Director: Zack Snyder
Cast: Emily Browning, Abbie Cornish, Jena Malone, Vanessa Hudgens, Jaime Chung, Carla Gugino, Oscar Isaac, Scott Glenn and Jon Hamm
Plot: Babydoll is taken to a mental asylum that forces her to dance naked for strangers. She copes by transforming herself to a dreamland where she battles the forces of evil.
Sucker Punch is probably one of the more difficult movies to review on my site, mainly because it seems that I feel so different about it than anyone else. It is an invention of Zack Snyder, best known at the time for his stylised action heavyweights, like 300. Sucker Punch is a dark comic book movie, about an abused girl, nick-named Babydoll, who is sent away to an asylum by her malicious father. Wanting her totally out of the picture, it is implied that he pays off the Warden to fast-track her to a lobotomy. As she awaits her death, the corrupt asylum turns out to have a side business, dressing up their sexier inmates and selling them as strippers. As Babydoll dances naked against her will, her mind travels to an imaginary land, where her and her four stripper friends fight the forces of Evil in titanic struggles, over-the-top struggles.
It is easy to see where the hate comes from. Even those not attached to the original comic book, might be totally thrown off by the imagery that Sucker Punch struts in front of you. It is essentially marketed as a lads movie, where strippers in scantily-clad costumes, straight out of a sexualised video game, take on zombie soldiers, armoured trolls and all manner of enemies. Sex sells, true, but you wish that Sucker Punch had a bit more finesse about their whole marketing strategy. It is hard to see the cast as much more than hot pieces of eye candy, a sisterly bond between Browning and a Jena Malone (admittedly Malone shines when given the chance), not getting the credit it deserves. Jaime Chung barely registers. Vanessa Hudgens is just as bland, although you can’t help but suspect that breaking her from her High School Musical stereotype here makes her the one actress out of the five that benefits from the objectifying of the women here. It is a crying shame, because, for most people, it is too hard to shake off that voyeuristic taste in the mouth, a shallow excuse to have an action extravaganza. The action sequences hit the mark, over-the-top, excessive and gloriously violent – everything you expect from the man who crafted 300. There are just, sadly, the cherry on top, when it comes to the stereotypical lads movie, as though the writers were so blind to a strict target audience (many of whom are embarrassed at the sexualised nature of Sucker Punch as well!), that they couldn’t put a filter on the action. This is not a movie to sit down with the girlfriend and chill with – not without feeling seriously awkward at some point.
And all of this is a crying shame, because stripping the more heavy-handed directional tricks away and we are left with a very clever script. Sucker Punch might tell its story using half naked girls and comic book stylising, but the story it tells is a very well-crafted one. Babydoll is a very unreliable narrator and as the movie unfolds, we are not sure what parts of the story are fiction and which are really happening. Of course, the action scenes are fiction, Babydoll’s mind taking her from the depraved acts she is being forced to commit and to a fantasy land. However, as we get deeper and deeper into the story, we begin to question what sections of her life are fantasy and which points aren’t. For example, as she awaits her upcoming lobotomy, does she fantasise about the asylum forcing her to becoming a stripper to paint those around in villainous stereotypes, making her dire situation easier to comprehend? It makes the whole ‘escape from the brothel’ plot point all the more hard-hitting, Babydoll willing herself an universe which sees her escape. It also creates this overwhelming depression on the whole movie, which I think lifts into a very tragic story. While the characters are painted as stereotypes, when we back into the ‘real world’, we see them as more three-dimensional figures. Through a supposed fantasy reading of each person, we see how Babydoll views them. Essentially we are left with a movie that has many readings and can transform into three or four different stories, depending on where you believe the reality ends and the fantasy begins. I was fascinated by this element, which is why I am always disappointed in the hate for this movie. Yes, I am not defending its shameless objectifying of women, but I am arguing against the thought that it is a terrible movie full stop! There was a good thriller hidden here and it deserves a second chance.
Final Verdict: Crude sexualisation hides an interesting and clever story, questioning the reality of the situation at hand.