Sucker Punch might miss the masses
Sucker Punch is not for everyone—let’s just get that out there right away. The film feels like Russ Meyer’s adaptation of a graphic novel version of Kill Bill. Mix in a little Inception and some Alice in Wonderland, then throw in director Zack Snyder’s special brand of visual artistry and you’ve got a film that might not find an audience, despite its many merits.
In another beautiful opening title sequence (see: Watchmen), we are introduced to young Babydoll (Emily Browning). Her mother has just died, leaving two daughters in the care of their evil stepfather. When he discovers that his late wife’s will leaves everything to Babydoll and her sister, he tortures the girls. There are gunshots, the youngest daughter is killed, and Babydoll is sent away to an insane asylum and heading down the path to a lobotomy.
This is where the first fantasy kicks in as Babydoll reimagines the world around her. The head of the institution, a man known as Blue (Oscar Isaac), becomes a sleazy pimp. The head psychiatrist, Dr. Vera Gorski (Carla Gugino), is a dance instructor teaching the patients (now cabaret dancers) new moves to impress their male clients. Babydoll is joined by rougher girls like wiry Rocket (Jena Malone), fragile Blondie (Vanessa Hudgens), sidekick Amber (Jamie Chung) and hardened Sweet Pea (Abbie Cornish) as she learns the ropes.
Babydoll and her friends set out to escape from the brothel in the second level of the fantasy. This dream-within-a-dream world sees the girls as warriors, facing insurmountable odds and battling everything from robo-samurai to Nazi zombies to dragons as they procure essential items to help them in their journey.
Back in fantasy level one, Babydoll and the gang are collecting the items from around the prison/asylum/brothel as the clock winds down on what little time she has left before she has a date with The High Roller (Jon Hamm).
Like most of Snyder’s films, Sucker Punch is quite the spectacle. Snyder’s go-to cinematographer, Larry Fong, creates visually rich images that set the mood and add to the story. Some will argue that “bullet time” and super slow-mo are action clichés, but they can have an impact if used effectively. These action sequences are impressive because they aren’t filled with special effects trying to look real. Instead, they indulge in the fantasy, embracing the un-reality and unabashedly letting the characters perform feats that stretch far beyond the impossible.
The visual style is also present in the appearance of the girls. Dolled up like Chicago meets Faster, Pussycat! Kill! Kill!, they’re simultaneously exploited and empowered. They’re beautiful and feminine, yet dangerous and macho.
No doubt some will say that Sucker Punch is all style with no substance, but these choices create the visual style necessary to tell such a big story.
The film is sure to draw mixed reactions for reasons like this. It’s directed by Snyder and was teased at San Diego Comic Con 2010, but it might not appeal to comic book fans because it doesn’t have the cachet of a graphic novel adaptation. It’s got guns and explosions, but it might not appeal to the typical action movie crowd because of the complexity of the layered story. Some will call it sexist. Some will call it melodramatic. Few are likely to truly love it, but these are all reasons why it’s worth seeing for yourself.