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Sucker Punch Movie Review

7 min read

Sucker Punch is proof, plain and simple, that Hollywood can make a realistic live action anime film.

What They Say:

Locked away, a young woman named Babydoll (Emily Browning) retreats to a fantasy world where she is free to go wherever her mind takes her. Determined to fight for real freedom, she finds four women — Rocket, Blondie, Amber and Sweet Pea — to join together and try to escape the terrible fate that awaits them. With a virtual arsenal at their disposal, the allies battle everything from samurais to serpents, while trying to decide what price they will pay for survival.

The Review:

From the first frames of the trailer that made its way out ages ago, I was intrigued by this film. While I’m not a dyed in the wool Zack Snyder fan, I’ve enjoyed some of his more outgoing visual works, having found a lot to like in the very strongly male oriented 300 and seriously enjoying his adaptation of the incredibly hard to translate Watchmen. With Sucker Punch being one of his original works, I was definitely more intrigued to see where he’d go since there wasn’t the same restrictions and the desire to bring something to life in a way that doesn’t diminish the original but builds on it and enhances it, becoming its own work that complements the original. Over the slow roll out of the film, we saw a lot of great images, posters and a series of trailers and TV spots that made it clear what it was. Action, with women.

Sucker Punch plays with a straightforward story that isn’t difficult to follow in the slightest. Taking place in a 50’s setting, we’re introduced to Baby Doll, a young woman who has just learned that her mother has died and she’s now left in the care of her stepfather alongside her younger sister. Her stepfather had something to do with the death as he wants to get his hands on the family wealth. Baby Dolly is in a state of shock in general, but events lead to his committing her to an insane asylum after she tries to kill him when he threatened her with sexual punishment before opting to go after her sister to truly teach her a lesson. It’s the incident he needed to get her in there and he’s able to pay for her to get a lobotomy, which will in turn give him everything he needs. It’s a simple setup within the first few minutes of the film, something that Snyder does very well and an aspect I really adored about Watchmen.

The movie works through three levels of narrative when it gets rolling, though one of them is very minimal overall serving more as a bookend. The real world, which we see at the beginning, lays the reality of the situation with her home life and being committed. When she’s taken through the Lennox House asylum, we see the harsh world that exists there and the fact that in five days she’ll be given a lobotomy. Between that moment and the final minutes of the film which picks up with the fallout of it all, is where the two surreal worlds begin. The first layer that Baby Doll experiences is a visualization of the asylum as a brothel and dance hall where many girls are brought in and work, entertaining clients with their dancing before going back to private rooms to really entertain them. Baby Doll is told she’ll be the latest to join them but she’s resistant to it all. When she’s forced to dance, her mind goes someplace else to cope with that surreal world, which is the third layer of the film.

It’s this third reality where the large part of the action takes place and it has a very strong feeling of being like Heavy Metal. When Baby Doll goes into these realities, each one is distinctly different. It opens by telling her in a Japanese setting that she must find five things to gain her freedom, which has each of the times she goes into these worlds, with the other girls afterward, to find a particular item. Snyder takes us to a variety of different worlds, though there is some consistency to style in them with it, A fantasy style era involves some really solid dragon work as it mixes it with World War II era planes as well. There’s a science fiction style one as well that has the group using a helicopter to land on a moving train to deal with a bomb before it goes off in a city. The one that won me over the most was the second one involving undead Nazi soldiers aided by steampunk and clockwork technology. With zeppelins, trenches and a great sense of color, it’s an intense series of actions as Baby Doll works through her dance while in the second layer of reality, the girls work together to achieve their goals to get the particular item they need.

I went into Sucker Punch without a whole lot of expectations. Having been familiar with Snyder’s sense of style for awhile now, I knew I would get a strong looking piece and that’s exactly what’s here. The initial scene with Baby Doll and the samurai warriors that are at least twice her height has a very impressive feel to it as she leaps about and they go toe to toe. The same can be said of all the other sequences as it goes through the different worlds. There’s something powerful with these women running around with that look of strong confidence to their expressions and movements but also in the way they carry themselves. Each of the realities has them acting in different ways in fact. The real world has the girls all very much beaten down with a grimy look to it. In the brothel world, there’s more color to it but there’s a wariness to it that’s expressed with how Baby Doll in particular carries herself. Combined with the way the costuming works, each one allows these differences to be brought out even stronger.

If there’s an area where I’m a bit wary with the film, and this does go back to Watchmen as well, it’s Snyder’s use of music. The original music feels minimal here and instead it uses well known music mixed into the story at times to a strong degree, similar to what we saw with Watchmen at times. Opening with a little Eurythmics makes sense, and I liked the nod to the Lennox House, but it can be a bit off-putting and cause some people to see it more as a music video or foolishly classify it all as a musical. Sometimes you can find yourself being caught up in trying to identify the piece rather than the action. A lot of it works very well, and I was especially pleased to hear the Bjork song “Army of Me” in it, but while it serves as the backbone to the film as Snyder puts it, it can be somewhat distracting at times.

In Summary:

Going into Sucker Punch was an interesting experience. I had been looking forward to seeing it since it was an original work, but I had heard it tested poorly for quite awhile and the initial slate of reviews, which I didn’t read, was generally ambivalent or negative. What I found coming out of it was that it was a very fun, thrilling ride once it gets rolling that has several young women dealing with terrible situations and one of them doing her best to cope through her mind with these kinds of situations. As a whole work, I think it has a lot of replay value when it hits home video but it’s definitely a film that needs to be seen and heard on the big screen. There’s a lot of discussion out there about whether this is empowering women with the skimpy outfits and the way they move, but this feels heavily like an anime film being realized in live action form. It may seem disjointed, but it’s pretty straightforward in my mind in how it all ties together. Everyone has solid performances, the look of it is great, the sensations it presents is just right and it left me feeling very enthused about it. Snyder does rely on certain trademarks of his as a visual artist, things that he does need to move past some such as the extended slow motion moments of bullet casings floating about, but by and large it’s something that is very much needed here for the majority of it. Sucker Punch gave me everything I wanted and more.

Grade: A-

Recommendation: Definite Theatrical Viewing, Release Day Home Video Purchase.

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