SUCKER PUNCH Review

By: Andrew Walsh

Sucker Punch is, not ironically, something you will not see coming. It is a film that is equal parts action, fantasy, asylum drama, burlesque, and quasi-music video. It’s the kind of film that, despite appearances, does have thought in its head and a theme to be examined.
Sucker Punch is the fifth film by Director Zack Snyder, yet the first of which that is not an adaptation of some kind. Snyder is a born visual storyteller, composing each shot as if it were a painting. There is true artistry in the visuals of all of his films (particularly Watchmen) and he’s not about to hold back now.
Sucker Punch tells the story of a young woman (nicknamed Baby Doll) who is sent to an insane asylum by her stepfather. She learns that in five days she will be lobotomized, and so she escapes into a fantasy world within her own mind. A world in which she instead trapped in a 1920’s style brothel and acts out her escape plan there. Yet even within this dream Baby Doll imagines her various trials and tribulations as fantastical action sequences.
For the most part, all Sucker Punch really has are symbols and metaphors. The story isn’t particularly interesting and there’s little, if any, character development. What’s interesting about the film are its various iconography, which it uses to comment on female empowerment.
Think about what it means to be a strong male character: a man who stands up to his oppressors, a man of action who is always able to fight back, a man who stands up for his ideals. What do you think of when you hear strong female character? Personally, I don’t see many heroines in films that are actually strong female characters. Most of them essentially become roles that would be interchangeable with another male role (think Alice in the Resident Evil movies). The only one I can think of in recent memory is The Bride in Kill Bill, a role of action hero that could only be portrayed as a woman.
All of the heroines of the film are essentially all fighting back against heroic male iconography: battles with large samurai, battlefields of both World Wars, a Lord of the Rings styled castle (complete with orcs), and a runaway train with a bomb onboard. The fantasies all take place in the mind of Baby Doll when she is forced to dance for the entertainment of her male oppressors, yet these dream sequences are filled with Freudian male imagery (swords, guns, trains, etc) which the heroines interchangeably use and destroy.
What we are seeing is the typical female heroine’s internal, emotional battle “translated” as the typical male’s outward, reactionary battle. It’s not the fantasy battles themselves that are empowering, but instead what they stand in for.
Also of note is the aesthetic portrayal of the film’s male and female characters. All of the male characters are portrayed as being sleazy, conniving, or downright ugly with the exclusion of John Hamm who plays the one sympathetic male character (within the real world). In contrast, the women are breathtakingly beautiful, particularly within the dream sequences where they are often wearing sexy lingerie. They appear almost as works of art to be appreciated in and of themselves (objectification) yet consistently fight back and overpower their adversaries.
However, as fun as it is to wax philosophically about a film such as this, there are still questions that need to be answered.
The acting is all good for the most part. While the characters are not particularly developed, the actors portray them with much more depth than the script would suggest. Particular praise must be given to Emily Browning as Baby Doll, who shows us the character clearly and definitely yet doesn’t utter a single word for the first 15 to 20 minutes of the film (I actually thought Snyder might have been attempting to tell the story without the main character ever speaking, which could have been cool). Also of note is Scott Glenn as The Wise Man, who essentially embodies every male action hero/mentor character complete with clichés and one-liners.
The film’s biggest problem is a lack of emotional context. Once we figure out that the actions sequences are all dreams while the “real” world of the brothel is also a dream we lose nearly all our sense of place or consequences. It’s like when a friend tells you a story that one of their friends told them.
In the end, Sucker Punch is a visual fiesta that is gorgeous to behold. In some ways a action film with messages and ideas, yet in other ways plays as indulgence for indulgence’s sake.

Production Value: 8
Entertainment Value: 8

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