Spoilers might need to get their heads examined.
We’re on a visually-arresting binge of films that lived for their visuals but have been critically considered shallow in their depth. I knew I had to do Sucker Punch. This movie always had bigger dreams. Visually speaking, this movie is Zack Snyder’s directorial impression of Tim Burton. This movie has so much black and green that you’re expecting Batman and The Riddler to show up on the next scene. And yes, there is some colour coding to each scenario that tells us on what game difficulty – I mean, err – reality we’re supposed to be. Nothing deeper than that though.
Sucker Punch (2011) feels like director Zack Snyder doing live action of a comic. It’s not, he’s the writer as well. This is the actual source material. To his credit, he’s trying to tell a story in many genres. They’re less movie genres and more of anime genres – actually, they’re more like westernized aspects of both anime and comics mixed up in a blender with scantily clad women. In the main story, a nameless girl later nicknamed as Babydoll (Emily Browning) loses her mother, tries to defend her little sister from her monster stepfather, finds her dead and gets framed by her stepfather for murder. For this she gets sent to Arkham Asyl- I mean, Lennox House for the Criminally Insane.
She’s going to be lobotomized in five days, so like all young girls do, she fantasizes about the asylum being a club that is also a dance school but really it is a whore house that works as an orphanage. Yeah, all of those. Now, don’t worry about getting lost because although the cold open is basically a music video, once the movie starts every single character that Babydoll meets will explain, in detail, what’s going in the very same scene. Blue (Oscar Isaac) who runs Lennox House will go over every detail with the stepfather although they already have a deal. Once we’re firmly in the fantasy starting level, he’ll don a moustache so you know he’s the handler / pimp now.
Babydoll doesn’t really develop as a character as much as she dreams up a plan to escape via fantasies, although she’s technically in a dream already. Sweet Pea (Abbie Cornish) doesn’t believe her, but her sister Rocket (Jena Malone) becomes Babydoll’s bff in a second. Now, I say “plan” but basically it’s a scavenger hunt for five items. I’m not going to tell you what they are, but don’t worry. They’ll write it on a blackboard for you, and the villains, to read off from. Now, obviously we’re not following common sense here. The idea is to sacrifice the real story for the fantasy. Although I have to say, I doubt a young woman with such trauma would end up having such a fetish for guns, women in skimpy clothing and explosions.
The problem is that in the fantasy, we also sacrifice that one for another one that Babydoll recreates in her head when she dances. You won’t get to see her dance, but you will see the fantasy where the greens and blacks are replaced by the blue hue of snow in the moonlight and orange tones of explosions. This basically means this movie is trying to be everything at once, but none of the stories seem to have any purchase. We are mildly curious about the real one and kind of invested in the dance club. After a while the CGI scenes feel repetitive and we are not quite sure at what level of inception any measure of engagement was lost. Yes, it’s visually striking. But CGI action gets dated quick.
The problem is although the characters are more or less the same, we quickly disregard the notion than anybody is in danger. When dancer Babydoll charms all men when she dances, we don’t see her actually doing it. Instead, we then go for a fantasy of a story in which we’re kinda trying to do the “real” mission to obtain an item in an over-the-top symbolic re-interpretation that is several times more convoluted. If the mission was to obtain a knife from a cook, now it’s to disarm a bomb jumping from a chopper onto a moving train full of robots. It’s an interesting approach to troubleshooting by imagining a problem a hundred times harder than the original one. The idea is that you should think it’s cool. You’ll receive your queue via an electric guitar riff.
Guiding the girl squad and giving them missions is a wise man (Scott Glenn) that changes from samurai to military officer to what the situation calls for. He also is armed with a hundred catchphrases that feel taken from other films and/or media. It’s so video-game-esque that in typical fashion, Babydoll is a bit of a blank canvas. Sweet Pea has more charisma and leadership skills. Rocket is actually fun. They all end up letting Babydoll take the lead because she has “the plan” and can dance-charm people. Dr. Groski (Carla Gugino) basically teaches Babydoll to dance by telling her to feel the music. Jedi training has been been explained better.
I can lightly recommended for action and visuals, but it does begin to drag a bit after a while. There’s so much CGI dragons (that mother dragon seems like a distant relative Drogon) and zombie nazis I can take before I want to see something smarter come up on the screen. A wittier dialog and some comedy moments would have gone a long way to make this movie into a cult following. The music chosen is not bad (“Sweet Dreams”, “Army of Me”, “White Rabbit”, etc.) but it’s a bit forced when put together. You could have entrusted the music to a group like Evanescence or Nightwish and come up with a cohesive soundtrack. As it happens, it’s almost a movie which means it barely gets to be that. Unfortunately, nothing said or done ends up being particularly memorable.
That will do for now.