There's something for everybody in Sucker Punch, folks! Fair warning, spoilers below the jump, everyone. The short form here is that yes, I highly recommend going to see Sucker Punch. This one was just as worth the money as Green Hornet was a couple months ago.
Sucker Punch is exactly the kind of movie that makes me glad I put stock in my feelings and hunches about various kinds of media. When I went to see Green Hornet, it was pretty much just on a sense that I needed to go see a movie that night, and I came away with feeling that 2011 is going to be a good year. What compelled me to see Sucker Punch was that I've seen it talked about in a number of places I frequent on the web the last week or so. One YouTube reviewer went so far as to list five reasons why Sucker Punch is better than Avatar. From what I've seen of Avatar, that's kind of like saying someone's in better shape that I am. I'd be like Avatar in that I'm not bad shape for what I am. Unfortunately, what I am is a morbidly obese man in his mid thirties who has a bad diet and doesn't exercise nearly enough. Being in better shape than me is not an especially hard thing to do.
Mind you, I've gotta give James Cameron credit for essentially inventing an entirely new way of making movies. Can't really blame the guy for not having much budget left for having a better story than essentially Dances With Wolves In Space.
But enough about Avatar. This review is about Sucker Punch. So let's dive right in, shall we?
Sucker Punch sure dives right in, after all. The movie pretty much just dive bombs the audience with the backstory for the lead character, a young 1950s-era 20-something girl who is known simply as Babydoll. We're thrown into Babydoll's life mere moments after she and her little sister see that their mother has died., leaving theme with their greedy bastard of a father, who gets pissed that he's not in his wife's will the way he wants to be, so he offs the little sister and pins it on Babydoll, who he has committed to a sanitarium to be lobotomized with the pickaxe-to-the-brain method used back then.
Almost immediately, Babydoll begins fantasizing that the sanitarium is actually a brothel where she's an orphan who's been sold off by a corrupt priest. While in this fantasy world, she meets Rocket, Sweet Pea, Blondie, and Amber, with whom Babydoll hatches an escape plan. And from here, the movie really starts to become a homage to every sci fi and fantasy genre point you've probably ever seen or heard of and then some. But then, with characters who all have stage names that seem to have come form My Little Ponies, I suppose that's to be expected.
In her fantasy world, Babydoll dances under the direction of a Madame Gorski at this little brothel she fantasizes about. When she does this, she closes her eyes and slips into a second fantasy world where literally anything can happen. Sounds enough like Inception that I should maybe try to see it one of these days. At her first “audition”, Babydoll finds herself in feudal China, where she meets a wise man who tells her that she can get herself out of the rather tragic situation if she gets a team together and gathers five key items that he only lists four of: a map, fire, a knife, and a key. The fifth item the wise man says Babydoll will figure out when she needs it. He also gives her a sword and a Beretta version of Linkara's magic gun and says she's got all the tools and talents she needs to make this happen. The wise man then shoves Babydoll out of his temple, doing a perfect Colombo impression as he slams the door behind her, advising her that “Oh yeah, one more thing. Defend yourself.”
Outside the temple are three giant demon Samurai, who come at Babydoll one at a time. The first has a pole weapon of some sort, not sure of what it's called, but fighting this one guy is all Babydoll needs to learn to use her new toys, because in a considerably short time, she takes out the monster's leg and then takes his head off, but not before the temple is set ablaze from a wall of candles that got dumped during the fight.
Immediately after, the second of the three monsters shows up and hits Babydoll with a bazooka and a railgun. This monster takes out the temple's support structures, giving our heroine just enough time to jump up and shoot it in the eye about a dozen times to kill it and get out before the building collapses. The third of the three demons goes down relatively quickly afterwards.
When the song Babydoll's song ends in the first fantasy world, she wakes up to much applause and has a starring part in the show until some faceless guy known as the High Roller shows up in five days to take her. Telling us that last bit is the story's main antagonist, a douchebag called Blue.
So, our five girls, essentially Charlie's Angels plus two, get together after the audition and decide to try to break out as a team. Once that's decided, they start marking things off their list of key items to gather. And this is where the movie really starts to get cool.
