“If you don’t stand for something, you’ll fall for anything.”
The Scoop: 2011 PG13, Directed by Zack Snyder & starring Emily Browning, Carla Gugino, and Scott Glenn
Tagline: You will be unprepared.
Summary Capsule: A young girl is committed to an asylum, and retreats into various levels of fantasy to cope. And then there’s a thirty-foot demon samurai with a chaingun.
Mike’s rating: It’s as if Zack Snyder was watching anime one day and just went, “We have the technology…”
Mike’s review: Zack Snyder has proven adept at adapting other properties to astonishing visual effect, whether it be comic book titles like 300 or Watchmen or children’s books like Legend of the Guardians. But could he carry an entirely original story to fruition with the same the level of visual storytelling the audience has become accustomed to seeing from him? The answer is a resounding “Yeah, kinda.”
The diminutive Browning plays Babydoll, (no real name is given or needed) a young woman who accidentally kills her little sister while defending herself from her violent step-father. As she’s committed to Lennox Asylum by the aforementioned step-father, Babydoll’s reality shifts. She’s now being sold to a burlesque show/brothel where the girls dance for various high-paying clients, and where Babydoll’s virginity is to be sold to “the High Roller” who is expected in a week. After meeting the other girls, specifically Rocket (Jena Malone), Sweet Pea (Abby Cornish), Blondie (Vanessa Hudgens) and Amber (Jamie Chung), Babydoll begins to work out an elaborate escape plan. At this point the audience is given a third version of Babydoll’s reality, wherein she and the other girls are gun-toting, sword-wielding valkyries battling hordes of otherworldly opponents. The girls are guided by the Wise Old Man, played by Scott Glenn, who lays out the missions and spouts soundbites of philosophical wisdom, and who may be more than just a figment.
As the main draw of the film, the action sequences are sufficiently stimulating and beautifully shot. Aside from the aforementioned Samurai, there are steampunk Nazi zombies, dragons and orcs on loan from Lord of the Rings, and a bomb-loaded bullet train filled with killer androids. In true X-box form, they have to secure various items in order to secure their escape, (such as removing the crystals from the throat of a dragon in order to create fire). The imagination and pop-culture sensibilities behind these scenes create a genre mash-up that anyone with even a hint of appreciation for comic books or video games will cheer at.
Sucker Punch is definitely at it’s most enjoyable as the heroines gleefully slice and shoot their way through their enemies. More than anything this film has me geeking out over the upcoming Man of Steel. If anybody can actually create a film with a villain that can go toe to toe with the big blue boy scout, it’s this guy.
The performances in Sucker Punch are believable, and even a step up from past acting gigs from actresses like Hudgens and Real World San Diego alumnus Chung. Carla Gugino, who worked with Snyder in Watchmen doesn’t waste any of her screen time as Dr. Vera Gorski, a sympathetic authority figure who it would appear is just s trapped as any of the girls at Lennox. Oscar Isaac, (last seen as Joseph from The Nativity Story) turns in a genuinely despicable performance as Blue, a sadistic misogynist utterly, (and delusionally) convinced of his own charisma.
Browning herself expertly navigates Babydoll between helpless young victim and empowered warrior, depending on the reality she inhabits. At 5’2 , Browning is strikingly tiny compared to even her most petite co-stars, and this goes a long way towards creating a concern and empathy for her character, and a sense of unbridled exhilaration when she overcomes outrageous odds to best her enemies.
There are a few flaws that may end up being deal-breakers for a few viewers of a certain predisposition. The story takes turns for the depressing, and not just in the beginning, to establish how bad things are for the protagonist. The plot can be confusing as the scene shifts between realities, and this can lead to some frustrating distraction while you’re trying to figure out just what the heck is going on. Due to some studio interference, a crucial scene that originally served as the movie’s climax ended up being cut, which makes the ending a bit abrupt, and also a bit unsatisfying (more on that in the ‘Intermission’ section).
