Immediately after I saw Sucker Punch (2011) I liked it a lot more than I do right now and expect to in the future. That said, lovers of extreme CGI action, beautiful women and awesome visuals with pretty-cool music will like Sucker Punch. Probably.
That's a promotional poster done by artist Alex Pardee of my favorite character Rocket, played by Jena Malone. People got copies of these at ComiCon. You will guess about 1 minute into Rocket giving Baby Doll a tour of the asylum that no matter where the movie is going next - this girl's going to die. I'm not spoiling the movie by saying this.
The story doesn't seem so bad at first, and there are plenty of high points and things to enjoy. On later reflection . . .
I think the reason this film is "20% fresh" on Rotten Tomatoes, and that most of the extreme slams are from male critics is pretty simple. Only the most un-self-aware guy could watch this film, oogle at the girls, geek out at the gnarly action sequences (samurai, semi-WWI/II steam-powered zombies with a bunny mecha, killing a dragon baby and battling its gigantic mother and orcs, and stealing a bomb from a speeding mag-lev train after killing cyborgs), and, like gobbling down a 2 pound hot fudge sundae topped with lard, start feeling greasy and dirty and like they ate way too much. A lot of people are saying Sucker Punch is sexist, for a variety of reasons. I'm thinking most guys will enjoy all the obvious guy benefits of the film and then realize . . . but wait! All the guys except Scott Glenn were subhuman troglodytes. I'm not a troglodyte! What is this guy saying here? 95% of the 80% "rotten" reviews have that as a subtext. The plot is as follows:
Beautiful Baby Doll (played by Emily Browning, who also sings for the songtrack) is clearly shown to be 20 years old upon admission to the grungy insane asylum, although she looks more like 12, has been totally screwed-over rapist David Copperfield style by her disgusting stepfather. In trying to save her apparently actually-age-twelve younger sister, Baby Doll escapes their gothic grunge house, finds a gun, and returns, confronting loathesome stepdaddy, but she wildly fires, missing the horrible stepdad and killing her sister. Stepdad does what any self-respecting fat, drunken incestuous molester would do and commits Baby Doll to the asylum, where she almost immediately learns that a "special doctor" will arrive in 5 days to give her a lobotomy.
- in this first, dialog free part (think '300' only on Neil Gaiman) I missed the fact that Baby Doll's little sister has a stuffed bunny, which later shows up in the dream/action sequence as a bunny rabbit mecha.
On to the story. Once in the asylum, Baby Doll is taken in by a nasty orderly who's obviously a total perver. He wears a key around his neck that says "Mt. Pleasant" - clearly a master key needed to get out. The dirty, ragged, perversely sexy asylum girls are under the charge of a female doctor doing weird musical experiments, played by beautiful Carla Gugino (Sally Jupiter in Watchmen). The asylum scenes are straight out of Caged Heat (1974), only a little nastier.
Then the movie enters its second level, which is Baby Doll's "fantasy" of her asylum experience. (see above - Rocket is adorable, but it's clear from minute one of the brothel tour she gives to Baby Doll - destined to die) It's not an asylum any longer, it's a brothel/night club, the orderly has transformed into a greasy, eyeliner-wearing pimp, and the female doctor is now a typical Russian-inspired hardcase "dance instructor" (supposedly the accent is Polish) training the girls to dance for wealthy, totally repulsive brothel patrons. That's right, Baby Doll's been thrown in a horrible nutbin where she's going to be lobotomized in five days, and her idea of "escape" is into a grungy Moulin Rouge-type brothel.
Baby Doll suddenly morphs into a 4'10" "leader" of these beautiful, totally cowed girls and hatches an escape plan. They have to get 5 items in order to escape: a map, a lighter, a knife, and a key - and something else. Solving a mystery set forth by the magical Scott Glenn, Baby Doll's fantasy-battle Yoda-guy.
Each time in the "brothel world," Baby Doll has to dance (never shown) for one of the nasty, repulsive men in the brothel world, which will distract them while one of the other girls steals the required item for their escape. As Baby Doll starts to dance, she closes her enormous, false-eyelash and eyeliner-rimmed eyes, and enters the battle fantasy of choice, accompanied by her peeps - the other girls. It's not too hard to make the connection that Baby Doll's imagined sexy dance is her version of "doing battle" and conquering these guys, who all deserved to be kicked in the balls, then castrated.
I was surprised this movie was made by a man, because it almost does make the connection to "women can be action heroes too." In the fantasy sequences, the girls fight - they fight together, they're brave (although it's obviously video game set on "novice"), they kill the bad guys and creatures and win, mostly. There's no doubt that the horrible men are horrible. There are no "shades of gray" in this story. The bad guys are as bad as possible, and with Zach Snyder's visual gift, these are some of the most hideous specimens I've ever seen. The camera lingers lovingly on the fat slob cook's veined face. I, who have likened faces to cabbages and lips to slices of liverwurst, couldn't come up with a description that hideous for such a monster. Even "Blue," played by Oscar Isaac, who is a nice-looking guy, was repulsive with and without pencil thin moustache.
And the women are beautiful. Even though I got tired of the sexy Sailor Moon and pervy dance studio shrugs, corsets, thigh highs and character shoes (I'm thinking 99% of guys won't get tired of the outfits), all the girls looked great. I don't know if people have noticed but most films that feature an ensemble female cast usually feature one girl who isn't as pretty as the others. This girl is usually the "antagonist" in some mild manner. It can either be the fat girl who betrays her girlfriends out of jealousy, or the homely girl who betrays her girlfriends . . . out of jealousy. This film doesn't go there. All the girls are beautiful. Some are smarter and stronger than others. But there's no "weak link" who doesn't fit in with her "sisters" because she wants the guy but the prettier girl got him. One girl does betray the others, but it's not because she's ugly and jealous. It's because she's naive and terrified.
Star Emily Browning doesn't like the fact that Sucker Punch is being called sexist by many.
Well, I'm a lot closer to Madam Gorski ("you old whore!") than the girls in terms of my current stage in life. But I'm of the first generation of girls to be able to do nearly everything that guys have always done. This movie's a metaphor of that feeling. Even though it's "Caged Heat" and sex-ploitation and all that - the movie really is a metaphor about "You don't have to sit around and dance for these men any more."
Some women can run with that, and the movie does show that. Others can't. It's not like in the game of life among men, most men don't end up as real and metaphorical losers, while a few are winners. I see the reviews and the imagined "demographic" of this film is all over the map. Many reviewers say it's aimed at 13-year old gamer guys. Others say it's guys in their 20's, and still others say guys age 35 to 40. I don't see too many people saying the movie is aimed at women, and the situation that Baby Doll is in, is something that few women would feel very good thinking too much about. Thinking about what's been done to Baby Doll does inspire a desire to blow up any number of steam-powered Nazi zombies and then the Hindenburg.
I really don't like what happened to Baby Doll and the last scene, though it redeems it for many people, didn't redeem anything for me. I don't like the fact that I guessed the thin plot right off, knew who would die, who would betray, and was only amazed by the depth of repulsiveness able to be portrayed by Zack Snyder in those close-ups and sweaty faces. I've played all those games myself. I've written all those stories better. But I do have to hand it to Zack Snyder. I think there's a lot of him in this movie, for good, for bad, and for ugly. It was expensive, it's loud, it's extremely visual and there's a lot to like. But Sucker Punch is anything but a feel-good movie. I feel like I ate a big lard sundae myself. And I need to go throw up.