Movie review: Sucker Punch
This movie started with an excellent character building premise. It was artfully designed and filmed and several minutes of intense drama go by before any dialogue is needed. Zack Snyder seemed to be off to a good start. And it was a good start for a few minutes. Then the mood shifted from gloomy to despondent. At this point I’m going to flat out say: You do not need to see this movie.
Usually I try to identify the ideal audience for a given movie and critique it based on what it should have been. But the two story types presented in Sucker Punch are in such diametric opposition that there is no ideal audience. There is an idea behind the ending that is so abhorrent that it actually ruined the movie as a whole.
Spoilers start here, but you shouldn’t care. You’re not going to watch this movie for the plot anyway.
You’re going to watch it to see girls in PG skimpy outfits fighting fantastic battles in the full glory that CGI and Zack Snyder’s brilliance can bring. At that level, for the scenes that these criteria apply, the movie is totally awesome. The pure creativity of each of the three CGI battle scenes is incredible. The execution and choreography are genius. Unfortunately these are the equivalent of dream sequences.
There is a shell story about the main character that we only know as Baby Doll. She’s the blond in pigtails in the trailers and posters. The premise is that her mother dies from some illness. Her stepfather, enraged by not being in the will attempts to take his frustration out on Baby Doll and her sister. In an attempt to shoot the stepfather, Baby Doll misses and kills her sister. For this she is sent to a mental asylum. Her stepfather arranges, through an unscrupulous orderly, to have Baby Doll Lobotomized in five days.
Flash forward to the start of the lobotomy procedure then, just as the medical instrument is about to make contact there is a reality shift. Suddenly it’s not an insane asylum, but a whorehouse with a burlesque show. Baby Doll and the other girls are whores who dance in an auditorium to arouse interest. Baby Doll is being saved for the ‘high-roller’ who will be coming in five days.
It’s when practicing her dance that Baby Doll imagines fighting fantastical battles, you know the good parts of the movie. The drama outside the battle scenes only reverts as far as the whorehouse. And keep in mind, this is a PG-13 whorehouse, so it’s always a little off-putting because of how gently they treat the subject of prostitution behind the closed doors.
The girls hatch a plan to escape and each thing they need to escape involves Baby Doll dancing. And when she dances we get the CGI imaginary battles to complete a quest for the item.
However, for some reason, which I can only attribute to Zack quitting caffeine or something three quarters of the way through the film, what started as hopeful escapism becomes devastating failure—both for the girls and the film. In an effort to keep the film more serious and less light and fluffy, there is a dark ending with just a single glimmer of hope. Basically five girls set out to escape and only one makes it and it’s not Baby Doll. She actually gets lobotomized, ending her story.
The story should have been lighter and fluffier, since it’s just a shell to show off the effects scenes. There should have been a way to make most of the stories, even Baby Doll’s, end relatively happy. I suspect Zack wanted to make the shell story meaningful and have weight and meaning. We’re supposed to see Baby Dolls lobotomy as the better alternative to living with the memory of killing her sister. It’s a more humane death sentence of some kind. Most people don’t see a difference between losing our lives and losing our memories. No one sees becoming an empty consciousness as a happy release.
As a writer, I can see in the elements of what the story became how some of the original drafts or ideas must have gone. I think the shell story would have been better two rewrites ago, before they tried to make it more meaningful. Some movies are fun; some are meaningful. Some movies actually manage to be both. A movie can choose to try for one of the two and forgo the other and still be a great movie.
Zack Snyder took a brilliant idea and started with a pure genius opening and proceeded to weigh it down with meaning so far, it sucked incredible scenes of fun into a black hole of despair.
Follow Up Note: The lobotomy procedure they show in the film is an actual version of lobotomy surgery. However it usually requires two insertions of the pick, one in each eye. The film clearly only shows one. Does this mean Baby Doll was not fully lobotomized? I don’t think so, I just think that it would have been inconvenient to the plot/story action to go through the steps twice.