Most critics who review this film are going to point out the hypocrisy of having scantily-clad heroines battling evil in an exercise of female empowerment. They’ll claim this is nothing more than escapist fanboy-pandering disguised as girl-power posturing. Still others will endlessly bemoan the absence of significant plot amidst all of the explosions and fight scenes. There’s a lot in Sucker Punch to back up these gripes, but ultimately they completely miss the point. The theory that this is somehow solely a man’s fantasy precludes the possibility that somewhere there might be a girl who likes comic books and thinks the idea of dressing sexy and kicking booty is pretty cool. I admit these girls are in the minority, but go to any comic convention; they do exist. As for the deepness of plot argument, while Zack Snyder is no way known for his deep exploration of existential philosophy, his films have nonetheless touched on much deeper subjects than most action movies can lay claim to. A young girl’s descent into madness in the face of unimaginable tragedy and an exploration of the fantasies she escapes to is fathoms deeper than anything Michael Bay has done in his entire life.
So, though it’s not as deep or as thoughtful as it aims for, Sucker Punch is still a really entertaining and visually captivating mind trip that keeps your attention throughout. If it’s a mess, it’s a glorious, epic mess, better than a good chunk of what passes for action flicks nowadays. If you’re at all excited about comics, video games, martial arts or reality-bending mind-trips, or if you’re a fan of Snyder’s kinetic action scenes and visual effects, this one’s definitely worth adding to your collection.
- Despite being the lead character, Emily Browning does not have a line of dialogue until about 20 minutes into the film.
- Amanda Seyfried, Emma Stone and Evan Rachel Wood were all considered for various roles in this film.
- This is director Zack Snyder’s first live action feature to not have an “R” rating. This stinks of studio interference because Snyder has historically turned down projects (like S.W.A.T.) because they wouldn’t be rated “R”.
- The two banners beside Scott Glenn’s character as shown in the trailer are a famous couplet from ‘The Art of War‘ by Sun Tzu: “Move swift as the Wind and closely-formed as the Wood. Attack like the Fire and be still as the Mountain.” This was later made into a famous battle standard by the Japanese warlord Takeda Shingen.
- *Spoiler Alert* A supposedly mild “PG” love scene between Emily Browning and Jon Hamm as “the High Roller” was cut from the film. According to Browning, in this scene Babydoll was supposed to meet the High Roller, and deciding to take control of her own sexuality, takes the role of the aggressor with him. This would mirror how in reality, rather than dreading the lobotomy from the Doctor (also played by Hamm), Babydoll came to view it as her salvation from the pain of the tragedies she’s faced. The MPAA apparently wanted Snyder to tone it down, but when he did, the feel of the scene changed, and it now looked like Babydoll was being taken advantage of even further. Rather than leave the scene this way, Snyder had it cut.
- The end credits feature a number of musical numbers performed by the cast, hinting at a possible musical aspect of the film that may have been cut.
Wiseman: If you don’t stand for something, you’ll fall for anything.
Sweet Pea: Everyone has an Angel. A Guardian who watches over us. We can’t know what form they’ll take. One day, old man. Next day, little girl. But don’t let appearances fool you; they can be as fierce as any dragon. Yet they’re not here to fight our battles, but to whisper from our hearts. Reminding that it’s us. It’s every one of us who holds power over the worlds we create.
Wiseman: Don’t ever write a check with your mouth that you can’t cash with your ass.
Sweet Pea: We can deny angels exist. Convince ourselves they can’t be real. But they show up anyway, at strange places and at strange times. They can speak through any character we can imagine. They’ll shout through demons if they have to. Daring us, challenging us to fight.
Wiseman: For those who fight for it, life has a flavor the sheltered will never know.
Sweet Pea: Who honors those we love for the very life we live? Who sends monsters to kill us… and at the same time sings that we’ll never die? Who teaches us what’s real… and how to laugh at lies? Who decides why we live and what we’ll die to defend? Who chains us… and who holds the key that can set us free? It’s you. You have all the weapons you need. Now fight.
If you liked this movie, try these:
- Pan’s Labyrinth
- Alice in Wonderland (2010)