April 2, 2012

Rabid Rewind: Sucker Punch

Sucker Punch
starring Emily Browning, Abbie Cornish, Jena Malone, Vanessa Hudgens, Scott Glen and Carla Cugino
directed by Zach Snyder
Warner Bros. (2011)

Judging by some of the reviews I read for this movie before finally seeing it for myself, I was expecting something far more offensive. As it stands, Sucker Punch is more offensive in terms of depictions of women than half the anime and other action movies I've seen over the years. The movie is a mish-mash of genre pastiches that are given a fresh coat of glitz and hurled at the audience's eyes at a hundred miles per hour.

Emily Browning plays Baby Doll, a twenty-year-old orphan who is locked in an insane asylum after accidentally killing her sister while fending off her evil stepfather. Inside, a crooked orderly forges a doctor's signature to have Baby Doll lobotomized at the behest of the evil stepfather. At the moment this occurs, she escapes into a dreamworld of her own design that has her imprisoned in a burlesque show that traffics women. Like The Wizard of Oz's Judy Garland, Emily Browning's character inhabits this dreamland with the inmates, orderlies, doctors, and others she has interacted with inside the asylum. The psychiatrist (Carla Cugino) becomes the dance instructor, the evil orderly becomes the burlesque's promoter, and her fellow inmates become her fellow dancers. The girls devise a plan to escape by gathering items like a map, a knife, and a key. But to do these things, they need to create distractions. For these girls, the distraction comes in the form of Baby Doll's dance routines, which the audience never actually sees--perhaps Emily Browning just can't dance.

To cover up the absence of any dance sequences--remind me to send Zach Snyder a thank-you note for that--Baby Doll goes into yet another fantasy land while she performs. Each time it's a different fantastical setting: there's the samurai warrior fight scene, the Nazi zombie soldiers, and even a dragon's castle. The whole idea of a character who has escaped into a dreamworld while already escaping in a dreamworld feels very Inception-esque, but with bigger explosions. Each of these sequences is a set piece wrung for every drop of juice it's worth. High-minded storytelling, it is not, but the visual spectacle is absolutely mesmerizing. Where Transformers felt like my ears and eyes were being curb-stomped by Michael Bay's masturbatory action sequences, Sucker Punch offered a more stylized, more sophisticated form of eye candy.
The acting is ... passable. Scott Glen as Baby Doll's version of Yoda was a nice touch, though it takes a while for his character's presence to come together. And Carla Cugino is at her sultry best in her role. As for the girls led by Emily Browning, I suppose you could call them a cross between The A-Team and Sailor Moon. They kick a lot of ass and look pretty doing it. The weightier aspects of the story kind of get thrown under the bus for the sake of visual magic tricks, but I wasn't expecting much more than that anyway.
Honestly, if I was supposed to be offended by the movie, I must be a horrible human being, because I actually rather liked it. I don't know if I'll be in a hurry to watch it a second time, but it was fun the first time around.


  1. I have not seen this, yet... I think it is my type of film, where you can turn your brain off.

  2. Having nothing to do with being offended (I don't get offended easily, and this movie certainly didn't bother me on that level), I didn't care for this movie.

    I was overtly aware that all of the fight scenes and really *all* of the suspense didn't matter a damn lick because none of it was actually happening. That took A LOT away for me.

    But it sure does look perty! ;-) I agree with you on that point. It's really the *only* thing I liked about this movie.