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Review: Sucker Punch

Posted by Patrick Sauriol on Thursday, March 24, 2011

There is a common and incorrect perception held by the general public that video games cannot tell great stories. Jaw-dropping visuals, yes, and lots of action, sure. But a story that takes the player deeper into the world? Many people that don't play video games think that these stories can't reach great heights because they're too focused on the visuals or the action. In response I point to Silent Hill 2, Deux Ex, I Have No Mouth and I Must Scream, the Ultima series, the Infocom word games from the early days of computer gaming, and I say to those doubters that they are wrong. There are games that push the art form to a truly interactive, creative level.

Unfortunately Sucker Punch is a movie that is like the worst of video games. This movie plays out like a button-masher devoid of depth past its surface level. To advance in these games you need to kill hundreds of faceless bad guys and then defeat the level boss, then rince, repeat, who cares. Always the graphics are great but the main character is a cypher, someone who's arms and legs you control but ultimately you don't care about. The game's NPCs (in the case of Sucker Punch, its' secondary characters) are better defined than the main character. Why? Because they're the ones who's dialogue you have to read between breaks in the action in these kinds of brainless games.

I'm laying on the video game analogy pretty thick because it fits Sucker Punch so well. This is a movie that has a slim premise -- a beautiful young woman only known as Baby Doll needs to escape from the mental asylum she's locked in or else she'll be lobotomized -- and typically that kind of bare bones synopsis works for those gorgeous to look at games. There's not a lot of care put into relating to the hero or heroine; let's leave it up to the visuals to make the story look cool, right?

I think Sucker Punch's problems began right at its start. Director/co-writer Zack Snyder chooses to introduce us to the tormented world of Baby Doll by telling it in slow motion and with a cover of the '80s Eurythmics song "Sweet Dreams". Let me tell you, dear reader, that the reason why so many music videos use slow motion with the song playing overtop the action is that, while it looks cool, it doesn't draw you that much in. This kind of story narrative is great to sell images and concepts but not characterization nor heavy drama. When the stepfather of Baby Doll advances on her little sister's bedroom, and his unspoken motivation is to commit some kind of sexual abuse, what's cool about slow motion and a remix is out the goddamn window. Your eyes are telling you to enjoy the moment but your head isn't.

Those opening moments, and Snyder's constant need to use slow motion to tell the story, go on for too long at the start of the picture. Snyder isn't building a foundation for the audience to emphasize with Baby Doll or to share the horror of her surroundings. By the time Sucker Punch's main story really gets going -- when Baby Doll imagines herself living the life of a newcomer to a brothel run by the hard-edged pimp/owner Blue (Oscar Issac) and then has to imagine secondary worlds beneath the brothel reality -- Snyder has lost us. It also doesn't help that the first words spoken by Emily Browning's Baby Doll ("Get off her, pig") don't come until about fifteen minutes into the movie.

Failing to build that strong emotional connection at the start of the film fatally damages Sucker Punch. It doesn't help either that there's no positive male characters in the movie save for an imaginary Scott Glenn that serves as wise man to Baby Doll and her crew of lost souls. All the men in Sucker Punch are the worst kind: abusers of young girls, pimps, beaters, criminals and thugs that fail to raise their voices to stop the violence. It seems that in Baby Doll's imaginary life of being a "dancer" (we know, Zack, that what you really mean is "whore", but this needs to be a PG-13 movie so there will none of that shown, just implied), the johns and handlers know that all the women in this place are locked up and can't even walk even outside but none of them tell the cops.

The movie exists to dress up pretty actresses in stockings, corsets and slutty Halloween costumes, then shoot automatic weapons or use martial arts to kill/destroy undead German soldiers, demonic samurai warriors, fire-breathing dragons and faceless robots. The women all take fantastic levels of super-violence, like being knocked back a hundred yards, without showing the slightest scratch or bruising, but somehow we're supposed to believe that their lives are in danger from their attackers. Again, this is why Sucker Punch plays out like a poorly written game; it doesn't need a story because it's just about leveling up and facing the next boss. Who cares if you die when you can just start from the last save point?

I don't want to spend too much time on why an abused woman would imagine herself empowered by wearing high heels and sexy costumes while fighting in battlefronts on many different worlds, but then again this is a movie that shows these characters still wearing dark eyeshadow and mascara while in bed. These are supposed to be the next generation of Sarah Connors or Ripleys?

When Sucker Punch's coda finally arrives it you can see what Snyder was aiming for, but by then you're just finishing the game up because you've sunk time into it. If the movie had cared as much about not alienating its audience from the start, the message that Snyder is telling us wouldn't feel as hollow as it does.

