Wednesday, September 21, 2011

review: sucker punch

*Warning: Here Be Spoilers for the movie Sucker Punch.  Do not read if you do not want the movie ruined for you.*

image source: Boom Tron
I never thought I would be writing a review on Sucker Punch, the 2011 action film directed by Zack Snyder (of 300 and Watchmen fame.)  I can't remember when or how I first learned of this film- I believe I was either shown a teaser trailer or saw some initial images released before the film came to theaters- but I do recall my boyfriend Scott pointing out that it was apparently steampunk-inspired.  From the images I saw, however, the connection to steampunk seemed loose at best and his strong urgings for me to see it to review on my blog were, in my opinion, a ploy to get me to watch a movie where a bunch of hot chicks ran around in short skirts and thigh-highs kicking ass in a confused, plotless action movie that was based around the target audience of males being too distracted by the amount of skin displayed by the female leads to realize that the movie itself sucked.

Life intervened with Scott's plans for a night out at the movies.  So the movie came and left theaters and I forgot about its existence.  Then Sucker Punch came out on DVD.  Thus began Scott's search of every RedBox we came across in the city of Pittsburgh for this particular film.

He finally succeeded in his search last week.  At first I told him that I would pass on the movie.  But he reminded me of its steampunk inspiration.  It didn't take much prompting after that- I was in the mood for a movie, and I could always pull out a Sudoku puzzle if the movie became too much of a nerdy gamer guy's wet dream.

The premise of the movie is very simple- a girl is sent to a mental institution (that, oddly enough, looks like a spooky haunted Victorian mansion on the outside, despite the fact that the movie seems to be in a relatively modern setting) by her abusive stepfather.  Moments before a scheduled lobotomy is performed on her (which her stepfather bribed the head orderly to arrange) she disappears into the recesses of her mind, altering the mental institution and the people in it to deal with the reality of her own grave situation.  Here she has created her own dark Wonderland, where the head orderly is the owner of a club and prostitution ring, the head psychiatrist is the dance instructor of the club, and the girls she meets in the mental ward are performers/prostitutes in this club, all held against their will.

image source: A.V. Club
With four of the girls the main character, now revealed to be called "Babydoll," plans an escape plan based around her ability to mesmerize all men who watch her while she's dancing.  Their goal- collect four items to help them escape, which items need to be collected while the men are too distracted by Babydoll to notice that they are being hoodwinked.  During Babydoll's dance scenes the viewer is not treated with any footage of her dancing, but is instead sent further into her mind, where their escape plan transforms into military objectives to be met in multiple fantasy worlds.  Accompanied by her four female partners-in-crime, Babydoll fights steam and clock-work powered zombies in a WWI trench warfare situation to retrieve a map, slays a dragon in a castle surrounded by Lord of the Rings-type orks for a fire source, and get a bomb from a train guarded by alien robots.

image source: Entertainment Weekly

This movie has surprised me.  It wasn't good, but I can't say that it was bad either.  There is no real complex plot.  The movie does play out like a video game.  It starts with a conflict, and then one big goal to accomplish.  In order to accomplish that goal several smaller tasks must be completed to collect all of the items to complete the final goal.  Add the impractical clothes of the female leads in the fight scenes and their superhuman ability to defeat scores of foes without obtaining so much as a scratch, it does truly deserve the label of a male gamer geek's wet dream.

Sucker Punch is not a girl-power movie in the least, although it tries so hard to be.  Despite the five female leads working to escape the exploitation of the club owner, the women themselves seem to be exploited by the filmmaker by the garb they wear in the club and battle scenes.  There's just too much that appeals to men that I cannot say with any certainty appeals to women.  Sure, it's great to see women kicking ass in the style of King Leonidas in his men in 300, but I like that kind of a film, and most women I know do not.

What this movie did have, however, was a nearly flawless compilation of music and scenes that flowed easily into each other.  It wasn't the confusion of "A dream within a dream within a dream" that Inception is mocked for.  It is known that the head psychiatrist at the mental institution practices a sort of therapy where the patient takes herself out of the pain of the present world to create a new world for herself, which is precisely what Babydoll does in her most difficult moments.

But the very human repercussions of her playacting in her mind also have very real consequences for her in the real world, showing that one cannot escape their reality no matter how hard they try. In a way I was greatly reminded of Lewis Carroll's Alice's Adventures in Wonderland and Through the Looking Glass, and What Alice Found There as well as the psychological backstory behind American McGee's video game Alice.  The comparison could not have been most obvious than in the first "battle" scene with all five female leads against the steam and clockwork powered knights, where a cover of "White Rabbit" played in the background throughout the entire scene:


The musical selections in this movie were excellent.  Most of them were cover songs, but were obviously carefully chosen due to their lyrics.  They all made sense with the various scenes, and most of them were by female musicians in an attempt to cultivate the "girl power" and the "escape from reality" themes the movie tries to portray.  It was nice that the lead actress, Emily Browning, also sang some of the songs.  My particular favorite was her cover of the Smiths' "Asleep":


There is no real deep meaning in this movie- it is mostly purely scantily-clad females kicking ass and taking names.  But if you did like 300 or like video-game inspired movies I think it's worth a shot.  It also helps if you're a heterosexual male.

FYI: Scott's opinion of the movie was that he had never liked watching such a sucky, plotless movie so much (i.e. he succumbed to the brainwashing caused by the wardrobe choices and flawless physiques of the females.)

1 comment:

  1. I actually enjoyed the movie. It was entertaining, and each little scene was so different. The main messge was that sometimes there is no way out, life isn't fair, and bad things happen. It was an artful approach to real life. Life sucks, fight hard, but in the end just remember, no one gets out alive.

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