Sucker Punch is a film that has been called a number of things. Everything from misunderstood and brilliant to complete garbage and 2011’s worst film. Ultimately, it was a box office failure and it didn’t fare much better with critics either.
Director Zack Snyder had a pretty flawless track record leading up to Sucker Punch. He caught Hollywood’s attention with his Dawn of the Dead remake and then caught the world’s attention with 300. Watchmen and Legend of the Guardians split critics and audiences alike but anticipation was still high for Sucker Punch.
Honestly, I’ve seen the film three times now and I have enjoyed each viewing. It’s flawed, self-indulgent, misogynistic, excessive, offensive and incoherent but ultimately, it’s entertaining and from a purely visual level, the film is both fascinating and brilliant.
One on hand, it’s a case study of what’s wrong with both filmmaking and movie audiences but on the other hand, it’s a fierce and not so overt “fuck you” to Hollywood convention. And for that, it’s commendable. Zack Snyder‘s Sucker Punch can be seen as so many different things and whether you hated it or loved it, it’s essential viewing for any film fan.
Visually, it’s Snyder’s best work since 300 and the entire film, down to every last shot, is pure eye candy. Aurally, it’s also fantastic, featuring a haunting rock soundtrack full of classic tracks re-worked to fit into Snyder’s demented world. And oh what a demented world it is, one where all the men are sex crazed lunatics and all the women are stuck in a fairy tale full of female empowerment and delirious imaginings.
In Sucker Punch, Snyder presents to us a story that takes place on three levels. On the top layer is Babydoll (Emily Browning) and the cruel world which she inhabits. Her mother has just died and in an attempt to steal Babydoll’s inheritance, her stepfather has her committed to a mental institution. While there, Babydoll slips into an alternate reality that exists only in her mind, this acts as the second level.
It’s here that she imagines herself imprisoned in brothel along with a couple other girls. She quickly befriends a few of the them; Sweet Pea (Abbie Cornish) Rocket (Jenna Malone) Blondie (Vanessa Anne Hudgens) and Amber (Jamie Chung).
Babydoll, along with her new found friends hatches a plan to escape the brothel. The escape requires five items which are found in fantasy dreamscapes that Snyder has so eloquently created, these act as the third level. Babydoll enters into them when she starts to dance and the rest of the girls join her in these highly visualized worlds.
I’m not going to pretend like the story makes sense, because it doesn’t. As hard as it is to explain through writing, it’s even harder to comprehend while watching it unfold on screen. Coherency is done away with and logic is trampled on. Nothing makes sense, there is no reasoning here and the words motivation and consequence seem to have fallen out of Snyder’s dictionary. Inconsistencies and contradictions are used liberally and the film is a complete mess in terms of storytelling.
Most of the excitement here comes from the fantasy lands that Babydoll and crew are transported to. Snyder populates them with Nazi zombies, fire breathing dragons, monster samurais and other insane and completely wild characters. It is in these worlds that most of the film takes place. It’s also in these worlds that Snyder gets a chance to show off his visual mastery as he fills the screen with what can only be described as kinetic action and over the top imagery.
Narrative structure may indeed be a term Snyder and his writers aren’t familiar with but his visuals are so viscerally realized that you almost don’t even notice that nothing going on here has any real reasoning behind it. It’s a complete trip and one that after taking three times, I’d be happy to take again.
Sucker Punch is a film where plot, acting, emotional involvement and writing are of little importance. Not only does Snyder know this, but he makes sure that his audience knows this. He makes it blatantly clear that he’s thrown typical filmmaking conventions to the wind and instead, has decided to indulge in his wildest fantasies. He wants us to know that he is the king of fantastical visuals and his reign will not come to an end anytime soon.
Admittedly, the complete lack of anything even slightly resembling filmmaking does hurt the film and the painful portrayal that Snyder paints of the women in the film will undoubtedly put many people off. The fact that this is all happening in Babydoll’s mind also makes for a complete lack of real stakes and any true suspense, making it hard to invest in the story/characters.
This is a severely flawed film, there’s no doubt about that, but it still works on enough levels to make it a captivating watch. There is some clever commentary to be found here and most of it was overlooked by critics. A lot of people just simply missed the point. This is a very self aware film, one that tries to coerce its audience into thinking they’re about to see a barrage of joyous eye candy, only to “sucker punch” them by offering a deeply complex message on which the film rests upon.
