge is eminently entertaining. And why shouldn't it be? Like Snyder’s previous works (300 and Watchmen), the acting and CGI are so muddled together that the sense of “the real” is lost here. In its place, we have the recreation of random worlds tossed together like a cinematic non-sequiter.
Sucker Punch starts off to Emily Browning’s haunting version of the Eurythmics’ “Sweet Dreams” song, as the film establishes Baby Doll’s (Browning) descent into insanity. With a suspicious step-father and a mother suddenly dead, it’s understandable that she might feel a little down. However, it’s all a set-up to get her into the sexiest insane asylum ever, where she is set on a fast track to lobotomy by her step-dad and asylum head Blue Jones (Oscar Isaac), a man who values a few bucks over the patients in his care. Also floating around is Dr. Vera Gorski (Carla Gugino), whose primary method of treatment is to play music for her patients. It’s all very dank and miserable.
Then the film goes crazy. Like it should, considering the mindset of our heroine. The asylum becomes a glamorous brothel (think the campy glory of Moulin Rouge or Burlesque) where Baby Doll is the latest addition to Blue’s troop of dancing whores: Sweet Pea (Abbie Cornish), her sister Rocket (Jena Malone), Amber (Jamie Chung), and Blondie (Vanessa Hudgens). Crazy girls in reality, in the fictional world of the bordello they are fabulous dancers who dream of escaping.
Apparently, Baby Doll is such a great dancer that she can entrance anyone who watches. Every time Baby Doll starts her dance, we descend into a completely different place. From a samurai fight to WWI trench warfare, a medieval battle, and a futuristic train heist, these visions star Baby Doll and her sexy friends dressed in bad-ass gear as the Wiseman (Scott Glenn) offers sagacious advice equally as vague as the locations. It really does feel like a video game.
I do like the way dreams and visions act as metaphors for the characters' actions. From the descent into the theater, everything from dance, dragons, and mechs signify something important. Part of the fun with Sucker Punch is trying to figure out what the hell everything means, and while numerous plot holes puncture the film, you're still tempted to make sense of it.
Snyder’s distinct style of real actors on softened CGI with unnatural colors even looks like a video game. Let’s not forget the all-girl cast in shimmery make-up under soft focus and the music composed of popular songs performed by Björk. Sure, everyone is acting, but the plot only serves as a backbone for all of the stunning special effects. Surprisingly, Sucker Punch is more female empowerment than titillation, so those expecting rampant sex will be disappointed.
Most of the movie is flash and bang, visions that are more “bad-ass” and “cool” than anything else. Sure, the story tries to impart some seriousness, but it’s so over-the-top and fast-paced that you can’t expect any real emotional impact. It’s a thrilling ride, but one that’s enjoyable despite the mindless spectacle.