This is an actual conversation I had with my wife after we caught an early opening day screening of Sucker Punch:
Wife: What’d you think?
Me: I can’t wait to play the video game!
Wife: There’s a video game!?!
Me: No, but there should be… and did I miss something? Why is it called Sucker Punch?
Wife: Because we paid to see it. SUCKER PUNCH!
If you can’t tell, my wife wasn’t too keen on Sucker Punch… and neither am I. The film is a visual feast (and moves slow enough for you to look at it quite a bit), but the story is a straight-up dramatic famine. It felt like I was watching a music video compilation that had jammed in a “plot” in an attempt to seem like it was more than just eye candy.
Sucker Punch is a fantastical tale of sheer depravity and bleakness. In an attempt to take down Up for most depressing and disturbing first 5-10 minutes, Sucker Punch introduces us to Baby Doll (Emily Browning) by showing her reaction to her mother’s death, her step father’s lecherous grin that turns to anger when he finds out he’s not in his wife’s will (her two daughters are), Baby Doll being forced to defend herself and her younger sister from said step father (resulting in the tragic death of the younger sister) and Baby Doll’s forced incarceration in a mental health hospital that’s as sick and depraved as the step father committing her there. After being committed, it’s a countdown to doomsday for Baby Doll, as a corrupt orderly (Oscar Isaac) is on the take from the step father to get Baby Doll lobotomized within the week. Oh, and all of that set-up occurs predominantly in slow motion with moody Eurythmics and Pixies covers running underneath.
While in the mental hospital, Baby Doll’s imagination turns her world into a brothel/nightclub, owned and run by the corrupt orderly, now called Blue, and Baby Doll is forced to dance to survive. We never see her dance, however, as each dance becomes an imaginative departure from the already imagined world of the brothel, where Baby Doll is no longer powerless dancer but now kick-a*s warrior woman, set on breaking free, which eventually brings in other patients/dancers/warrior women, such as Sweet Pea (Abbie Cornish), Rocket (Jena Malone), Blondie (Vanessa Hudgens) and Amber (Jamie Chung).
Beyond the set-up, the film is essentially just an excuse to show us scantily-clad women kicking a*s in various fantastical scenarios, from battling samurai, an undead Nazi battalion, dragons… this is where the music video compilation comparison comes in. Each battle scene consists of a guide, played by Scott Glenn, setting up the mission the ladies need to accomplish while more cover-cum-remixed songs play underneath. Which is cool, and I actually liked the covers because they were fresh takes on some songs I also adore, but… after a while, it actually got boring.
I honestly never thought it could get boring, but the film suffers from countdown syndrome, which is when a film sets up a series of tasks and numbers them so that the audience can keep track and then, in even the best of films, the audience can’t help but have a running countdown in the back of their head going, “we’re 2 tasks down, 3 more to go.” Or, in the case of this one, after the first task goes on a bit too long, “are they REALLY going to do this for every task!?!” Scott Pilgrim came up with a novel approach to this syndrome, by mixing it up and moving through it all fast, but Sucker Punch just languishes over EVERY SINGLE DETAIL.
I get it, the action is bad-a*s, the ladies are gorgeous, the world is incredibly stylized… but I don’t need to see the whole damn thing in slow motion! At a certain point, the eyes and brain just check-out and it’s a case of, “yeah, neat, robots, blah.” And if you try and step away from the fantastical elements and just decipher what each imagined scenario means in the real world, the movie buries itself in its own bleakness. The only positive aspects in the film’s conclusion feel like they were jammed in there because, had it stayed its dark course, it would have even less redeeming value.
To bring this full circle, my wife and I were not the only ones discussing the movie after it ended. As the credits began to roll, a woman behind me, who had been quite actively engaged with the film throughout (I know this because she was commenting as she watched), summed it all up thus, “What the f**k was that!?!”