Chicks with guns! Wait, make that chicks with red hot weaponry! Excuse me. Scratch that! Make that, red smoking hot chicks with sizzling hot guns. Yes, that's much better.
Sucker Punch  is like an abject lesson in the art of distraction. It's the fully digital cinematic equivalent of Kevin Mitnick's The Art Of Deception, a book that traces the act of hacking and obtaining information. Snyder, too, presents a story light on character, light on substance and explanation, but the epitome of the aforementioned art of distraction as buxom babes find ways to distract their captors and obtain the necessary keys to their freedom. The fact Snyder is bringing sexy back is indeed a bonus and certainly integral to the very nature of the attack by the stunning actresses selected for their specific roles in getting past a male-dominated incarceration inside of a mental ward/ brothel.
Sucker Punch, on the surface, is all about girl power and Snyder is here to spice up our lives. The fulcrum by which Sucker Punch swings is upon the mighty shoulders of six incredibly sexy, young women including Emily Browning [Baby Doll], Abbie Cornish [Sweet Pea], Jena Malone [Rocket], Vanessa Hudgens [Blondie], Jamie Chung [Amber] and Carla Gugino [Dr. Vera Gorski]. I defy you to pick your favorite for pin-up material. I tried. I failed. Good luck! These are indeed six of the most voluptuous girls in celluloid cinema without an ounce of it on their bodies. How did Scott Glenn not positively shit himself from being surrounded by positively insane levels of estrogen and sexuality not to mention garter-bedecked legs that simply won't quit. GULP! [Turning off water in cold shower].
The rest of the cast are mostly dastardly men with a nice turn by Oscar Isaac as Blue Jones. But the stars of this show are the women and the effects and, while very much an illusion [make-up and computers can work wonders], both are spectacular.
A modern day Cinderella story. To further illustrate the technique of distraction, my 95 year-old grandmother proceeded to share with me a story from her childhood on the same day I watched this film. She grew up at a time where no one had television. Entertainment meant getting to the local baseball games. To do that you had to pay to get in and she had no money being from a family with five other siblings. They had very little. You had to get creative as the artful dodger of the local ruffians as she often proudly boasts her many exploits of beating up the boys in the neighborhood who gave her trouble. So like many kids in the 1920s, she snuck into the games. How was that achieved you ask? Well, there were several children and one of them had to be the bait. That child would locate at the far end of left field, while the others remained at the far corner of right field. Over the fence in left the friend would go chased by the local security people, while the rest filed over to make their way into the game at the other corner undetected. It was a beautiful move and apparently it was done often. She swears she never paid for a single baseball game. Mind you, I don't condone this kind of behavior, but of course, times were different then. It doesn't make it right, but it happened.
My point is that, today, Zack Snyder gives us Sucker Punch, a movie that plays us with the magic of the movie image and his visuals are indeed doing that - moving. What better way to not only infuse a story about an attempted run at freedom from institutionalization than through efforts to distract and ultimately escape, while not only distracting the audience from any hard questions about the material, but delivering his viscerally trademark sucker punch. This is the crux of a fairly shallow film with an arguably unsatisfactory, but still worthy and tragic ending to an unfortunately disturbing film framed within its dark subject matter. The setting is dreary and would generally be unappealing in its execution, but Snyder handles it artfully and artistically as only Snyder can. We are quick to forget the gravity of the situation established for our heroines through the distraction of four extraordinary, visually magnificent set pieces that comprise the bulk of the film. What is a better distraction than perhaps five of the sexiest women on the planet kicking ass in four fantasy set pieces? They are drop dead sexy. So, thank you Sigourney Weaver. And if you need further proof of just how stimulating those segments are look no further than my teenage son forwarding through the story bits that link those thrilling sequences together. You have to see them. They will thrill the visual mind.
