Review: Zack Snyder's 'Sucker Punch' Movie Kicks Some Serious Ass!
by Jeremy Kirk
March 24, 2011
Sometimes the Hollywood machine works too well, churning out mindless drivel with such frequency that audiences gaze on the pretty pictures without a glimmer of a thought in their minds. They don't think to look deeper than the massive explosions and whirlwind action to discover actual meanings, the story that is truly being conveyed. That's probably worked too well for Zack Snyder, whose Sucker Punch is likely to play in front of millions of eyes but whose meaning is expected to be either lost or not even considered. It's definitely there, but does it also play on a visceral level? Does the imagery and story work hand-in-hand in creating a successful work of fiction? Let's let the next statement answer that:
Holy God, Sucker Punch kicks some serious ass!
Loaded with all kinds of visions of the fantastic and high-octane excitement, it's a visceral feast that utilizes Snyder's signature techniques with all the velocity of a fire breathing dragon. It takes its video game mentality of "the mission" and turns the revelry volume of blasting hundreds of monsters, robots, or Nazi zombies with hails of bullets up past the point of splitting ears. But Sucker Punch is not just style over substance. That's an argument the film is sure to be met with, as well, but there is just as much bubbling up under Sucker Punch's CG surface than there is in its sepia toned skies. Filled with themes of empowerment, escapism, and changing the course of the typical narrative, the film rides high in its jet-propelled mech warrior, and it has much to tell us when it's done doing loopty loops around our brain.
The film is told in three layers, the top of which involves a young girl played by Emily Browning. In the opening moments, we see her mother pass on, her sister and her left with an abusive step-father, and the ultimate tragedy that sends her to a mental institution. Once there, she escapes into her imagination, a fantastical world where she is Baby Doll, an orphan and latest addition to a brothel. Baby Doll meets four other young women there, and the group devise a plan to escape the brothel and the malevolence of owner, Blue, played with staggering gusto by Oscar Isaac.
It's when the plan to escape is devised, when Baby Doll distracts with her dances - accompanied by incredibly cool covers of great songs - and escapes into that third layer, that we are shown the true moments of ambition Zack Snyder wanted to show us. These are missions Baby Doll goes on in her imagination, the four girls fighting alongside her. Each mission has a purpose, a plan, and its own setting that includes everything from trench warfare to a train on a far distant planet. These environments are brought to life with stunning detail, something that has become a staple in Snyder's style.
There's an argument to be made against these moments of fantastical action. Above being essentially video game segments complete with Scott Glenn as the mission director - try not to hit the X button to get more information out of him - there's a lack of concern for the girls. All of this is playing out in Baby Doll's head, so everything is going to be just fine, right?
Of course, Snyder has a thought about that, as well. Beyond being able to make the same argument about the suspense in a James Bond or Mission: Impossible film - you never worry about 007 getting killed on a mission, but that doesn't mean they aren't exciting to watch - the story structure in Sucker Punch begins to turn around on itself. You begin to realize that reality comes before the fantasy, and real death can actually come into play. It's a notion that plays out all the way to the film's satisfying end. How it plays out will obviously have to be seen, but you understand when all is said and done that Snyder had a plan from the beginning. He went for a grand slam in visual and story-telling ambition, and he hit it just right.
The themes raised in Sucker Punch are executed with just as precise accuracy as the amazing visuals. Sucker Punch is a film about a young girl in the '60s, and how a male authority could easily have her locked up if he saw fit with minimal effort. Snyder brings the feminist movement, the empowerment that would come shortly after this period of time, to the front of his ideologies in Sucker Punch. Baby Doll and the girls she befriends are standing up for themselves. They are being proactive in getting away from their current situation, and the comradery found between them is as strong as any war-time epic.
Browning, Abbie Cornish as Sweet Pea, Jena Malone as Rocket, Vanessa Hudgens as Blondie, and Jamie Chung as Amber, make that connection work, too. The third layer down, the mission layer, has a tendency of making most of them caricatures. There's little definition between them, but once you understand how all of this is playing out in Baby Doll's mind and based on what she knows of these girls, it completely makes sense for the story at hand.
But even more than this idea of empowerment, Sucker Punch shocks the system of your standard narrative. Sure it unfolds in layers, but Snyder and fellow screenwriter Steve Shibuya have much to say about the idea of character, who is important, and what each person in the film stands for. The ideas of purpose and sacrifice run deep beneath the film's surface and are likely bits to be picked over for days or even weeks after watching the film.
When Sucker Punch has ended, after the final voice-over narration which is the only cringe-worthy aspect to the film, you let out a breath. The imagery, plot, and characters have played out before you, and the time for understanding the subtext begins. Sucker Punch is a film loaded with it. The battle scenes, the dragons and giant Samurai statues and killer robots are the blue pill that helps the themes go down smoother, but there's no denying what Snyder was aiming for in terms of deep-rooted meanings or metaphorical story telling. Visually captivating and thought-provoking, Sucker Punch is an explosive success, one that begs the question: "What the hell is Zack Snyder going to show us next?!"
Jeremy's Rating: 9 out of 10