When Babydoll does her dance to distract the guards so the others can get the map, it's Steampunk World War One, and the Germans have invented Clockwork Borg technology to use against the Allies, and we get to see that each girl has a role in the party, just like in any good RPG. Babydoll, of course, is the leader, Amber is the pilot, and the others are tactical support of one kind or another. The Wise Man is there to explain the mission and give them their Colombo wisdom: work together. As cool as it was to see all the drones explode into clouds of steam as the girls kicked their asses while zeppelins and other aircraft of the era explode all over the place, probably the best part of this is Amber's giant anime robot.
After a bit of celebrating the acquisition of the map, Blue comes and tells the girls that the mayor's coming for a special show, which must be a fairly regular thing, as Amber complains about the guy's stinky stogies. Of course, this means the dude also has a nice, fancy lighter on him, and it's Amber's job to hork it during the show.
This time the fantasy is Dragon Warrior and Reign of Fire at Cirith Ungol. This one's fairly simple as all the ladies must do is slash a baby dragon's throat and remove two crystals, that when struck together will make the most badass flames ever. Babydoll demonstrates this, which wakes up the mama dragon. Bad idea, as Colombo told them at the start of the mission, which ends with the mama dragon chasing the team all over the fortress and frying everything that moves because she's pissed and wants to avenge her child's death.
Of course, back in the main fantasy world, Blue starts to suspect when his big client winds up minus his gold lighter, and Blue realizes that his office has been burglarized. Blue lets them know, in no uncertain terms, that he's on to them and says they'd better knock it off or it'll end badly for them.
But the movie would end badly if our heroes didn't balls it at least one more time. This go has our fantasy within a fantasy as the 1995 version of The Outer Limits presenting Isaac Azimov's Final Fantasy 8. Perhaps not by coincidence, this is where the plan starts to go badly for them. The girls get the knife they need from the fat stereotype working the kitchen, but Rocket dies in the process, from the bomb they failed to disarm in the sub fantasy and Porky's other knife in the main fantasy.
Naturally, Blue's really pissed off as a result of his talent not playing by his rules, so he puts Sweet Pea in isolation for the night and straight up kills Blondie and Amber for either talking too much or not talking enough. From here on out, it's pretty much the main fantasy until Babydoll figures out what the fifth item was. While she's working on that, she gets Sweet Pea out of confinement, sets the place on fire and leads the way out. When the duo sees their final obstacle, Babydoll realizes what the final item is and that only one of the two is going to get out.
A moment later, Babydoll wakes up back in reality when the lobotomy doctor jams an ice pick in her eye. There's still a bit of movie left, but because I really do tend to be something of an ass when I write these things, I'll leave the one last surprise the movie has left unspoiled.
As for my own thoughts on Sucker Punch, well, sure, I've seen a lot of this stuff in one form or another before. It's not the most original material ever. But I still loved the movie in spite of that. Why?
Simple. Zack Snyder and his production team plain and simply made it work to cram all these sci fi and fantasy genre elements together in one movie. They wrote it well enough to keep it engaging the whole time, even though it was hard to say I was very surprised to see an aweful lot of it coming. It was sharp and snappy, which held my interest.
The production values and effects were great, too. By the end, I'd almost forgotten that the whole brothel bit was just a figment of Babydoll's soon to be obliterated mind, and the transitions between the main fantasy and the sub fantasies when the girls are on their quests are pretty damn good, too. Even the sub fantasies were nicely done. Each time one ended, I was almost expecting that the next one would be something of a continuation of the one before it, and it wasn't.
Really, I think that was probably the best part of the movie, right there. All the quest fantasies were in different eras, generally relative to when they were happening in the other parts of movie time. My lack of familiarity with the Lord of the Rings universe may have something to do with it, but I can believe that what we see in Middle Earth may actually be the Hobbit version of our own time.
At the end of the day, I'd recommend this movie to my parents, and perhaps even my grandmother. Sure, there's a ton of action and twice as many sci fi/fantasy references. But I don't see any reason why that should hold anyone back. I'd highly recommend going to see Sucker Punch.
Oh yeah, one more thing. An easy rating for people who like that sort of thing: Four stars of five. Well done, but a lot of easily recognizable inspirations.
Writer: Zack Snyder
Director: Zack Snyder
Emily Browning as Babydoll
Vanessa Hudgens as Blondie
Scott Glenn as The Wise Man
Run time: 110 minutes.
My Rating: 4/5