I’d almost like to say that Sucker Punch actually sucker punched me, but you can’t claim to be sucker punched when you can pretty much see it coming.
So I watched this film the other day and I almost feel like just giving you my rating right now. What I can I tell you? It could have worked. It could have. All the components were there. You had this girl who was wrongfully put into an insane asylum by her stepfather who wanted her family’s money: and had her unofficially scheduled to be lobotomized to keep her silent about his dealings.
You had different realities going on after this in which you have the protagonist retreating into the fantasy that she was sold to a brothel where she’d learn to dance for the patrons there. You also had a few realities where this same protagonist is a bad-ass warrior who has to fight things that symbolize her inner demons and even has something of a guide: a man who is respectively a sage and a military commander. He is known as the Wise Man and has some pretty crisp, elegant, and pragmatic things to say with a proviso at the end that always comes after him stating, “Oh and one more thing …”
You also had other female protagonists who were also in the asylum, in the brothel and were in her teammates in the combat worlds she found herself in under the guidance of the Wise Man. One of the worlds the girls found themselves in was apparently a steampunk (though I would say dieselpunk) WWI.
Here is essentially a movie where you can play with realities and have some nice transitions between worlds. Here is a romp through the collective unconsciousness: through the subconscious of a girl who is probably being drugged and trying to save herself from a lobotomy in five days’ time. This could have been a movie of character development along with some fitting musical tracks, flashy special effects and fantasy sequences.
Instead, it was just the good soundtracks and the fantasy sequences. A few other critics have actually stated something to the effect of being amazed at how bored they were during the fight scenes and such and I have to agree with them. They could have been cool. If the girls had been developed a lot more, it would have been.
You know, I can almost see how it could have been: like a warped dieselpunk psychological-Alice and Wonderland fairytale. I could see there being very clear, if somewhat distorted, plays between the different realities: even the point where you as the viewer might not be sure where one begins and one ends. Keeping in mind that the initial setting was in an exaggerated 1960s asylum would have been–and I suppose even is–a good start. I also think it would be fascinating to consider that a lot of the music that the protagonist is forced to dance to in the brothel reality does not even exist yet in her actual time line: which makes you wonder if what is construed as madness is something that goes beyond space and time.
Instead, what we have here is a video game with a very flimsy premise and attempt at depicting female empowerment: which did not work and I feel did the exact opposite. But the sad thing is: it could have worked. It could have been done if it had been done a little differently. For instance, in the beginning of the film itself instead of trying to depict a bunch of silent black and white sequences ala Sin City style, the film-makers–in my opinion–should have basically developed some character even then with a few verbal exchanges or what-not. I mean, even the “silent treatment” they were attempting to give us–a “show and don’t tell us” situation, could have worked for me if the body language and facial expressions of the characters weren’t so … over-exaggerated and melodramatic. It seriously made me wince to see that and I hoped it would improve as time went on.
The thing is, in creating this film, they followed a formula and a cycle. They had a quest, they had antagonists, heroines, items that needed to be found, and even a moral: which is that you have all the tools to take care of yourself you just need the will to use them and do what must be done. But it didn’t work. It just didn’t work.
And seriously? Naming the girls Blondie, Rocket, Sweet Pea, Amber and the protagonist Baby Girl made me wince. A lot. You could argue that they are just monikers given in the brothel reality to these girls by patriarchal chauvinist forces, or that they were plays on Charlie’s Angels, but it still makes me wince. Their overly-fetishized little girl costumes did not help matters either. In fact, the way they were depicted in general wasn’t something I could really relate to or sympathize with. That, again, could have been done but it wasn’t. Also, Blue–their “owner”–for all he is a misogynist piece of garbage, and despite his moments of intelligence, really wasn’t that intelligent at all or consistent in how I would think he’d operate: especially when he doles out punishments. He might be a sadistic criminal, but I imagine he is also a pragmatic businessman and would have dealt with things a little more differently.
I do like the idea that he knew that in the brothel reality or fantasy that they were trying to escape and he figured it out, but that twist was never followed through because I’d assume the girls would adapt to it as well somehow. I don’t know how to phrase it beyond that. It just felt like a whole lot of flatness with special effects with a very forced “meaning” or “moral” stapled on at the very end and music sequence in the credits that has nothing to do with anything.
It just felt like a video game and honestly–if I wanted to see Alice with a machine gun with a similar psychological element–I’d probably play a game like American McGee’s Alice or its sequel Alice: Madness Returns. If you want to make a dark and gritty Alice story, make a dark and gritty Alice story or play one of the above games. But I’ll be fair: as a video game this film might have actually been better. If Snyder had created Suck Punch as a video game script and worked with other developers to make the game and then made a film from it, it might have been a lot better.
I guess since I am trying to be fair, it was his first original movie script and you can see these different elements coming together: but they just don’t make it in the spectacle that follows. I could also have seen this as a comic book first: with more development and time. I don’t know if that would have improved a lot about it, but with writing and time stories could have been made and maybe some essence might have been established along with form. Perhaps something along the spirit of David Mack’s excellent and insanely innovative Kabuki comics series might have been something interesting to see.
You might ask why I bothered to review this film at all given what I’ve said about it. I guess if I had to summarize it all under two words, it would be: could have. Although not exactly the same, after mentioning Kabuki I remembered a Noboru Iguchi film I saw at the Toronto After Dark film festival called RoboGeisha: the story of two sisters abducted and termed into geisha-assassin cyborgs. What I find really ironic is how even though it somewhat parodied Bandai’s Power Rangers, a lot of gore, and was in a lot of ways incredibly ridiculous, it laughed at itself and made you laugh with it. But not only did it do that, it got me invested in the characters. And while it didn’t have all of Sucker Punch‘s special effects or mien of grandeur, it was a lot more fun.
Oh, and one more thing: while I do think that Sucker Punch‘s heart might have tried to be in the right place (I appreciated that Baby Girl actually went into a fighting world when she danced to the music: something that I’ve visualized doing when I used to go to dance clubs myself), there was something about that just didn’t sit well with me. I’m glad I didn’t see it in theatres, though it has its entertainment value at times and I’ll give it a two out of five.