Warning: Some spoilers lay ahead.
As I’m finishing a novel to avoid applying for jobs, my dad randomly yells to me across the hall, “Sucker Punch is such a bad movie that it raises the bar for what counts as terrible.”
“A review for Sucker Punch. I just e-mailed it to you.”
“Who wrote it?”
“Uh… Annalee Newlitz.”
“What does Roger Ebert say?”
“I don’t know, I’m reading, hush!”
This was the brief conversation that occurred between my dad and I earlier this afternoon. He graciously took off from work to accompany me and my sisters to see Sucker Punch this afternoon, after days of telling him much I wanted to see the film. And now he sits at his computer reading a glaring critique from io9, the first of many from not-so-impressed reviewers ranging from Entertainment Weekly to the Orlando Sentinel, calling the movie “numbingly dull” and “an unerotic unthrilling erotic thriller,” respectively. It has even been compared to the atrocity that was M. Night Shyamalan’s The Last Airbender. Ouch.
After the exchange, I quickly googled “Roger Ebert + Sucker Punch,” and stumbled upon Roeper’s review of the film titled, “Sucker Punch a confusing house-of-horrors story with busty women.” The scathing reviews don’t end there.
“You sure you don’t want to see Battle: Los Angeles?” my dad chimes later, repeating his sentiments from earlier this week. He also tried to wrangle me into watching Skyline last night, another blink-and-you’ll-miss-it alien invasion movie, which I oh-so-nicely declined. But today I stand my ground. “No! I want to see Sucker Punch!”
I’ve been excited to see this film since I saw teaser trailers months ago. Did I want to support Vanessa Hudgens, whose career was supposed to melt into non-existence after the end of the High School Musical franchise? Maybe. (There was no way in hell I was seeing that “thing” called Beastly.) Did I just want some mind-numbing entertainment that was promised in this Zack Snyder CGI- and fantasy-filled action flick? Hello? 300 was amaze-balls. And was I super excited to watch a film entirely dedicated to ass-kicking females, shooting heavy weaponry and slaying dragons? Duh!
So when I walked out of the theater this evening I was left only thinking of the dozens of critiques I skimmed earlier in the day. Why did I not listen? I had such high expectations for the film but I was left disappointed. The film turned out to be, echoing other reviews, confusing and boring.
The movie starts with Emily Browning as ‘Babydoll,’ who is supposed to be 20, yet dresses like a 12-year-old with the makeup of a hooker, and her younger sister mourning the death of her mother. Their mother left everything to the two of them in her will, driving her deranged and creepy stepfather mad. He kills Babydoll’s younger sister and frames her for the crime. Babydoll is then whisked away to the Lennox House, an asylum for the mentally insane. All of this happens in the first two or three minutes, with no dialogue, but overcast with a haunting rendition of the Eurythmics’ “Sweet Dreams” (which happens to be sung by none other than Browning herself).
Now, the stepfather wants Babydoll lobotomized so he will receive everything in his dead wife’s will. He pays the orderly, Blue, played by Oscar Isaac, $2,000 to forge the doctor’s signature, sealing Babydoll’s fate. In five days she will be lobotomized.
Doctor Vera Gorski, played by Carla Gugino, uses some type of musical therapy to help the girls cope with their guilt and pain. However, Babydoll imagines (or maybe she doesn’t imagine this, but I’m not entirely sure) that she is actually an exotic dance instructor and the Lennox House is a cover for a brothel-hooker-whore house where the institutionalized girls are forced dance and pleasure men. Dr. Gorski teaches the girls routines that help them survive, or so she says in her overly thick Polish accent void of all proper nouns.
The first time Babydoll dances she is shot into another alternate reality where she learns that in order to escape and find her freedom she must obtain four things: a map, fire, a knife and a key. “You said five things,” says Babydoll to her guardian slash Samurai master. The fifth thing is a mystery, something only Babydoll can figure out and only after the other four things are obtained. Of course.
With the help of her scantly clad comrades (Abbie Cornish, Jena Malone, Vanessa Hudgens and Jamie Chung), Babydoll dances her way into a futuristic war-ridden fantasy, where all the girls are seemingly perfect soldiers that can take no hit and can do no wrong.
I think the worst part of the film is the fact that there is absolutely no tension or climax. In this alternate reality, the girls are so perfect with each shot or swing of the sword. They are able to destroy hundreds of steam-powered soldiers in WWI-esque bunkers in minutes. Oh my God, are they going to be able to slay that gigantic dragon in time? With ease. Oh no! Killer robots! All dead (after what felt like an eternity of slow-to-fast motion gun fire, sword swinging and hand-to-hand combat before the robots were finally destroyed) and easily, too.
My sister compared this film to Inception, and not because of it’s effects or mind-blowing plot, because it lacked both. No, she described it as Inception to help me understand what is real and what is in Babydoll’s head – it is a fantasy within a fantasy within a flashback… or something. Confusing.
I was hoping that Browning would deliver a compelling and believable performance, but I was wrong on both parts. Her big monologue at the end of the film, which should be full of emotion and strain as she is essentially setting Abbie Cornish’s character free, is lackluster and emotionless. At least Cornish, Hudgens, Malone and Chung are able to squeeze out a few tears and stir up some sort feeling in me, yet Browning is stoic. Maybe that is just her character, but there is no hint of that in earlier scenes.
I will admit that the best part of the film is the soundtrack, although some disagree. Like I said, the movie opens with Browning’s chilling cover of “Sweet Dreams,” there is an impressive mashup of Queen classics with Armageddon Aka Geddy while Babydoll seduces an overweight, cigar smoking patron, and Björk’s “Army of Me” remix is the rock ‘n roll fuel to Babydoll’s dancing. Although the film takes place in, what appears to be, the ’40s or ’50s, the music is modern and shockingly appropriate.
The visuals are obviously impressive, it is a Snyder film. But the action sequences and CGI effects don’t necessarily take your breath away, and the drab plot and poor acting by Browning left me wanting more. If you take away the zombie soldiers, high kicks and glowy effects, the audience is left with very little. To add even more insult to injury, the girls are dressed like sluts (!) yet Cornish’s ending voiceover is telling us to be brave and powerful.
I like what Roeper said: “The voiceover speaks of empowerment and finding your inner strength, but the screen is filled with highly digitized images of young women in high heels and short skirts wielding giant guns as they mow down the opposition.” Don’t even get me started on female empowerment.
It’s no wonder that Browning is dating Red Riding Hood star Max Irons or that Red herself, Amanda Seyfried, was originally penned to play Babydoll. Didn’t see that failure either? Okay, that probably wasn’t fair, but neither was having to sit through almost two hours of Sucker Punch. Zing!