Aside from Browning's mannequin-like performance, the other women try to instill levels to their characters, Abbie Cornish's Sweetpea being the one that gets the best arc. As the girl's chief tormentor, Oscar Issac gives us every opportunity to loathe his character, and hopefully his performance will open doors for him. In their supporting roles Scott Glenn and Carla Gugino do their jobs but not as effectively as Jon Hamm. In his brief cameo appearance that comes at the end of the film, Hamm is able to deliver a few lines of dialogue that pack more weight than what Snyder's given us all throughout the movie. It's a shame that Snyder couldn't get more of that in the rest of his film.

Snyder, Warner Bros. and Legendary Pictures should be commended for making a movie that isn't a sequel, a remake or based on another property. Maybe they'll try something like this again, but next time make the characters and the story as interesting as the eye candy.

Review Score: 35 / 100

Quasar
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Posts: 7588
Posted: 8 years 48 weeks ago

This is Goiter's dream come true! A Zack Snyder movie that everyone will hate!

Faster and faster, a nightmare we ride. Who'll take the reins when the miracle dies? Faster and faster till everything dies. Killing is our way of keeping alive. - Virgin Steele, Blood and Gasoline
Jakester
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Posted: 8 years 48 weeks ago

My sister loved it. I'm told she will post a rebuttal in due course.

Richard Gozinya, Harold Snatch and Wilbur Jizz. Together we are the law firm Gozinya, Snatch and Jizz.
The Swollen Goi...
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Posted: 8 years 48 weeks ago

I didn't love it.

Quasar
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Posts: 7588
Posted: 8 years 48 weeks ago

Are you sure?

Faster and faster, a nightmare we ride. Who'll take the reins when the miracle dies? Faster and faster till everything dies. Killing is our way of keeping alive. - Virgin Steele, Blood and Gasoline
The Swollen Goi...
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Posted: 8 years 48 weeks ago

Pretty sure.

Jakester
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Posted: 8 years 48 weeks ago

I have no idea yet what to say about what I saw.  I will say that Goiter might've been happier with more slow-fast-slow visuals.  There might not have been enough.

I will also say that I found it kind of hard to care about any of the characters, despite really wanting to.

Richard Gozinya, Harold Snatch and Wilbur Jizz. Together we are the law firm Gozinya, Snatch and Jizz.
Jakester
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Posted: 8 years 48 weeks ago

The opening sequence completely failed to make me care about Babydoll in the way that the opening of Up made me care about Carl and Ellie.  Certainly I sympathised with her, and perhaps empathised with her to a point as well.

I think Drew hit the mark to say that there were no real stakes during the action sequences.  Overall, I think it just felt hollow.  I really wish it didn't.

Richard Gozinya, Harold Snatch and Wilbur Jizz. Together we are the law firm Gozinya, Snatch and Jizz.
The Swollen Goi...
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Posted: 8 years 48 weeks ago

You just got Sucker Punched!

The Swollen Goi...
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Posts: 14343
Posted: 8 years 48 weeks ago

Why the Hell is it called Sucker Punch, anyway?

Quasar
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Posted: 8 years 48 weeks ago

It's called that because they put out these amazing trailers, then when you go see the movie, have a PUNCH, SUCKER!

For those people who knew they'd hate the movie before they went but went anyway, it's got a secret title of SUPER SUCKER PUNCH!, which stands for have a PUNCH, SUPER SUCKER!

Faster and faster, a nightmare we ride. Who'll take the reins when the miracle dies? Faster and faster till everything dies. Killing is our way of keeping alive. - Virgin Steele, Blood and Gasoline
Jakester
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Posted: 8 years 48 weeks ago

Did you see it Goiter?  I'm guessing you did.

Richard Gozinya, Harold Snatch and Wilbur Jizz. Together we are the law firm Gozinya, Snatch and Jizz.
The Swollen Goi...
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Posted: 8 years 48 weeks ago

I did. So did atrejub. I don't think she disliked it as much as I did. My review probably wouldn't be too far off from Patrick's, except that it would be meaner.

Jakester
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Posted: 8 years 48 weeks ago

I agree that there was no real emotional connection with any of the girls and that it hurt the film.  Drew pointed out that it gives the action sequences no gravity -- no stakes.  I'd have to agree.  My sister said that she felt that the girls were symbols and were never really real to begin with.  I can see that perspective, but I still needed to care.  I wanted to care.  What did not bother me at all was the lack of positive male characters.  If you look at the story as one of an escape from abuse and if the abuse was at the hands of a male power figure, then you're not going to have a positive view of men.  Also, I was unbothered (hell, I honestly never thought twice about it) by the girls costumes. In fact, and this is bizarre coming from me, I never sexualized the girls at all.  Never once thought about them in that way at all.  To me, they were simply people in a bad situation and, in the fantasies, kicking ass.  Their fantasy costumes were just that -- fantasy costumes, akin to superhero outfits.  

