Monday, August 1, 2011

Don't Misunderstand a Sucker Punch to the Nuts

Sometimes, on occasion, film critics get so stuck in their role of recommending, warning against, building up and tearing down everything to hit the big (and small) screen, they forget what movies are really for: escape. I mean, I'm all for a good drama, or documentary, something gritty, that'll make me reexamine my values and beliefs and look at the dark, seedy part of my soul, but ultimately, movies are there to entertain, to get away from the hum-drum of daily life, to show us how amazing another life an be, another world, another time or place or person or existence.

In that regard, it can be said that critics often overlook or under-rate movies that don't meet their "standards", and one such film, in my opinion, is Sucker Punch, my personal pick for sleeper hit of the decade. Its visceral, its driving and its so gritty and saturated with beauty that if Photoshop decided to make a movie, it would be this. Seriously, its practically the poster child for graphic art school. However, thanks to lack of vision by nearly every critic in America, this film was heralded as a box office blunder, the messy, awkward wet-dream of writer/director Zack Snyder, who brought such lauded works to the screen as the remake of Dawn of the Dead and Watchmen.

Left to Right: Emily Browning, Vanessa Hudgens, Abbie
Cornish, Jamie Chung, Jena Malone.
The "missing story", as some critics put it, takes place over three different levels of reality.  In the real world,  a young girl is forcibly committed to an asylum by her lecherous step-father following the death of her mother and murder of her sister.  There, she is treated to a lobotomy, which sets in motion the second stage of this movie world: an sub-conscious realm where the girl, called Babydoll, is a new arrival at an upscale brothel.  There, through a series of events, she meets Sweet Pea, the resident bad girl, and Rocket, her younger sister, among others. Having been sold into slavery, it is eventual that Babydoll will take the stage, and her virginity sold to the highest bidder.  What's unexpected is that Babydoll's dancing transports her, and her audience, into a world where she and others are given the tools, skills, and courage to defeat any obstacle standing between them and their freedom.  There, they fight stone Samurai golems, mech robots, and even dragons, in a struggle to locate and use the things that will set them free.

I know what your thinking... some girl dances and fights dragons? Yeah right.  But, the hard reality, that so many critics seem to have missed, is that it just works. The characters are solid, and built from the ground up. Snyder doesn't hide anything from the viewer. What you see is what you get.  Some of the more minor characters may not be given the depth of storytelling some others receive, but Snyder manages to find that subtle balance between sex, action, and story, developing the characters into both unrealistic parodies and sympathetic heroines.  The harsh reality behind the situation these women find themselves in, both in an asylum and as sex slaves, is made less stomach-churning by the flights of fancy where they take matters into their own hands and rise against their captors.

Emily Browning as Babydoll
With incredible action sequences straight out of a graphic novel (only not, as the movie is completely original in concept and design), any lag in plot and direction is remedied by beautifully rendered "other world" sequences where the girls don steampunk-esque attire, fighting off hordes of Nazi zombies, castle invaders and mechanical warriors.  Beyond the engrossing sound design, the movie has a sound track to die for, including covers of Sweet Dreams Are Made of This and Love Is The Drug, both sung by members of the cast, and worked into the story in such a way that you can tell Moulin Rouge was a huge inspiration to Snyder, who said that "In the story, the music is the thing that launches them into these fantasy worlds." It shows, as the orchestrations blend smoothly into each song used to punctuate the scenes. 

If you get a chance, run out and grab the DVD or BluRay copy of this film, particularly the latter, as it contains almost 20 minutes of additional footage that further enhances the story and viewing experience.  While not a perfect movie by any means, Sucker Punch delivers on all levels: Character, story, style and substance.  Its action is super actiony, its drama is super dramatic and its look is something most people would jump at the opportunity to experience in real life. If pretty girls kicking MAJOR ass in highly-stylized worlds of fantasy is your cup of tea, then skip settling for Worlds of Warcraft and grab a copy of this. Against what the critics might want you to think, you'll be pleasantly surprised.