REVIEW: Sucker Punch Just One Big Hypersexed Slo-Mo Misfire

Movieline Score: 3

Director Zack Snyder is out to create an action melodrama in Sucker Punch, bringing the voluptuous despair of Douglas Sirk to gun battles and samurai blade fights -- a high-ticket version of something we've seen in Asian cinema, from Chinese kung-fu movies to Quentin Tarantino's work to Korean revenge dramas. His martial pastiche of musical and steampunk is similar to earlier dishes of pop culture simmered down into an action reduction; Star Wars and The Matrix come to mind, among others. All that's missing is the excitement.

Sucker Punch brings to mind an old Michael O'Donoghue joke: It's like looking at pictures of naked women after having had an orgasm. Set in what could only be called The Past, the film teases with sexuality, turning star Emily Browning into a porcelain skinned, rosy-cheeked sufferer named Babydoll committed to a mental institution after a fight with her stepfather over her little sister takes an even uglier turn. The caged Babydoll retreats into her head by launching a fantasy about being trapped in a brothel/jail, and within that fantasy, she dreams up a series of violent tableaux through which she leads her interned friends -- her band of short-skirted sisters -- to vengeance. And if you think that was a run-on sentence, wait until you see the movie.

Given its surfeit of plot and its grip on a mix of music, comics and fistfights (this could be Baz Luhrmann's Sailor Moon), your mind will keep wandering as the YouTube-ready action sequences play. That's because Punch is dolorous and repetitive, a unique combination that comes from simultaneously demonstrating such technical skill and narrative shabbiness. I found myself tumbling into a fantasy triggered by a need to escape -- wondering, for example, what the movie would've been like if the late Elizabeth Taylor had been in the lead. With her lavish depictions of what used to be called neurasthenia, she turned the portrayal of women on the verge of a nervous breakdown into compelling, if sometimes laughable art: You can't imagine the world of Pedro Almodóvar without her. Unfortunately, the pack of tarnished angels in Punch (Browning's co-stars include Abbie Cornish, Jena Malone, Vanessa Hudgens and Jamie Chung) aren't asked to do much more than press their gleaming teeth into their overripe lower lips while fighting tears or smirk saucily as spent shell casings clatter by their high-heeled feet.

Punch manages to cram more slow motion into its first few minutes than a season of NFL highlights, all of Inception and every one of those NBC promos where the casts of whatever failing police procedural walk menacingly towards the camera. That the maker of 300 and Watchmen has already fallen into the subgenre of films that are trailers for themselves is dispiriting; perhaps you'll also feel that something has been cut that would have given actual control to Babydoll. The grandiose stacking of masochism and mayhem is abetted by a proto-emo songlist including a funereal version of "Where is My Mind." Sadly for the song's singular originators, The Pixies, it has become this generation's version of "I Will Survive" in the movies -- a way to emphasize lack of subtext.

Because of the PG-13 drooling over victims in Sucker Punch, the movie shows none of the misdirection its title proclaims. Rather, it suggests a line from Frank Borzage (and, later, Phil Spector): "He hit me, and it felt like a kiss."


  • j'accuse! says:

    Sometimes cool looking shit isn't as cool as it looks.

  • Lauren W. says:

    I don't think Snyder understands why things work. He only knows that certain elements worked elsewhere, without understanding the context and connective tissue that made them work. So, he filches stuff from movies, manga, anime, video games, and comic books and expects that element to move people exactly as it did in the original context.
    Large digression:
    I really want the next Superman film to be a success both financially and artistically. I would happily settle for it being empty-headed Michael Bay popcorn flick, if it was also super successful and beloved by kids. Superman is the once great champ, who is now on the ropes, getting pounded by newer, cooler, edgier heroes. He needs a film that can connect with the next generation, or he shall fade away like the Lone Ranger. What he really needs is Michael Bay. There are legions of better directors, and his movie wouldn't be very good. However, his film would make a billion dollars and sell lots of toys and inspire the dreams of little boys and girls everywhere. I admit that is what I mostly care about. Not great cinema. Great Superman cinema can come later. I care about getting a movie beloved by kids and making Superman beloved by another generation instead of fading away. If the Superman movie was as awful, but as successful as Transformers, I'd be happy. Probably not the best attitude to have, but there it is.

  • Mwynn13 says:

    This looks like a really awful mashup of Japanese Robot Monster movies+ Girl, Interrupted+ "Inception"+ Pat Benatar's "Love is a Battlefield" video.

  • Morgo says:

    Has Sucker Punch "fallen into the subgenre of films that are trailers for themselves"?

