While the 17-yr-old in me loved nearly every frame of Sucker Punch (hot chicks in tight revealing clothes, fighting mythological creatures), the 34-yr-old critic in me realized the lack of substance and saw two films spliced together like a Frankenstein monster waiting to lash out at its creator.
After the death of her mother, Baby Doll (Emily Browning) is taken to a mental institution by her evil stepfather (Gerard Plunkett) where she fantasizes about escaping from a bordello filled with sexy girls dressed to make men of any age take a second glance. Within the fantasy of the bordello, Baby Doll gathers four cohorts, Rocket (Jena Malone), Amber (Jamie Chung), Blondie (Vanessa Hudgens), and Sweet Pea (Abbie Cornish) to join her in a plan of escape. All they need is a map, fire, a knife, and a key. To get these items, Baby Doll dances to distract the staff of the bordello while her scantily clad partners in crime do the dirty work. While Baby Doll dances, she goes one level deeper into
inception her fantasy, where she and the girls are given a mission to accomplish by the Wise Man (Scott Glenn). These missions have little to do with what is happening in the story, but they showcase the girls looking sexy while kicking ass (usually with machine guns).
If this sounds confusing, that’s because it is. Director Zack Snyder deserves full points for an attempt at originality in this climate of sequels, remakes, and reboots but the real sucker punch is Snyder expecting the audience to watch two unrelated mismatched films as one.
The story of Baby Doll in the mental institution mixed with her fantasy of being a prisoner in the bordello and attempting escape is a solid story and makes a good film on its own. During the moments when Baby Doll is dancing Snyder should have shown some of her dance as well as the other girls working their magic as they attempt to retrieve the items in question.
The action/fantasy sequences work either as short films or a full length feature with a back story and a purpose. Scott Glenn is enjoyable as the Wise Man in these vignettes, but within the context of the rest of the film these scenes are out-of-place and pointless. With that said, Snyder does manage to do something new with zombies in one such scene, which provides a breath of fresh air given the current overexposure of the zombie genre.
Of all the characters, Rocket is the real stand out. Jenna Malone brings a genuine sexiness and charm to her character that is lacking in the other girls. Baby Doll looks as if she’s on the verge of tears throughout the entire runtime (yes, she’s being detained against her will, but the other girls look as if there is at least some life in them). The remaining girls do, however, deliver solid performances, as does Oscar Isaac as Blue Jones, the sleazy head of the bordello.
The question of exploitation vs. empowerment always comes up with films like Sucker Punch, but it’s a moot point. Much like Russ Meyer’s films, Sucker Punch is a mix of exploitation and empowerment. The female characters in Sucker Punch are empowered and exploited at the same time. It’s not one or the other, it’s both. It’s as simple as that.
Sucker Punch contains an equal amount of great and annoying music. Some scenes, such as the arrival of the Mayor (Alan C. Peterson), are perfectly scored, while others seem as if Snyder (or the studio) is attempting to add music solely to appeal to the PG-13 target audience. Another problem is that the songs don’t play during the entire action/fantasy sequences. A great song starts a scene then cuts out only to reprise at the end of the scene.
Sucker Punch should not be a PG-13 movie. Several scenes feel held back and restricted, whether it’s the choice of Snyder of the studio, Sucker Punch would benefit greatly from an R rating. The PG-13 rating makes it feel like a tease of what could have been.
Despite its shortcomings, the underlying storyline is solid and pays off with its ending, but ultimately Snyder can’t keep his Frankenstein monster under control and Sucker Punch runs amok with little guidance.
Director: Zack Snyder
Writer: Zack Snyder, Steve Shibuya
Cast: Emily Browning, Abbie Cornish, Jena Malone, Vanessa Hudgens, Jamie Chung, Carla Gugino, Oscar Isaac, Jon Hamm, Scott Glenn
Runtime: 110 minutes
Country: USA, Canada