Friday, October 7, 2011

Movie Review: Sucker Punch

Zack Snyder is responsible for an iconic cult classic movie, 300 (2007). He later produced a movie version of a classic graphic novel, Watchmen (2009). His subsequent movies have declared that it is from the director of one of these two movies. We’ve come to expect over the top visual effects from Snyder’s high budget movies releases. Frankly, that is exactly what we get in Sucker Punch (2011).
In the 1960’s, a twenty year old girl nicknamed “Babydoll” (Emily Browning) is institutionalized by her abusive stepfather (Gerard Plunkett) who frames her for the death of her younger sister. Blue Jones (Oscar Isaac), one of the asylum’s orderlies, accepts a bribe to forge signature of the asylum’s psychiatrist to have Babydoll lobotomized which should keep her from telling the authorities about real conditions of her sister’s death. Upon being institutionalized, Babydoll retreats into a fantasy world to cope with her new circumstances; she envisions herself as newly arrived at a brothel owned by Blue. She befriends four other dancers: Amber (Jamie Chung), Blondie (Vanessa Hudgens), Rocket (Jena Malone), and Rocket's sister, Sweet Pea (Abbie Cornish). The brothel’s dance instructor has Babydoll dance during which Babydoll pretends she’s in feudal Japan. Here she encounters the Wise Man (Scott Glenn) who tells her of the five items she will need in order to escape from the brothel. To get each item Babydoll dances, the five girls share an imagined scenario, and cooperate to get the item. Led by Babydoll, the girls engage imaginary warfare against everything from giant samurai, to Nazi zombies, to dragons, and robots. If they succeed, their journey will set them free.
Zack Snyder is a very detailed, visual director. At any point in the film there is a great deal to visually take in. Snyder doesn’t put in so much motion and nonessential details that it becomes visually distracting or even annoying to watch. Snyder is known for spontaneous moments of slow motion during action scenes. It is a neat visual effect, but is almost becoming a cliché for Snyder movies. It adds a dramatic edge, but is used with such frequency that I think the edge is becoming dull.
The synopsis above makes Sucker Punch sound a whole lot more dynamic and fascinating than watching the movie was. After you become accustomed to the visual sensory overload, your brain kicks in and you realize there isn't really anything happening and there's no real point for any of the over-the-top action. You realize that Babydoll is dancing to distract the imaginary Brothel and this is symbolized by something completely unrelated. I think Jeremy Jahns (link in the side margin) worded it best:

It’s all about proper paralleling. For something to parallel something it has to represent something else. Example: like the zombie World War II war scene would have made sense, if it was a dude in war who was afraid to kill things so he imagines his enemies were a bunch of zombie Nazis so he can get through it and kill them. And the Mechs could have represented something else. You know, that’s a parallel. Going into a boring office and stealing a map only to have the parallel of that be this crazy World War II scene with zombies? I don’t see it.

Was the World War II Nazi Zombie scene good? Sure, it was pretty neat. Did it make sense after the fact? Not at all. Each of the subsequent imaginary scenarios didn’t really make sense in the scope of the story. There are basically four imagined scenarios that take place within an imagined scenario. The movie had potential to have some interesting psychological aspects incorporated, or some creative parallels and symbolism--so much, in fact, that I was actively searching for it throughout the whole movie. It just wasn't there.
The characters were very flat and uninteresting; they had uninspiring, predictable lines; and acted feminine and delicate in the “real world,” but acted tough and powerful in the fantasy worlds. The movie had some potential for social commentary about women’s empowerment, but it seemed like it was portraying the idea that the objectification of women is what makes them stronger. That’s just wrong.
I know people who watch movies for no reason other than visual stimulus; they don't care what they are watching. Sucker Punch was tailor made for this kind of an audience. It’s like visual bubblegum; it just gives your eyes something to look at but has no real value. It's got neat visuals that are fun to watch; but overall was little more than fantasy fodder for 13-year-old video-gamer boys. I wouldn’t recommend this to anyone unless they greatly value special effect over characters, cinematography, and plot.


  1. It's true. The only thing I liked about that movie was the absurdity of portraying Babydoll's thoughts while she is dancing as her and her friends slashing dragons and shooting zombies. The whole metaphor inside a metaphor thing was more confusing than it was beneficial to the story.

  2. Smileking0505: The whole metaphor inside a metaphor thing also made it tricky to articulate a plot synopsis and review the movie. The absurdity of Babydoll’s fantasies did make it fun to watch, they just didn't make sense in the end. Thanks for the comment!