Now, remarkably, Pan's Labyrinth , was another fantasy film whereby its heroine, Ofelia, must retreat within a fantasy world to escape an insertion of fascism in Spain in 1944. Director Guillermo del Toro's exquisite take on the genre is near perfect storybook fairy tale, but unlike Sucker Punch, also firmly established within similar territory, Pan's Labyrinth was nearly universally praised, while Sucker Punch was nearly universally derided particularly for its fetishistic depiction and sexual objectification of women. Of course the Academy, never averse to foreign language pictures with subtitles, lauded Pan's Labyrinth with praise and adoration. Yet, Sucker Punch, like Pan's Labyrinth, sees its heroine, Baby Doll [along with the cast of characters that escape into their fictional world], take emotional retreat into a fantasy tale to escape the harsh realities of their respective worlds, and those places are nothing to write home about. Pan's Labyrinth delicately weaves its tale and gradually lures us into a magical and strange world while spending time and focus on young Ophelia. But the colorful Sucker Punch is considered by many to have missed the mark here, because its fully immersive experience into an equally bold imaginary is louder, sexier and even more dangerous when it comes to walking the tightrope of social mores.
It's also unfair to give Sucker Punch failing marks for its handling of mental illness or the once popularly implemented lobotomy begun in 1935. These were stark realities that frame the world of Sucker Punch and who wouldn't want to escape? Snyder's desire may be to treat the mental illness facility as nothing more than a perverse home for pretty girls, but its as disturbingly conceivable as One Flew Over The Cuckoo's Nest . It never really tackles its subject matter with any kind of seriousness, but that's not what Sucker Punch is really about. Snyder certainly falls back on the lurid fantasy elements to tell his tale and merely utilizes the institution as a launching point, though it does tell a fantastic tale that does bring the story full circle drawing attention to the controversial methods of the lobotomy and mental wards of the 1940s and 1950s. So mind you Snyder's story still works, but it lacks some of the emotional strength that grounded del Toro's equally dark material or the kind of fallout from the Jack Nicholson film inspired by Ken Kesey's 1962 novel. So did del Toro have a more assured hand with his tale, while Snyder, on the other hand, still matures? Maybe, but it's more likely that Snyder's approach to filmmaking is much more in tune with audio visually than dialogue in a pure sense.
There is little attention paid to character in this way. Who are these girls? Where do they come from? Why are they here? It's obvious Snyder is hardly a narrative auteur. It's a minor flaw within his invention. He is a product of the MTV age. He's all about images. He's also about the music. Images and music go hand in hand in Sucker Punch. The music is like another layer to the experience. It's through the important application of music we learn more about the psychology of these girls and the world they inhabit. We may not get the facts, but the music delivers personality.
The dance is the film. The accompanying soundtrack is truly emblematic of the mood of Snyder's film and underscores its troubled atmosphere. The inclusion of Bjork and Emiliana Torrini [Snyder apparently with a thing for Icelandic female vocalists] are a nice complement to originals by Emily Browning. Snyder not only scored a smoking hot Browning for the camera, but just the girl to embody the temperature of his film for soundtrack. Renditions of Eurythmics' Sweet Dreams Are Made Of This , by Browning, along with her take on The Smith's b-side Asleep  and The Pixies' Where Is My Mind? , are given a stirring treatment delivering unique interpretations that ultimately suit the tragic feel of the film. These songs resonate in capturing the mental state of the Babydoll character giving the film its added poignancy. Apart from Torrini's exceptionally dark rendition of Jefferson Airplane's White Rabbit from 1967 there are some exquisite duet highlights that round out the collection. Alison Mosshart joins Carla Azar for a wild adaptation of The Beatles' original Tomorrow Never Knows extracted from Revolver . The accompanying soundtrack is capped off by a fabulously bombastic Moulin Rouge!-like music number riffing on Bryan Ferry/ Roxy Music's Love Is The Drug from Siren  and is propelled by actor/ singer Oscar Isaac with actress Carla Gugino. The song was perplexingly made available only through the film's Extended Cut, but is such an over the top number might have lent further evidence of the kind of big production for which Snyder was clearly shooting. His desire to infuse a film with the blood of music from his own actors a la Australian director Baz Luhrmann's use of Ewan McGregor and Nicole Kidman is inspired. Like Moulin Rouge! the originals here are truly worth the audio experience. But of course, once again, the Baz concept heralded him as something of a genius, while Sucker Punch was generally overlooked though well-received in music circles. The soundtrack indeed coalesces around the film's visuals perfectly. Honestly, raised and reared on MTV myself, the impact of image and music has always had a profound effect on me. I rushed off to buy the soundtrack Moulin Rouge! after seeing that film. I did the same immediately for Sucker Punch. Into my electronic Shopping Cart it went. The music and film are so closely entwined for these artists that it's mandatory to fully experience both. The score works entirely into the fabric of this audacious film. My only complaint is that the Sucker Punch Original Motion Picture Soundtrack is too short at just nine songs [over 45 minutes of music] Additionally English act Skunk Anansie isn't quite my cup of tea and would be the sole low light.
