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movie review: Sucker Punch

by Leonard Maltin
March 25, 2011 4:30 AM
17 Comments
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Director Zach Snyder recreated the look and feel of ancient Thermopylae, as pictured by visionary artist/writer Frank Miller, in 300 without ever leaving a soundstage, using the palette of CGI. Then he brought the stylized world of Watchmen to life on screen. Now he has directed and co-written a film that takes place in yet another artificial environment—but these characters are as synthetic as their colorful backdrop. I’ll resist all the puns the title invites and simply say that Sucker Punch is one strange movie.

The central character (Emily Browning, yet another attractive young Aussie playing American) has been wrongly committed to an insane asylum—a highly corrupt one, at that. Stifled at every turn, she bonds with four other youthful inmates (including her sister Abbie Cornish, Jena Malone, Vanessa Hudgens, and Jamie Chung) and plans to break out. In the meantime, she finds release by—

—escaping into her imagination, where she pictures her and her gal pals kicking butt in a series of high-powered action sequences.

These segments are designed and staged like video games. There’s nothing intrinsically wrong with that—after all, the whole movie is ersatz, from the settings to the outsized performances by a variety of bad guys—but because they are so unreal they offer no catharsis for the viewer. (There’s nothing duller, or more uninvolving, than watching someone else play a video game.)

Snyder, who wrote the outlandish screenplay with Steve Shibuya, sees everything in broad, comic-book terms, whether it be villainy or heroism, and this has its limits. He is careful not to exploit his female stars, or push the limits of a PG-13 rating, so the sexuality is deliberately tame, while the violence is staged in cartoonish fashion.

Throughout this sensory assault I kept asking myself the same question: what’s the point? And that’s the problem: I’m not sure there is one. Sucker Punch seems to offer a wish-fulfillment brand of empowerment to abused or troubled adolescent girls. Not being one, I can’t judge its effectiveness. I can only tell you that I derived nothing from the picture…except when my eye was drawn to a collage of old, tattered Warner Bros. movie posters on the wall of the girls’ dressing room. That I was so easily distracted from the drama in the foreground says it all.

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17 Comments

  • Lester | April 6, 2011 10:42 AMReply

    To me it is a brilliant film. Yeah perhaps a bit over the top in the stylized world, but that is ZS's style.

    The whole escapism to a fantasy world to deal with real life pain - There is much truth in that. And to fantasize about being more than someone is - that is reality especially at a young age.

    I found this is a movie that requires multiple times watching to really understand and follow the symbolism that is there.

    SPOILER ALERT
    For example, the little sister has a stuffed rabbit which becomes the mechanized rabbit. The stuffed rabbit could not protect, while the mechanized fantasy rabbit could. These kinds of things are all over in the movie.

  • Damascus Cain | March 31, 2011 10:29 AMReply

    I enjoyed reading these opinions of Sucker Punch. The good and the bad. Personally, I loved the film. I loved it for it's fresh feeling, it's visual beauty, it's crazy story line and most of all, I loved it for being DIFFERENT. I'm amazed at the amount of passion from both sides... Hate or Love. With all the remakes and revamps, I fear people are getting used to the same thing over and over only told in a different way. Sucker Punch is unique, even those that dislike it admit that. Unique? Isn't that something? Mozart was not appreciated during his life. Orson Wells died thinking the public hated his movies... Everything is relative. I enjoy visionary directors. I enjoyed SUCKER PUNCH. I must point out that Godzilla films were never considered GREAT FILMS, honestly they were kinda inept, yet they had a kind of hidden magic to them. When Baby Doll stands against the giant Dmajin Samurai Warriors, I was reminded of that "Magic". In the end it's just a movie, and since we are spending our hard earned money on these movies, we certainly have the "right" to love or hate them. Simple really. I also like to think about this: with 300, THE WATCHMEN, SUCKER PUNCH and soon SUPERMAN in his portfolio, the young director is just getting started, Mr. Snyder has a wonderful journey ahead of him, and I for one can't wait to see how he evolves.

