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Review – Sucker Punch

Click poster for official movie site.

Click poster for official movie site.

With Emily Browning, Abbie Cornish, Jena Malone, Carla Gugino, Oscar Isaac. Directed by Zack Snyder. Rated PG-13 for thematic material involving sexuality, violence and combat sequences, and for language. 109 minutes.

Did you ever wonder what would have happened if Zack Snyder, director of “300” and “Watchmen,” had made “Inception?” No, neither did anyone else, but now we have the answer anyway with SUCKER PUNCH, a film of stunning and imaginative visuals married to a complex if highly schematic story. Back in the ‘60s they would have called a movie like this a “head trip.”

Here’s the story and try to pay attention because it gets confusing: Baby Doll (Emily Browning) accidentally kills her younger sister when trying to protect her from their evil stepfather. She ends up being committed to an institution for the “mentally insane [sic]” where a sleazy orderly (Oscar Isaac) agrees that for the right bribe he can have her lobotomized. At the facility, Dr. Vera Gorski (Carla Gugino) actually tries to help the inmates by getting them to act out the traumas of their lives.

Suddenly, the scene shifts from grey reality to a world with more color in it. The institution is now a brothel, the orderly is the boss, and Dr. Gorski is the choreographer for the dance numbers the girls have to put on before the clientele makes their selection. During her dance, tryout Baby Doll is transported to yet another level of reality where a wise man (Scott Glenn) arms her with a gun and a samurai sword and tells her she will need to collect five things to escape to freedom. She then gets to battle three CGI monsters.

When she comes back to the brothel, we learn she has apparently danced up a storm and in a few days her virginal body will be offered up to the High Roller (Jon Hamm, who is also the lobotomist in the first level of the story). She gathers several of the other dancers (Abbie Cornish, Jena Malone, Vanessa Hudgens, Jamie Chung) and tells them they need a map, fire, a knife and a key. There’s also a fifth item which the wise man has told her she will figure out at the right time. The bulk of the movie now becomes their adventures on the second and third levels of the story. When Baby Doll dances and distracts their keepers, they get transported to the third level and fight things like zombie World War I German soldiers or dragons while obtaining the items. The only mysteries are who survives and who escapes and, of course, what any of this has to do with the reality of the first level.

This is a movie with the logic of a video game, with all that implies. No doubt it will be a video game soon enough if it isn’t already. It is very striking to watch, but the appeal is in the surreal visuals and how characters change from one level to the next. Beyond the surface there’s not much there. It’s just a series of showdowns with bad guys and monsters, and then the pseudo-profundity of the ending which may surprise but carries no deeper meaning. “Sucker Punch” is rarely dull, but whereas “Inception” made you think, this movie just wants you to react.•••

North Shore Movies has given this film a score of 3 out of 5.Daniel M. Kimmel is a veteran movie critic and author of a host of film-related books, the most recent being Jar Jar Binks Must Die… And Other Observations About Science Fiction Movies. He teaches film at Suffolk University and lives in Somerville.

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About Daniel M. Kimmel

Film critic, author, lecturer.

11 responses »

  1. What exactly is the “logic of a video game?” That’s like saying the “logic of a movie” or the “logic of a book.” It doesn’t mean anything. If you want to make videogame comparisons you should choose a specific game or subset of games, rather than make generalizations about a vastly varied form of media.

    Otherwise, nice review!

    Reply
  2. Daniel M. Kimmel

    I didn’t mean to slam video games. I was noting the schematic nature of the film with the action on different levels and the “players” having to accomplish a series of tasks in order to complete the game. These tasks inevitably involving killing enemies who are trying to kill our heroines. This may not describe all video games but it describes enough of them that I thought it a fair comment.

    Reply
  3. The comment about Video Games as well as the way that you attempt to support that statement after the fact show the ignorance you have towards video games as a whole. I do agree with your review, but you need to stop setting yourself up for reprisal and taking cheap shots at video games you apparently know nothing about.