Generally speaking composer Tyler Bates worked with producer Marius de Vries [Bjork] and noted "the songs and the score just began bleeding into one another." As de Vries noted, the music and lyrics "help navigate the way through the complex scenes and illuminate Babydoll’s state of mind" as well as offer "themes of escape and hope, and redemption through the imagination." Bates correctly indicates "the songs serve as the link to the conscious world of Babydoll" and the score "designed to simply underscore the sense of reality in the various alternate realities/action." The music is clearly part of the experience of these visual set pieces and by entering the listener's subconscious further develop the characters on a different level. The sometimes vulnerable selections aurally reflect the state of mind for characters within Snyder's film particularly for given sequences. Browning doesn't actually have dialogue until the 27 minute marker in the film so that tells you something about the importance of music here. The soundtrack is a giant, swaggering, seductive and alluring electronic-alternative-rock mash-up and it's a great listen. You can gather further evidence of just how Snyder's mind works through the use of this music as well as the featurette Sucker Punch: Behind The Soundtrack.
The music accompanies a wildly inventive selection of four escape sequences. Snyder wears his influences on his sleeve too. The girls are put to the test against an armada of Orc-like creatures and dragons as if lifted straight from The Lord Of The Rings [2001-2003].
World War I is overrun by German zombies where the steampunk aesthetic meets visual director Mamoru Oshii's Jin Roh  and The Red Spectacles . Without question Snyder demonstrates a clear affection for Japanese pop culture. His zombie sequence is complete with a mecha and female pilot, a clear homage to the best of Japanese anime and steampunk. In fact, on its own live action terms, its the best pilot-in-robot moment since District 9  and it was so deliciously beautiful in its application it still gives me hope we might one day see a proper live adaptation of something truly worthy like Neon Genesis Evangelion [1995-1996] or Mobile Police Patlabor [1988-1993]. It's stuff like this that makes me want to shake Zack Snyder's hand. Honestly, German combat with zombies looked better than any video game I've ever seen. It's easily one of the best live action, anime-like sequences ever committed to film without a true anime source.
Feudal samurai majin battle Babydoll in a cross between kaiju eiga in the form of Daiei's Daimajin  trilogy meets Akira Kurosawa. Snyder's visual flair for Japanese pop culture is even reflected in Baby Doll's sulky, sex pot appeal complete with a traditional Japanese school girl uniform. Watching Baby Doll slice and dice the feudal warriors was like witnessing the American version of Saya from Blood: The Last Vampire  burst to life.
In fact, even the final action sequence against an army of robots plays like I, Robot  meets The Matrix , the latter of course having its roots in Mamoru Oshii's Ghost In The Shell  as professed by the Wachowski Brothers. The approach even riffs on Snyder's own speed and camera aesthetic employed for 300.
Snyder makes no apologies for his approach to comic book violence or the vast influence of graphic novels and anime on his artistic sensibilities. He is clearly having a hell of a good time with it. He takes pleasure in creating sweeping, grand, epic, action strokes and slowing things down so we can adore the image. He dares us to focus on the beauty of it. He accentuates the simple and the mundane like the falling ash from a cigar making it a thing to admire. Each close-up or panoramic swathe of action is bold and breathtaking. I am very rarely a fan of pictures that are almost purely CGI, generally enjoying all things latex and model miniature over the computer-created unless applied lovingly in small doses. But if you are going to do a picture entirely from computers and green screen then this is how to do it right. Leave nothing to spare. Be bold! Be brilliant! Be fearless! Have your girls grab people by the balls and sock it to them right between the eyes. Sucker Punch is all of that and Snyder's artistic touch is easy to admire. He has the panache of Paul Anderson, but even more perfectionist in his efforts. Snyder is an artist in this way and has it all over many of these directors, Anderson included. You will lose yourself in the fantasy. In fact, when it's all said and done we never actually see Baby Doll dance, but of course those fantasy sequences are purely the mental personification of the dances required by our heroine from the mind of Zack Snyder.