  • poop | March 29, 2011 9:46 AMReply

    Nice critical review. I will grant you all your points as to why it was a troubled film. And I thank any critic that uses a bit of humility and realizes their own biases in terms of gender or age. I personally liked it. I just have to point out that girls do go out of their way to look good, and this is a fantasy, so why not look good? If you can imagine a flying rabbit bot and huge samurai, couldn't you imagine comfortable high heels? What I find funny is the inherent sexism/detachment that says women don't have fantasies of power and don't want to look good when men do. Conan, Herculese, James Bond, The Transporter anyone? Do skinny or fat men envision vanquishing their foes or design game characters that don't look bad ass? If you know a girl who plays video games where she can design a character, see how she modeled her, is the character ugly? I thank the critic for not generalizing about feminine psychology since it takes all kinds.

  • Jason | March 29, 2011 9:01 AMReply

    Well, judging by the comments I'm guess this film will be another cult-favorite lol.

  • Dylan | March 28, 2011 1:49 AMReply

    Nothing can turn you into a drooling idiot, a film has only as much meaning as the viewer watching it can give it. When my fifteen year old son came home Saturday night after watching the film with his friends all I heard him talk about was how interesting the film mixed the action/adventure genre, with the asylum genre, with the prison genre, and with the pre code backstage musical genre of the early thirties like 42nd Street and Gold Diggers of 1933; he talked to me about how the film's structure advanced the narrative, setting up the asylum story, that eventually becomes a musical, only that the musical story doesn't build up to singing and dancing set pieces but to big action set pieces; he told me the action set pieces payed homage to all of the great action genres: the samurai film, the war film, the medieval film, and the run-away vehicle chase films; he told me about all of the homages made to Citizen Kane in the beginning of the film, shots that mimicked Kane's death in the protagonist's mother's death, and a few examples of depth staging being executed; and he discussed how the film's end paid homage to films like One Flew Over The Cuckoos Nest, The Shawshank Redemption, and The Lord of the Rings, how in this film the Sam character is played by Abbie Cornish, and the Frodo character is played Emily Browning, the one who carries the burden that frees them all. One of my son's favorite parts was how the movie used creative ways in depicting death visually without all the blood and gore used in other films to maintain the PG-13 rating, like the burst of steam from the German's gas masks whenever a German was killed. In essence the film is a prison film. My son doesn't think it is an example of great film making, but he doesn't deny the significance a film like this has on the landscape of contemporary film making. I think it's too soon to describe Zak Snyder as an auteur, but he is certainly a much more interesting Hollywood director than Michael Bay, Robert Luketic, or Louis Leterrier. My point is, there's always more to a film the explosions, effects, brawny women, and action sequences, and it is silly to think of them as just that, it only lessens the culture and the efforts of the filmmakers.

  • Ratty Arbuckle | March 26, 2011 11:41 AMReply

    Contrary to what you may have heard, Sucker Punch is NOT a mindless movie. What it is is the biggest example ever of mainstream critics not "getting" it.

  • Callum | March 26, 2011 11:23 AMReply

    I agree with your review, except for one small point. You talk of how watching someone else play a video game is "dull" and "uninvolving". There are people on YouTube and the internet who make a living playing video games and posting videos of this while they talk. It's not particularly the gameplay that attracts the millions of viewers, but the content of the stuff these commentators talk about. And that's what Sucker punch was missing. The "content".

  • Josh | March 26, 2011 11:04 AMReply

    I applaud all of you that attacked the people that commented on this movie positively.
    I find it funny that you people that did not like the movie are the ones that have more of a violent nature to them.
    Perhaps people that watch movies with more action and violence in them, take out their aggressions just by watching the movie take place. And Perhaps also, the people that do not get their thrills from "one-liner" action movies, such as this one, are upset at the world because the world seems happier than they are.
    So bravo to you, that cannot make an intelligent commentary on something without attacking someone with harsh violence. Bravo to the curmudgeons that feel as though they have nothing better to do than hate the youth. Bravo to all of you that are just shriveled bitter morsels of people.
    May you all find your happiness, in what ever you do, or watch! Happy Viewing!

  • Cinephile | March 26, 2011 7:44 AMReply

    The comment by ChrisLewix says it all. The people who like this ridiculous drivel are clearly illiterate morons. Hey, Chris... the word is "you." It's three letters. Not "u." Grow up, you imbecile. And yes, there is something wrong with mindless action. Because it's "mindless." The fact that you used the word "mindless" in a positive sense speaks volumes about the worthlessness of your generation. Pathetic losers.

