Sucker Punch, the saucy, sexy, girl-power, ass-kicking movie from director Zack Snyder is being release in North America on Blu-ray and DVD on 28th June. I’ve had a chance to check out the extended Blu-ray cut of the film. Whilst there’s no news on the New Zealand release date, the North American Blu-ray is region fee and thus available for us all from Amazon.com and other US outlets.
Director, Zack Snyder has never let me down yet. His 2004 remake of George A. Romero’s classic Dawn of the Dead, that should have been a sacrilegious piece of Hollywood garbage, actually turned out pretty damn good. His follow up, the celluloid rendition of Frank Miller’s beautiful graphic novel, 300, gave him the opportunity to exploit a visual style that would become his trade mark.
Snyder’s next movie could have finished him. Other far more experienced directors had attempted to bring to life what is considered to be the greatest graphic novel ever published, Alan Moore and Dave Gibbon’s Watchmen. Acclaimed movie-maker, Terry Gilliam had even previously declared Watchmen as being “un-filmable”. Whilst the Watchmen movie – with a plot deviating very little from the comic-book story – polarised the audience, it is still one of the most faithful comic-book adaptations put on film.
A young family means that trips to the cinema are few and far between. Whilst you can’t beat watching a film on the big screen, it does mean that I get to experience a lot of great movies for the first time on Blu-ray in the comfort of my own home. Sucker Punch is one of those movies.
I recently read an article online that just about summed up Sucker Punch, it said that is wasn’t enough for movies to be good anymore, they had to be awesome. And awesome is exactly what Sucker Punch is.
The movie reads like a geeky fan-boy wish list. Doe-eyed, sword and pistol wielding, woman-child in a cheeky schoolgirl outfit…check. Twenty-foot tall samurai robots…check. Clockwork, steam-powered Nazi zombies…check. Fire-breathing dragons…check. All wrapped up with a bit Moulin Rouge to give it a bit of class. I’d loved to have been a fly on the wall when this one was pitched.
Sucker Punch tells the story of Baby Doll who, after striking out at the step-father that has been abusing her and her sister, is packed off to Lennox Asylum for the Insane. Once at the Asylum Baby Doll’s step-father, in order to keep her quiet, pays an orderly to arrange for Baby Doll to have a lobotomy. The lobotomy doctor arrives in five days time.
At this point it all goes a bit bizarre and a harrowing lobotomy scene morphs into a theatre rehearsal at a burlesque club, come bordello. Baby Doll is introduced to the club’s host, who bears an uncanny resemblance to the orderly, by an Irish priest, who looks a lot like her step-father. Apparently Baby Doll is from the orphanage and the priest has brought her to the club to sell her virginity to a high-roller who will be arriving in five days time. Baby Doll is put to work at the club with the other girls, who also look rather similar to the other inmates at the lunatic asylum.
A montage follows set to a haunting track by Yoav – and featuring lyrics sung by Emily Browning, Baby Doll, herself – called, “Where is my Mind?” The sequence reveals that Baby Doll is concocting a plan to escape. Following a lavish song and dance number, exclusive to the extended edition (but shown during the credit of the theatrical version), performed to a cover of Roxy Music’s “Love is the Drug”; it’s Baby Doll’s turn to dance.
Baby Doll begins to dance in front of the sceptical gaze of the other dancers and the club owner. As their smug faces turn to surprise, a snowflake falls and into Baby Dolls amazingly long eyelashes. Once more the film shifts to another level of odd. She stands alone in a snow covered Japanese courtyard.
This first sequence sets the stage for what is to come as Baby Doll and her fellow club dancers/asylum inmates, Rocket, Amber, Blondie and Sweet Pea use their feminine whiles to obtain the items needed to secure their freedom from the bordello. Each mission is initiated by Baby Dolly starting an off-screen dance that charms the target and us, the audience. The target is transfixed and distracted, whilst we are treated to an over-the-top fantasy action-sequence, which serves as an analogy for the girls mission at hand.
My only real criticism is that the plot is pretty sequential and reveals itself to the audience fairly early on. It isn’t really unreasonable to suggest that the plot feels straight out of a video game. Sure there are some deviations from the audience’s expectations, but for the most part you are running in front of the onscreen characters.
Viewing Aussie newcomer Emily Browning for the first time all dressed up as Baby Doll was a bit uncomfortable at first, as last time I saw her she was the kid from Lemony Snicket. I feel the same way about Natalie Portman, who I still see as ten year-old Mathilda in Léon and Kirstin Dunst who is forever, in my eyes, the little vampire girl from Interview with a Vampire. To be honest, like most of the cast, she doesn’t have many lines. But she does manage to pull off (with the help of lashings of CGI trickery) the visual overload that is a little slip of a girl beating the crap out of robots, zombies and dragons.
Fellow Aussie Abbie Cornish as Sweet Pea, is probably the strongest actress of the girls, which is obviously by design as her role is pivotal to the story. Carla Gugino also puts in a great turn and Doctor/Madame Vera Gorski as does Oscar Isaac as the orderly come slimy club host, Blue Jones. It was great to see veteran actor Scott Glenn as the girls’ mysterious mentor, delivering zen-like advice, a part that could have very easily have been written for late David Carradine.
Sucker Punch is to easily a target for critical snobby. The manga inspired visuals, the suggestion of T&A and other staple fodder for the stimulation of teenaged video gamers, is all there. But to simply dismiss the film for that reason is just plain narrow-minded.
Some will see Sucker Punch as just a sequence of hyper-fantastical music videos separated by a modest bit of plot. Thankfully the film serves up an excellent soundtrack, so if that is all you get out of the movie you are still in for a good time. Covers of Jefferson Airplane’s “White Rabbit” and The Beatles trippy “Tomorrow Never Knows” are not only great tracks but also perfectly fit the visuals.
Sucker Punch isn’t simply a throw-away piece of bubble gum cinema. It’s not the Matrix, granted. But it’s not pretentious bollocks like Nolan’s Inception, either. Maybe there is a whole philosophical subtext within the film regarding violence and oppression towards women, and maybe not. I’ll leave that for someone else. There are messages to be had in the movie. Scott Glen’s line, “If you don’t stand for something, you will fall for anything” and the final words from Sweet Pea at the end of the movie, regarding self empowerment, “You have all the weapons you need…now fight!” definitely struck a chord with me. Sucker Punch is a visual feast and one hell of a spectacle, with heart-stopping action sequences the like of which you will have never seen before. But, most importantly, it’s entertainment. And that, at the end of the day, is what it is all about in my book!
The Blu-ray package comes complete with a DVD version of the theatrical cut and a digital copy for your portable media player of choice. Zack Snyder isn’t one to disappoint with extras as owners of 300: The Complete Experience and the North American Watchmen Directors Cut Blu-rays can testify. Sucker Punch includes a host of special features including behind-the-scenes featurette and motion comics as well as the interactive Maximum Movie Mode that Warners seem to be including on all their top tier releases. Being such a technical film packed with visual effects, the extras really add to the experience rather than being like the usual Hollywood sycophant talking heads tacked as an afterthought.
Sucker Punch is, if not quite cinematic art, something special. It joins a select few in movies that I’ll watch again and again just for the spectacle. Sucker Punch is destined to be a cult favourite and a worthy addition to your Blu-ray (or DVD) collection.
I give it 9 out of 10, just for being awesome!