When we get to the end, we get an interesting little shocker.  What seems to have escaped some people is that if Scott Glenn is the bus driver, how did he appear in the fantasies?  It would've been the first time Sweet Pea saw him.  Thus I'm forced to suspect that the asylum and the bus station are yet another fantasy world.  Also, we saw the boy from the trenches was the boy in front of her on the bus.  Is Babydoll's story really Sweet Pea's except with a brother?  Is her story really a conglomeration of all the girls?  I expect she's the only one who ever was real.  Is the bus her way to escape the insanity and depression she's fallen into?

I really like Snyder's visual style (I know there are those who do not), and I thought the movie was gorgeous.  I also felt that it presented some interesting ideas (also -- Brazil homage).  I just wish it would have been better executed.

I'm interested to see what the Director's Cut is like.

Richard Gozinya, Harold Snatch and Wilbur Jizz. Together we are the law firm Gozinya, Snatch and Jizz.
Scarlet
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Posted: 8 years 48 weeks ago

 For reals, my review is insanely long.  I'm not sure if there's a character limit to comment posting, so just go here: scarletreport.blogspot.com/2011/03/sucker-punch.html

If I can post it here without the length being extremely obnoxious then I will.

Also - Jake, the Director's Cut is sure to rock & there better be a stellar commentary from Snyder on there too.

I also left out some points - in a lot of ways, I think Snyder fell in love with Kill Bill & decided to make his own version. I forgot to mention Scott Glenn's character & how he furthered the 'inner journey' aspect blah blah blah.

Carnivale 2.0 is back because she made a deal with Patrick while strung out on Unisom.
The Swollen Goi...
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Posted: 8 years 48 weeks ago

If there is a character limit, I don't know about it.  I've never exceeded it, and I have WALL-OF-TEXT-ed the Hell out of this place.

The Swollen Goi...
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Posts: 14343
Posted: 8 years 48 weeks ago

I did a word count on your review, Scarlet.  It wasn't quite 1,400 words long, which isn't so bad.  CAers are used to being subjected to things in excess of that.  Thursty's weekly Retro Reviews, for example, usually end up being around 1,500 words.

Scarlet
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Posts: 121
Posted: 8 years 48 weeks ago

It's been like... 3 years.... eeek, maybe 4 since I've been around here. I've forgotten about the mega rants people post.

I've missed people's mega rants.

Carnivale 2.0 is back because she made a deal with Patrick while strung out on Unisom.
Scarlet
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Posts: 121
Posted: 8 years 48 weeks ago

 It's also so weird to not be referred to as Carni. Oh well, I was trying to be consistent w/the rest of my current online personas.

Carnivale 2.0 is back because she made a deal with Patrick while strung out on Unisom.
Jakester
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Posts: 5753
Posted: 8 years 48 weeks ago

There's some excellent observations there, sis.  I hope Pat reads it.  Maybe send it to Drew on Twitter, too.  You should repost it here.

Richard Gozinya, Harold Snatch and Wilbur Jizz. Together we are the law firm Gozinya, Snatch and Jizz.
Scarlet
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Posted: 8 years 48 weeks ago

 You're just saying that because I said you were awesome.  

I'll post etc.... tomorrow. 

Carnivale 2.0 is back because she made a deal with Patrick while strung out on Unisom.
Daltons chin dimple
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Posted: 8 years 48 weeks ago

So anything in it that gives any clues or fills us with dread about what might be in store for Superman?

....says "Kill Bond, NOW!"
The Swollen Goi...
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Posted: 8 years 48 weeks ago

I thought it was generally awful, but no more so than the majority of his work.  I reckon his Superman movie will at least be at the level of the rest of his stuff, which doesn't fill me with too much hope.  I guess Nolan's involvement helps soothe me a little bit.  I have my problems with Nolan, too.  

mckracken
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Posts: 965
Posted: 8 years 48 weeks ago

sounds like another movie with eye poping visuals and cardboard characters, with "killing hordes of people, leveling up to the next big Boss" that movie was called Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow

The Swollen Goi...
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Posts: 14343
Posted: 8 years 48 weeks ago

You sure they don't call it Typical Genre Action Movie?

Jakester
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Posted: 8 years 48 weeks ago

It's tomorrow! Post it. POST IT!

Richard Gozinya, Harold Snatch and Wilbur Jizz. Together we are the law firm Gozinya, Snatch and Jizz.