  • ChrisLewix | March 26, 2011 5:40 AMReply

    I liked the fact that it's a mindless action movie. There is room in the world for movies that are aimed at fun and nonsense. Not every high grossing movie needs to be Oscar caliber in order to be 'good' let movies be entertaining. Movie trailers exist for a reason. If u didn't want to watch a movie with CG samurai robots shooting Gatling guns, young girls, explosions, dragons and cheesy catch lines, then u shouldn't have paid for the movie ticket. Even if u missed the trailer, look at the poster...there is nothing about it that says, 'this will make u think'.
    If u want to watch a mentally/emotionally stimulating movies, don't watch movies with lightly dressed girls, dragons, explosions, and robots on the same poster...
    Finally, regardless of the intellectual capacity of the 14 year old boys we keep reading about, they all have hormones and when there are 'hot chicks', every one of those intellectual thoughts heads south. Find an audience and cater to it...Zack Snyder has definitely figured this out.

  • Marley Lanier | March 26, 2011 5:36 AMReply

    I knew this movie was in trouble when they had the fantasy with in a fantasy without any explanation: why she was imagining this? how she got this imagination in the first place? what the worlds have to do with the actual reality? who are these characters and why should we care about them?
    Nothing. None of that was explained properly. Therefore, it was a meaningless bunch of noise and flashing lights. Awful.

  • Drew | March 26, 2011 4:49 AMReply

    The movie lacks a connection to its audience only because of the "cuts" to a "video game" world.

    If it focused less on the combats with samurai robots and nazis then, perhaps it could have established why in the first place was she imagining herself doing such deeds?

    In reality, the time each mini-sequence action sequence takes place should have been miniscule (or at least made smaller) in the granduer of the plot.

    Besides last I checked, (I don't mean to stereotype) but I don't think many women fantasize about "slaying the dragon".

    Snyder could have easliy intjected a whole other mini-sequence instead of the action, and the plot as Martin has stated would still be underdeveolped (not as much as the charcters though).

    I also had really high expectations for this movie, at least it fit my action quota for the month then. :D

  • chester | March 26, 2011 2:03 AMReply

    Excellent point about there being nothing duller than watching someone else play a video game. That's the problem with so many CGI movies these days. CGI has effectively killed the engrossing popcorn blockbuster.

  • TheRealEverton | March 26, 2011 1:41 AMReply

    I find the "There’s nothing duller, or more uninvolving, than watching someone else play a video game" quite hilarious and perhaps indicitive of a generation issue. You see watching other people play video games is often enthralling. You've never been to an arcade and seen groups huddled around a particular game whilst someone, often somebody they don't know, struggles aganst the machine? Perhaps attepting to get a high score, or just playing with a style that's appealing. People at home, rooting for their firends or family as they play a game, perhaps one that you were in but were beaten by.

    you scenes like this in Movies and on TV shows; they're based on fact and i promise you there's a whole lot of people that have a lot of fun watching others play video games.

    Don't try to insult their collective intelligence by assuming that they are all somehow deficient, as often these people are playing in student common rooms at university, and no, they aren't drop outs.

    TheRealEverton

  • Mike | March 25, 2011 9:14 AMReply

    Did Steve Rubin just pull out the ageist card? Did he just compare SUCKER PUNCH to SEVENTH VOYAGE OF SINBAD?

    Look, it's OK to say you've raised your teenage boys to be stupid --- That's all on you. At least you admit it.

    You sell your own parents short.

    There's a difference between silly, fun entertainment and nonsense. As an audience, we used to know it. We've relaxed our standards.

    Your parents might not have enjoyed SEVENTH VOYAGE OF SINBAD, but they didn't have to worry about it turning you into a drooling idiot. You say you're not worried now? That's all on you, too.

  • Steve Rubin | March 25, 2011 7:38 AMReply

    It will make money, though. Teenage boys - my son included - see this as totally cool. Sexy teen girls, explosions, great FX, right in their bread basket.

    If my Mom and Dad had come with me to see Seventh Voyage of Sinbad or Jason and the Argonauts, way back when, they would probably have said some of the same things Leonard is saying. What do I know from Talos and Harpies???

  • Jason | March 25, 2011 5:29 AMReply

    Ouch. That's a shame. I was kinda rooting for this one as the art designs looked pretty cool. Too bad the movie's not as appealing.

    I like that analogy of scenes in a movie like watching someone playing a video game. That could be used to to describe so many movies, and not JUST video game movies.

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