In defence of… Sucker Punch

Sucker Punch's Emily Browning who plays Babydoll

100% style over substance - and proud of it. - ★★★★

So first of all, a disclaimer. I don’t think I eeeveeerrr want to see Sucker Punch again. But this doesn’t stop me from ranking my trip to see it last March as the best cinema “experience” I’ve had since I saw Avatar. Now don’t stop reading thinking I’ve been replaced with a pre-pubescent fool, allow me to explain.

To provide a little background, I saw Sucker Punch on a wet Friday afternoon on one of Canada’s largest cinema screens (the Scotiabank theatre’s “UltraAVX experience” – wow… the ability to pick your seat and recline a wee bit). I had a bag of skittles and a litre of coke to keep me company. Did someone say sugar rush? Oh and I didn’t have to pay for any of this as I had a free pass.

But let’s put these extenuating circumstances aside and get down to the proverbial brass tacks. Sucker Punch’s declared production budget was $82m and it took in a world gross of $89m. Take in the money that will have been spent by the publicity department (presumably about $20m) and it’s going to take a considerable amount of DVD, On-demand and Bluray sales for Warner Bros to consider it as profitable.

Zach Snyder’s other two spring hits – 300 and Watchmen – had both received mixed reviews but went on to make good money at the box office. Sucker Punch is a very different beast though. Based on Znyder’s first original story and screenplay, it tells the story of a teenage girl, Baby Doll, who is committed to a mental institution by her father. To avoid this new reality she creates an alternate world using the people around her as characters in her imaginary escape plan. Fun stuff!

To say things are stylised is like saying The Wizard of Oz is a little camp. The hospital world is dark and decrepit while the fantasy sequences that Baby Doll and her female cohorts fight through look like some of the prettiest computer game cut scenes you’ve ever seen. That’s not to do them a dis-service, in fact quite the opposite. These sequences are jaw-dropping in their scope – the CGI composition and skimpy outfits on show combining to create the ultimate 12-year-0ld boy’s fantasy. You can argue until the cows come home over whether all this is an empty misogynous mess or an empowering experimental film, but at least Snyder is pushing the boat out a little. TimeOut Chicago’s Sam Adams puts it better than I could

Snyder has reached into his soul, a dusty trunk filled with Victoria’s Secret catalogs, disassembled action figures, and a worn-out VHS of Brazil. That’s what artists do, even when they ought to know better.

To try and get a handle on what we’ve treated to over the course of the two hour running time, grab a mixing bowl and throw in music videos from the 90s, manga, world war II movies, medievil fantasy fight sequences, softcore pornography and some graphic novels. Now put this mixing bowl on the ground and jump up and down on it. Hell, if you’ve got a car take it outside and run it over a few times. You’ve not got some indication of the amount of references and styles thrown in here.

Rocket, Baby Doll, Amber, Sweet Pea & Blondie. Oh and a big robot.

I think it’s quit easy to work out where it all went wrong for Snyder and Warner Bros. People placed too much focus on the failings of the script and were reluctant to just let themselves get lost in these multiple realities. It has to rank as one of the most misunderstood films of the year. Much like we now acknowledge Eraserhead, Labyrinth or Akira for the influential risk-taking pictures that they were, I genuinely think that Sucker Punch is the kind of movie that could be discussed in film schools across the world twenty years from now as epitomising Hollywood cinema – for good and bad – in 2011.

The escapism, visual stylings, ambition and seriouslywe’rejusthavingalaugh on display is mind-boggling and sold me from the opening sequence right through to the final escape. 100% style over substance – and proud of it.

Zach Snyder is currently directing the next Superman movie – Man of Steel – which comes out in mid 2013. I hope it’s even more insane than this…

  • Joe

    Duuude….. with the greatest respect, I couldn't agree less. Sucker Punch is shallow and focussed on appearance over character (which is not ideal – let's face it), but I don't think it's especially stylish. The fantasies look colour-drained and awfully similar to one-another, and the action scenes are drearily repetitive and (because they're fantasies) have zero sense of danger or peril.

    Hey – I'm all for unpretentious entertainment, but look at any good popcorn films (300, Star Wars, Jaws, Raiders, ET, Starship Troopers, Die Hard, Basic Instinct etc etc etc) and you'll see that they'll have decent character development and plot. All the pretty images in the world mean nothing if you can't get a foothold on story or character…

  • Nigel

    And I guess this is where I managed to suspend any need for character development or story by just pretending I was in a bad computer game with pretty outfits and fun action. Hell I can by cynical but sometimes something just clicks. And this brash mess of a film worked for me! Though I will add Skittles and Coke is a truly lethal combination. Maybe I could have watched Yentl and raved about it….

  • Aisling Kelly

    I’ve seen it…twice. And as someone with the emotional maturity of a twelve year old boy I have to say I enjoyed it! Absolutely rubbish plot/character development/dialogue but if anyone went in expecting the next Seventh Seal they’re an idiot. As mindless entertainment goes short skirts + big explosions = win. Add in a fairly decent soundtrack (the Bjork remix was awesome) and you’ve got yourself a sure fire, no brainer, filmic equivalent of skittles and coke. No nutritional value but it sure feels good for a couple of hours! I agree though, see it big (and preferably under the influence of some form mind altering substance).

  • Nigel

    We are on the EXACT same page. Pat Brereton will be talking about this movie in 25 years time. Or whatever the Brereton + 25 years time equivalent is….

  • Joe Griffin

    “if anyone went in expecting the next Seventh Seal they’re an idiot”… That is my single least favourite recurring argument in film discussion. The argument is basically saying “What do expect, half-decent dialogue, coherent story and actors who look like they gave a shit? Go watch Schindlers List ya poser!” It was said a lot when people were defending Transformers 2, and all it says is that you have low expectations. There are good and bad popcorn films. I (humbly and personally) believe Sucker Punch is the latter. If you can’t tell the difference, go watch Batman and Robin, then follow it up with Mac and Me. I’ll rewatch Inception and ET.

  • Steve Neville

    So we all have very valid points to make here, and I fall on the “i liked it” side of the fence. I can see how people would not like it, but for me…’s a great movie.

    I liked it for the very reasons Nigel articulated here, and I liked it for some other reasons of my own. Maybe bullet points would be apt.

    + Jenna Malone.
    + The subtle, but effective lack of gore and blood……light rays and steam anyone?
    + Excellent set and costumes, and not just the skimpy girls clothing either.
    + Very nicely worked transitions between CGI and live action…..VERY NICE!
    + Soundtrack had some nice throwback 90′s tunes.
    + Exhilarating action sequences.

    I could go on…..

    I guess it was always going to be a movie for me as I like movies that don’t conform to normal convention. Movies like Eternal Sunshine, The Matrix, Donnie Darko, Sin City, Pan’s Labyrinth… know the ones, there are many of them. Movies that are not like anything you have ever seen before….movies that surprise you, and that is exactly what Suckerpunch did to me.

    That said….samurai, dragons, pretty girls, WW2 dogfights…..was there ever a doubt that I’d like it?

    Oh, and one more thing…..

    + Scott Glenn!