Sucker Punch is brainless self-indulgent bullshit wrapped in pseudo intellectual adolescent geek fever dreams made of a patchwork of sci-fi and fantasy nonsense. But the fight scenes are pretty cool.
When Baby Doll’s (Emily Browning) mother dies and leaves her and her little sister everything in the will, her step-father loses his shit a bit and decides to rape his frustrations out of the little sister. Baby Doll tries to save her by pulling a gun on step dad but when she tries to shoot him she misses and tags the little sister. This gives evil step dad all the cause he needs to have her committed to an asylum for going nuts and murdering her sister. Four grand to the lead orderly (Oscar Isaac) later and she is signed up for a lobotomy. Unfortunately for both the step father and the viewers, the lobotomist (Jon Hamm) can’t show up until the end of the week so Baby Doll is left in the asylum to be worked with by Dr Gorsky (Carla Gugino) in a room that looks to be a former theater. From here the movie switches over to a fantasy where Babydoll imagines the whole place as a burlesque dance hall/whore house where head orderly Blue is the club owner and Dr Gorsky is a dance instructor. The other girls are not patients in this fantasy but rather dancers/whores which I suppose is marginally better than mental patients. When made to dance Babydoll finds that she is hypnotic to people watching her and that she goes to yet another fantasyland where she meets Wise Man (Scott Glenn) who tells her she needs to get five items to escape the asylum: a map, fire, a knife, a key and some mystery thing she doesn’t know about. She enlists the help of the other girls who all show up in her fantasies (and those of a portion of the audience I am sure) which serve as a proxy for what they are really doing which is duping the various club workers out of precious quest items.
I like Zack Snyder. I think he has a lot of talent and can set up some really great visuals and he can stage a damn fine fight scene. I don’t even mind his use of slow motion. I know a lot of people find it excessive but I have always liked his application of it to produce beautiful and stunning action. So I don’t want my ultimate dismissal of this movie to be mistaken for having some grudge against Snyder. That being said, the one big difference between Snyder’s other pictures and this one is that he was adapting other people’s material and following their artistic lead in his previous films. Here he is unconstrained by source material and his off leash performance suggests that maybe having some guidelines and boundaries are just what he needs.
Now a lot of people are going to say that as long as the action is good then they are fine and that is okay I suppose but for me the absolute nonsense going on really got in the way of the action and since the action scenes don’t really make any amount of difference to what is going on and have no representational weight until fairly late in the film, it was really hard for me to connect with anything going on in them and I found myself giving almost no amount of a shit about any of it.
If there was more cutting between what was going on in the real fantasy world and what is going on in fantasy world number two and how one affects the other then I would have been much more interested. Sadly the movie gives much too little much too late to save itself and renders the action scenes pretty pointless and unmoving, cool as they are. When the movie asks us to draw an analog to what is going on the fantasy world and the really real world there is very little to go on as basically Babydoll’s whole plan is to just dance for whomever they are trying to steal something from to distract him while the other girls are doing her dirtywork. That makes very little sense in the fantasy world and pretty much no sense in the real world. Not that we get to see that outside the beginning and end of the film.
Without spoilers, I have to say that the ending is the worst part of the movie for me. It really pissed me off a lot. I can’t really say why without ruining things but I really hated it. Had I enjoyed the things that came before hand, the ending would have ruined it. As it is it just made me hate it more.
Some of this stuff could have been saved by good performances. If the actors could have been convincing and sympathetic that would have been one thing but honestly the most emotional response I got from the movie involved a mom dragon being sad and that really says something about what we are dealing with here. Emily Browning handles the action well enough but she only seems to have one facial expression and that is all we see the entire movie. Occasionally she frowns more and grimaces a bit but I got really tired of seeing that one face and it made it hard to connect. The rest of the girls all irritated me to equal measures for the same reasons. In the fantasy scenes they are so busy being stoic badasses that it was hard to care. I mean they don’t look like they care so why should I? They all pull off the action really well but I couldn’t connect with any of them. In the case of Abby Cornish’s Sweet Pea, I just flat hated her. I am not prepared to blame the actresses for this though as I suspect this was direction they were given.
Oscar Isaac turns in one of the only performances that didn’t make me want to tear my eyes out with a melon baller. He is an evil douche and feels very natural here. He was good as Prince John in Robin Hood so it seems like he is making a career out of being good in bad movies. Jon Hamm and Scott Glenn do well with what they are given as well. I know it seems kind of sexist that I am praising the men and downing the women but it isn’t, I just enjoyed that these actors did more than play to their character’s flimsy stereotype.
But speaking of sexism, Sucker Punch manages to be sexist in two directions and it is an impressive enough feat that I almost want to award an extra half point for it. First of all pretty much all the male characters in the movie are a sidelong glance away from full on rape and while I get that this was intentional and not necessarily inaccurate to the time period the movie seems to be taking place in, I still felt it was excessive and annoying. Wise Man is the only one who never tries to rape anyone and he is mostly just a figment of Baby Doll’s imagination (or is he? hmmmm). To be fair the Lobotomist never rapes anyone but given that he shoves something long and hard into a hole in someone’s face against there will I say it still ranks. At the same time the women are objectified under the guise of being empowered. Apparently it is okay to exploit them in the action scenes so long as you say exploitation is bad in the non-action fantasy scenes. The only thing that separates the vile club goers and the movie audience is that the audience is watching on a screen. Call me a pussy all you want but I started feeling pretty uncomfortable seeing all the men try to rape these girls and then be expected to be turned on while they are wearing tight leather and shooting guns.
As I mentioned, the movie is visually stunning and the action scenes are very well shot and choreographed. The sound and music cues are pretty awesome as well and the blending of the soundtrack to the action remains one of Snyder’s strengths. There is a lot of pretty to see here even if it is a pretty package surrounding something stale and unappealing.
Conclusion [4.5 out of 10]
Depending on how much of the story you can block out, your mileage may vary here. The action and special effects may be enough to keep you entertained and if that is the case, adjust to about a 7. If you are like me and you can’t look past everything else that goes on in the movie then this is best avoided. I suspect that the action will still disappoint as, as pretty as it is, it has no life, but it really just depends on how much you are willing to put up to get the nice visuals and good soundtrack. The blu-ray might eventually be worth owning as a reference disk but I would really not spend any more money on this thing than I absolutely had to.