Browning in Sucker Punch

Zack Snyder.  He’s the director of the acclaimed movie adaptation of comic books 300 and Watchmen.  With those two movies he showed through his own unique style–adhering to Frank Miller’s panel work for 300, amplifying Dave Gibbon’s powerful images in his Watchmen–that he knows how to make comic book movies.  So how could he have fallen so flat with Man of Steel (reviewed previously here at borg.com)?  Snyder makes big movies but you can’t depend on his name to know what you’re going to get when you plop down the price of a ticket.  When you hear about a movie advertised as Sucker Punch was, it’s easy to skip over it especially because he both wrote and directed the movie.  Released in 2011, Sucker Punch is now available On Demand.  Is it worth checking out?

Sucker Punch was only marketed as a movie featuring ass-kicking female characters in video game situations.  Yet the story is grounded in some serious issues.  It follows two tracks: first, a young woman only referred to as Baby Doll (played by Emily Browning) being abused by her step-father is sent to an “insane asylum,” and second, that woman enters into a fantasy world to survive and avoid being lobotomized by the doctor on staff (played by Mad Men’s Jon Hamm).   If you give Snyder the benefit of the doubt, you can buy into the fantasy word elements.  Baby Doll’s fantasy world consists of the stuff of David Carradine’s Kung Fu series, first person video games, and even The Lord of the Rings.  Led by her own inner mentor, played superbly by Scott Glenn (Silverado, The Right Stuff, Backdraft), Baby Doll takes a team of four inmates–real-world accomplices–on Dungeons & Dragons type missions to capture key totems that Glenn’s character advises will help her break out of the asylum in the real world.  In one scene they pilot a World War II B-25 plane, in another they attempt to slay a dragon, and another they are battling robot drones.  And it all is woven with classic rock and pop songs.

A powerhouse performance can be found with Jena Malone (Donnie Darko, Into the Wild) as Rocket, the most complex of the inmates, as well as Abbie Cornish (RoboCop), who plays her sister and fellow inmate Sweet Pea.  These two characters pretty much equal the military badass male action scenes of films like Alien and Predator.  If Snyder had stuck to making a purely fantasy movie, he would have knocked this one out of the park with these actresses and his supernatural world.  But his major miss is the real world depicted in Sucker Punch.

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