Sucker Punch is a film that has left its audience split right down the middle. As I mentioned before, many will likely see it as an incoherent and self-indulgent mess where a director has essentially, committed his wildest wet dream to film. Many critics took that approach and that’s why it was so harshly reviewed. I see why many call it megalomaniac trash, insulting to all women and overly offensive to just about every human being, but I can also see its brilliance.
Sucker Punch is a culmination of everything Snyder has ever done. The hyper stylized action from 300 is found here along with a couple horror elements that remind us of his Dawn of the Dead remake. His other films, Watchmen and Legend of the Guardians, also reveal their influence in certain scenes with the film’s graphic novel styling and Babydoll’s loss of innocence. With Sucker Punch, Snyder has crafted a world that is so wonderful and bizarre that it’s an awfully tough task trying not to feel fully captivated. Zack Snyder lets his imagination run wild and what it produces is profoundly beautiful.
From a filmmaking and movie buff perspective, it’s a fascinating watch. Sucker Punch may be the most idiotic and juvenile film that Snyder, or anyone for that matter has ever made but it’s also an intoxicating escapist fantasy which plays out with such imagination and ambition that’s it’s tough not to be impressed by it all.
Sucker Punch arrives on Blu-Ray in an extended cut with an additional 18 minutes of footage. Of course, a lot of the new footage is just additional fighting and violence during the action scenes but we also get a couple completely new scenes that weren’t in the original cut.
There’s a tonally dark yet ultimately tame love scene between Babydoll and the High Roller (played by Jon Hamm) and there’s also a musical number featuring Blue (Oscar Issac) and Madam Gorski (Carla Gugino). Keen observers will notice some previously unseen action but for the most part, the only two new scenes that standout are the two that I mentioned above.
Truthfully, none of the additional footage makes that big a difference and if you didn’t enjoy the theatrical cut then these additional scenes likely won’t do much to change your mind.
Warner Bros. has provided an excellent transfer to go along with Snyder’s gorgeous fantasies. The heavily stylized image is solid throughout, with lifelike skintones and strong contrast. Most of the shots are dark and dim but when colour is infused, it bursts off the screen with extraordinary vibrancy. Clarity is fantastic and both fine detail and shadow detail are top notch. This is a stunning transfer and incredibly visually pleasing.
The audio is also quite an experience. Snyder’s classic rock soundtrack shakes the room as gunfire erupts through the speakers. Whether it’s the thunderous explosions or face melting guitar solos, the dialogue never gets lost or muddled within the chaotic sounds. Ambient noises put you right into the aurally stunning fight scenes and effects are placed perfectly, giving your speakers an excellent workout. Directionality and dynamics are perfect and along with the video, this makes for some stunning demo material.
When it comes to special features, here’s what we get.
- Sucker Punch: Animated Shorts – These are promotional motion comics that were released before the film hit theatres in order to help promote it. While they provide a bit of backstory on the dreamscapes we see in the film, they’re more promotion focused than anything else.
- Behind the Soundtrack – A very brief look at the soundtrack in the film and how it was chosen/put together.
- Extended Cut: Maximum Movie Mode – This is the real hightlight here. Most of Warner Bros’ Blu-Rays include this feature and it’s basically a video commentary track that can either be played while you watch the film or played separately. Zack Snyder takes us through all the ins and outs of the film with this must watch feature. He focuses most of his time on talking about the effects but we also get a lot of behind the scenes footage and interesting trivia. This is an excellent companion piece to the film and is essential viewing.
- BD-Live Functionality
Sucker Punch, in my opinion, is an essential Blu-Ray purchase. No collection is complete without it. The video and audio provide for some of the best demo material around and the Maximum Movie Mode is very well done, coming off as both interesting and enjoyable.
As for the film itself, whether you like it or not, it’s a must watch if you call yourself a movie buff. If you hate it, you’ll find it fascinating for being a case study of what can go wrong in Hollywood when a director is allowed to run wild with a large budget. If you’re on the other side of the spectrum though, and you did enjoy Snyder’s latest, then sit back, strap in and get ready for one hell of a wild ride.