    Reply
    • Daniel M. Kimmel

      So the claim has been made but no one seems to be tell me why my video game reference is wrong. Do you have any facts to support your statement?

      Reply
  4. As described, it does seem to have the logic of a video game of a certain type — you perform tasks in order to gain skills or collect tokens, then by doing this you level up, and then you fight the level bosses until you fight the final big boss. What’s insulting about that? I think there is a slight being read into the article where no slight exists. In fact, comparing it to a video game might be the first helpful thing I’ve read about this film — if I were to watch it, it would provide me with the correct mode and mindset. After all, if I were expecting a multigenerational epic and got a video game, or if I were expecting a video game and got a Western, I’d be quite disappointed, wouldn’t I?

    Mr. Kimmel, this was a very helpful review. Some I’ve read have been vitriolic without much reasoning behind (although none so far seem full of high praise). Thank you for your piece.

    Reply
  5. There is a difference between comparing a film to a video game because it is lacking in logic — and comparing a film to the experience of playing a video game. (Story built around an action) vs. what a film should be: (Action built around a story).

    Deriding a movie because it has “the logic of a video game” is a statement of the misinformed. Like any other medium, some video games are very logical and some are not.

    Branding something as “like a video game” isolates a critic from the video game audience, which is most likely the same target audience that goes to see the movies a critic bases his career around.

    Reply
  6. Daniel M. Kimmel

    Where does the review say the movie was “lacking in logic?” It seems that a few people are looking to be insulted and are seeing insults where none exists. If a movie presented its story as a series of discrete chapters I might well say it was constructed like a book. “Sucker Punch” is constructed like a video game. Those who are challenging this are unable to substantiate why.

    Reply
  7. There was no direction towards the critic in my first paragraph, nor any quotation marks around “lacking in logic”. But an opinion to all the responses thus far.

    But a review that compares the negativity of the film to video games: “Beyond the surface there’s not much there. It’s just a series of showdowns with bad guys and monsters, and then the pseudo-profundity of the ending which may surprise but carries no deeper meaning.” is a review that is derogatory towards video games. To me this description could be to any film, game, book.

    If you disagree, please clarify what “all that implies” means from this statement:

    “This is a movie with the logic of a video game, with all that implies.”

    Reply
    • Daniel M. Kimmel

      Video games are about winning and losing and getting to the next level, not about making a statement about the human condition.

      Reply
      • That argument could be made about many movies. For example an action movie is about living (winning) and dying (losing) and getting to the next level (act or action).

        It’s the character and story elements that examine the human condition along the way.

        Heavy Rain, Mass Effect 2, Red Dead Redemption, Alan Wake, Metro 2033 all make statements on the human condition. They all advance a story in the same ways a film does.

        No one, especially a critic of the arts, should ever reference a medium to describe what they don’t like about an individual piece of work. It muddies the waters between what is a medium and a genre. It’s an unjust generalization and a lazy way of getting one’s opinion across.

      • This right here is support of my previous post. You say that video games are about winning and losing, not about making statements about the human condition. Have you played games such as Mass Effect? Warcraft 3? Amnesia? Deus Ex? Silent Hill 2? All these games delve deep into the story of human condition and how we react to different situations. They create complex stories told through the gameplay and the environment around them.
        To be honest, you’re not wrong in the way that you interpreted what you were saying. Its just that what you said IS a direct shot at gaming, as you are unfamiliar with the medium. As an example, Silent Hill 2 is one of the most terrifying games ever made. Yet unlike modern day horror movies, they provide you with a character with history that you are forced to explore. You delve deep into his subconscious and his mental instabilities manifest themselves in the physical world around you. You are beside the character as he is forced to see each of his faults and each of his mental struggles represented in the world around him. This is excellent characterization that is hard to come by in different mediums, mostly due to time constraints. This is really why I felt so strongly about that comment, is that I hear these things every day, and it brings to mind how so many people don’t understand the true nature of games.

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