Shouting Into Darkness

Review: Sucker Punch

Posted in Film, Reviews by Chris W. on March 26, 2011

It’ll come to no surprise to anyone reading this website that I’m a huge nerd. My glasses were replaced with LASIK and my pocket protector for a leather jacket, but my attraction to sci-fi, comic books, and logic theorems hasn’t diminished since I was a teenager. The wrapping may have changed, but the creamy, geeky center is still present. So, when Zach Snyder’s Sucker Punch was announced and I saw the trailer full of hot chicks with samurai swords and guns riding mechs made out of fire, I thought it’d be like Do the Right Thing, but for nerds. It was kinda like that, except that when Zach Snyder made this two-hour self indulgence film, he forgot to make it any good.

Sucker Punch is the story of Baby Doll, a troubled young girl committed to a mental hospital at the behest of her psycho stepdad… or so I thought until the scene suddenly switched to Baby Doll being lead by a priest into a brothel. The film admittedly exists on multiple plains of reality, so if you’ve been drinking, you might wanna see Rango instead. Baby Doll is either scheduled for a mind-erasing lobotomy or waiting to be sold off as a sex slave to a “high roller.” Either way, she’s got what mind she has left set on escape.

The draw to this movie are the high-budget action scenes that take place against a variety of different backdrops and feature a bunch of very attractive girls kicking butt and being unfathomably awesome. And I’d be lying if I didn’t admit that it was cool when I saw Baby Doll dodging bullets and doing acrobatic flips that blow up her skirt a little bit. That’s all well and good, but the problem is that these “fantasy” set pieces have little to nothing to do with the “reality” that preceded them. Watching the girls battle Jerries in a WWI setting was boss, but where the hell did WWI come from? It feels like it was decided by a random spin of the wheel, and every single one is like that. They’re all cool, but they all come way out of left field in terms of setting and use in the plot. And we only flash to these fantasy pieces while Baby Doll is supposedly doing a dance that would make the film’s PG-13 rating cry. I don’t know about you, but I’d rather have seen the dance.

I also want to touch briefly on the subject of gender in this movie. Sucker Punch earns points for having a roster of protagonists that are all female, and the film takes full advantage of the femininity of its cast. There’s nothing gratuitous (except the action), but I still got the feeling that I was watching an updated version of a 70s sexploitation film. In that film, the girls would just be wearing jail outfits and taking communal showers, while this film has them fantasizing about giant gundams. I love the future…

But on the flip side, all the male characters are painted with a stroke broader than a city bus. I’m never one to cry insensitivity or political incorrectness, but all of the guys in Sucker Punch are the worst human beings you’ve ever seen. They’re power grubbing, abusive, and completely mesmerized by sex. Wave a piece of tail in front of any guy in this movie and you can rearrange him like a store mannequin; he will not notice. It’s like all the guys are this awful hybrid of Adolf Hitler and a thirteen-year-old shut-in who just discovered his dad’s “stash.” This could all be a coincidence, since the film is about the male caretakers abusing the female patients, but I felt it deserved to be pointed out.

What ultimately did the film in for me was its confusing story. Half an hour into the movie, I was left behind and not getting caught up. All the different layers of reality, all the worthless voice-overs, and characters I couldn’t give a tin shit about added up to the perfect storm of apathy. I got the feeling that after the success of 300 and Watchmen, Snyder was given free range to make whatever he wanted. Like a kid wandering through Toys R. Us with a huge gift certificate, he grabbed whatever he wanted off of the shelf, got home, threw it on the table, and then had to make a movie out of whatever was there. To its credit, Sucker Punch does have a logic to it, but it’s certainly not telling you.

Sucker Punch is not a terrible movie; there are a few good things about it. The action, as mentioned above, was decent and there were a few genuinely tense moments in my screening. Sadly, they were buried beneath the weight of an audience-unfriendly story and characters that I cared about as much as my laundry. It’s sad because I could see all the influences working on the movie, from films like Brazil and Kill Bill to stories like “An Occurrence on Owl Creek Bridge.” On their own, all the elements of the film should work. But in the world of Sucker Punch, the combination of two awesome ideas does not make an idea that’s doubly-awesome.

I can’t remember mentally clocking out of a movie as fast as I did on Sucker Punch. I don’t know if this was Snyder indulging himself before he tackled Superman, but it certainly doesn’t feel like a film that was made for an audience. Everything that is unique about the movie only serves to weigh it down and keep it from working. If Snyder had released all the action scenes as stand-alone web videos and charged $10 to look at them, I would’ve plopped down a hundred dollar bill and said, “Keep the change!” But as it stands, I can only recommend seeing Sucker Punch if you have a free pass to the theater and can’t find ANYTHING else you can agree to.

Final Verdict: 1.5 lobotomies out of 5.

P.S. I don’t know why Zack Snyder called his film Sucker Punch. It’s like he’s just daring us to make a hacky joke like “I felt like I got sucker punched when I watched Sucker Punch. Hurr Hurr Hurr”

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