Snyder just doesn't get the respect he deserves. Whatever its shortcomings as a film Sucker Punch still packs a wallop. Snyder has taken his ideas and put together an entirely original pastiche [if that's possible?] woven into a painstaking work of cinematic art. Sucker Punch fits nicely within Snyder's oeuvre next to 300 and Watchmen. The possibility of Ray Bradbury's The Illustrated Man helmed by Snyder has me elated. The man has guts and his break from the usual mold of filmmakers is welcomed.
Sucker Punch is a big, fat, wet, slobbering, in-your-face, tribute to the grandeur of American action cinema compliments of Wisconsin-born Zack Snyder and all of the influences he has assimilated. It unabashedly puts it all out on the table delivering a visual tour de force that may feel like a teenage boy's wet dream. But the man is a product of his experience and heavily influenced by our image-intense and technologically sophisticated world. Fast edits. Music video free-style. Video game violence. It's a bit like Prego. It's in there.
Quite frankly, like 300 and Watchmen, he's done it again. Why the hell do I love his execution so much? How does he lure me into his world? I'll tell you. While the experience rarely leaves me with anything to ponder on a substantive level like say District 9, I am often overwhelmed by the director's visual acuity and the meticulously crafted detail throughout his films. This is a movie that moves and it moves and it just keeps on moving. It's a bombastic, exciting adrenaline ride. Sucker Punch. Yes, you'll feel that. It's a hard shot to the gut. Snyder called the film "Alice In Wonderland with machine guns" and down the fantasy rabbit hole the cast goes as underscored by the use of White Rabbit in the score.
Incredibly the fact this film was budgeted at 82 million and looks as good as it does is something of an achievement. Can you believe I would say that about 82 million? But the film barely broke even scoring about 90 million at the box office and yet the film deserved so much better. What a crying shame.
Maybe I'm missing something with the Snyder detractors, but 300 was very impressive. Watchmen was epic graphic entertainment in its own right. With Sucker Punch I'm in love. The man is just getting better and better. It's over the top by design and I should have trusted my instincts long ago when I was first wowed by the trailer. I should have discarded the negative feedback and pushed it from my mind like Baby Doll, because this one is all in the head and either you either connect with it or don't. Snyder's punch is a stylish assault on the senses and admittedly I'm drinking his Kool Aid.
Now let's not try to take this exercise to seriously, after all this is mostly a fan boy fantasy mixed brilliantly with a touch of science fiction established within a depressed psychological and physical context. Yes, lobotomies were unjustly used on many innocents and on people that are routinely mainstreamed today in society by simple medications and other diagnosis. These same people were once mentally and physically tortured. It was not uncommon. Today, the mind has come a long way. Snyder unleashes his all-female juggernaut army of one on a whilrwind tour of girl [fire] power. "Who decides why we live and what we die to defend. Who chains us? And who holds the key that can set us free? It's you. You have all the weapons you need - now fight!" Today, more than ever, that is true. Sucker Punch may be a love letter to female empowerment, genuine self-actualization or it may simply be the movie magic and stuff of male fantasy.
Messages aside, Sucker Punch is an ambitious, stimulating, visually challenging powerhouse of cinema fun. It registered a 23% splat at Rotten Tomatoes wedged neatly between Resident Evil: Apocalypse at 21%, Resident Evil: Extinction at 22% and Resident Evil: Afterlife at 24%. That should tell you something about what people find is acceptable when it comes to their women heroines in the action fantasy realm. For some reason sexy and cerebral just don't want to play nice. To them, there's very little redeeming quality of note here. How can so many people repeatedly get it wrong? Emily Browning. Abbie Cornish. Jena Malone. Jamie Chung. Vanessa Hudgens and Carla Gugino dressed provacatively and packing heat. Yes, put simply, like the film, that's pure dead sexy. Distraction from substance or not, it looks and sounds like redemption to me. Sucker Punch: A- [nobody's perfect, but this girl comes close].