  • benderfender says:

    A machofest? This film is no machofest, infact, quite the opposite.
    This is an action film for woman. Never before has there been a proper action film written and executed so inately intune with a womans sensibilities. If you liked twilight, you will scream for this.
    This film, which I unfortunately had to sit through last night, is a two hour fest of feminist manifesto. It takes itself very seriously, and showcases a woman who has zero reason to live.
    The action is non action, I agree, with jittery camera and slowmo heaped upon itself in ways that would make even Michael Bay nauseous. The FX are so terrible at times, it felt like a student film, from a highschool. If you do see this movie, expect a sort of mental castration as a man. If you see it as a woman, your ovaries will become supercharged as you go into estrogen overdrive.

  • chuck says:

    So, it's pretty much Moulin Rouge, right?

  • T-Rex says:

    I'd argue that the Alien series (first film released in 1979), starring a woman as lead action hero, is pretty damn in tune with "a woman's sensibilities" (a laughable term, sensibility runs in all directions for both men and women) in that we get to see a female lead being awesome without pandering to her sexuality or romance, or playing second fiddle to a man. See also "The Descent" and Joss Whedon's work. So I disagree that there's no precedent for action films "for women" which pains me to even say.
    And this woman, at least, is going to run away screaming from anything that is recommended with "If you liked twilight, you will scream for this." That's my nightmare.
    So I'm not sure I can take your assertion that it's feminist at all seriously, but if it is, well, cool. But it looks like a mess of a movie, and if it does poorly, it might make it harder for someone else to pitch a good ensemble female action movie, so, DAMN IT.

  • jackmurphy1969 says:

    I hate Twilight, but I was entertained by Sucker Punch. I described it to a friend as a cross between Pink Floyd's The Wall and Inception. The material might have been too ambitious for Snyder, but it is interesting. I have a feeling that this will be one of those you either like it or you don't films, with very few people finding a middle ground reaction. In other words, a Zach Snyder film. If you enjoyed 300 and/or Watchmen, Sucker Punch is probably worth a viewing.

  • Dan North says:

    "I don't think Snyder understands why things work. He only knows that certain elements worked elsewhere, without understanding the context and connective tissue that made them work. So, he filches stuff from movies, manga, anime, video games, and comic books and expects that element to move people exactly as it did in the original context."
    Print that, send it to Snyder and tell him to hang it on his wall. You just summarised him perfectly.

  • T-Rex says:

    Hmm...a cross between The Wall and Inception sounds like a depressing mindfuck, which is actually quite my bag. I enjoyed 300 (for the silly fun it was) and was irritated by how Watchmen came close to being great and missed the mark (due to Snyder's bad direction and misreading of the tone, sadly). I think I had a similar thought to "The material might have been too ambitious for Snyder" when I first read about the project and saw the concept art. It seemed like it would be really cool in the hands of someone else...but I'll reserve my judgement. Thanks!

  • McSnarkster says:

    If it's for women, then what's with all the objectification? This is pure male fantasy, and bears absolutely no resemblance to feminism. Last I checked, feminists really hated the idea that women are merely sex objects.

  • Kat says:

    I liked the movie Sucker Punch with all the action. I have to admit I went with my son age 24 and I am 57 so going to the movies with him was a miracle in itself. We both enjoyed it. It was different but worth seeing it. When it comes out on video I would see it again. Oh yeah, I cried in the end.

  • spyider205 says:

    I really liked it too, and yea I was sad by the ending too! Most of these critics are joyless fart sniffers, who taste their urine for content and quality. So I would hold back on listening to these urine drinking fart smelling soulless idiots. I go to a big screen to see big explosions CG I and awesome fights. When I want a movie with Oscars dialog etc.. I will hit up Net Flix! This movie is awesome cuz they all hate it, like any of them made anything worth while? NOPE! LOSERS AND HATERS THEY ARE! You enjoy and glad u liked it me too!

  • Cora says:

    How exactly is feminism depicted in this movie? The female characters are caricatures and victims, all imprisoned and controlled by Snyder's vision - they're trapped in asylums or brothels, and the main character's great "power" is to dance so well she hypnotizes men into a lust-filled daze? Your average stripper does so much, and gets paid on top of it.
    Even the action sequences (which hey, I enjoyed) insist on having the girls fight in skimpy outfits with panty shots and under the guidance of an older father figure.
    Where's the empowerment? Where is any suggestion that these women are anything but completely vulnerable and helpless? I mean, come on! *spoiler* for all the blather about power and freedom, most of the characters either die senselessly or are lobotomized by the end. What was the point?

  • Ryan says:
    Check it out it, hopefully this will shed some light on the movie.