Directed by: Zack Snyder
Starring: Emily Browning, Abbie Cornish, Jena Malone, Carla Gugino, Scott Glenn
So Zack Snyder’s between big franchise film project is out for us all to see: Sucker Punch. Sucker Punch has many influences from comic books to videogames and campy exploitation films. Does the film gel into an epic masterpiece or crash and burn as an epic disaster? Well, it’s somewhere in between.
Sucker Punch tells the story of a young woman who is committed to a mental institution after being accused of killing her sister by her evil stepfather. She is due to be lobotomized in a few days and she wants to escape before that happens. She finds the tools to fight, the way to survive in her own internal fantasies. In that fantasy world, she learns that she has the magical ability to hypnotize anyone that watches her “dance”. In a second layer of fantasy, she sees each dance as an epic battle and Scott Glenn plays her mentor and leader within each battle. Some battles are high flying wire-fu beat downs and others are World War I fire fights, and still others are steam punk influenced alternate universe war scenes. Through her fantasies she has been given the tools to fight her way out of the institution with the help of a group of girls that also want to be free at any cost.
Sucker Punch can most easily be explained in one simple but coarse line: the film is a 12 year old boy’s wet dream. It’s true. In one scene there’s an attractive Asian girl in thigh high stockings carrying a big gun and sucking a lollypop. How many more fetishes can Snyder cover in just one scene? That gets to the core of this film. The film’s design and storytelling is all about excess. The girls are all gorgeous and rather than hint at sexuality, it’s blatant. The drama in the film is more than just drama it’s melodrama to the extreme. The style of the film is more than any three films might feature combined. It’s excessive, it’s on the nose, and it’s fun.
While it’s not a musical, Sucker Punch in its feel does belong at home with films like Repo the Genetic Opera, Rocky Horror Picture Show and even Moulin Rouge. Those films were totally focused on the fun of the experience more than an Oscar Winning drama. Rather than use performed music as an element, Snyder chooses to use his soundtrack as an additional character in the film starting with that first loud Bjork tune. Snyder previously used a hammer on a soundtrack to mixed reviews in Watchman. His choices and use of music actually works much better in Sucker Punch.
Snyder does offer up a story under the layers of underwear, action, and melodrama and it’s as on the nose as the rest of the approach to the film. If you get sold on the joy of the rest of the film, this story, with its many drops in logic and flaws will still be a ton of fun. There’s a twist in the film that suddenly makes the title of the film make sense and yes ,it’s heavy handed and melodramatic but based on the rest of the film, wouldn’t it have to be? This film isn’t for everyone. Sucker Punch is for videogame fans or at least those that have some appreciation for them. It’s also for men who can channel that 12 year old kid within them. Snyder obviously can do it because he brought this completely unique world to life. There’s no nudity in this film but this sort of girl power is not likely to fly with many female audience members, but some will enjoy the campiness of it all. In the end, Sucker Punch is a film that’s all over the place, but if you find the nods to videogames, pop culture, classic exploitation, and melodrama fun, and you appreciate a really cool looking experience, then this film will be a ton of fun for you. It’s stiff at times, which is funny, and it’s purposefully funny a lot. Scott Glenn gets tweaked riffs on classic one liners that are hilarious when they work and still funny when they don’t.
Sucker Punch is one part super hero film, one part exploitation film, another part fairy tale, and finally another part videogame. There are so many problems with the film from a traditional storytelling perspective, including plotting and characterization, but there’s so much fun to be had reveling in this fanboy excess that it doesn’t matter. Riding in a roller coaster may not be as engaging as riding in a precision automobile with a professional driver, but for that brief time that roller coaster is exhilarating and fun. This is tasty piece of escapism, nothing more, and nothing less. Go have fun with it!