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Sucker Punch: A Visual Feast for the Eyes

Director: Zack Snyder
Screenplay: Zack Snyder, health Steve Shibuya
Release Date: March 25, 2011
Actors: Emily Browning, Jena Malone, Abbie Cornish, Vanessa Hudgens, Jamie Chung, Oscar Isaacs, Carla Gugino, Gerard Plunkett

Ever wonder what it’s like to watch a visual art piece created on the screen? “Sucker Punch” is as close as it gets. From director Zack Snyder, most well known for his creative use of visuals in films such as “300” and “Watchmen”, comes his new film “Sucker Punch” that pushes his visual creativity in film even further. “300” brought a whole new level of ‘beauty’ to the screen, combining violence with an odd sense of aesthetics, slowing down the movement right before making a kill or a slash and then speeding up the motion once the kill is made. In addition, a brown-hue like filter was added, with an impressionist-air brushed quality that made you feel as though you were watching a water color painting depicting war come alive. “Sucker Punch” delivers on similar visual traits, this time with a blueish-brown filter and slow motion action.

“Sucker Punch” centers around Baby Doll (Emily Browning) who finds herself in a hospital for the mentally ill after recently losing her mother and accidentally killing her sister to protect both herself and her sister from her evil stepfather (Gerard Plunkett). Her stepfather turns her in to the mental hospital and pays off Blue (Oscar Isaac), a worker in the hospital, to find a way for Baby to get a lobotomy quickly so she has no time to be questioned by the authorities regarding the reasons for her sister’s death. Blue promises that he will simply forge psychiatrist Dr. Vera Gorski’s (Carla Gugino) signature so the lobotomy will take place. Baby overhears all this and quickly realizes that she only has five days to try and escape before the lobotomist arrives. Quickly assessing the rundown facility, she sees a few friendly faces and soon, her mind starts to create a fantasy that will help her escape and survive the place. Instead of a patient, she envisions herself as the orphan being asked to be a professional “dancer”, servicing special clients. The rest of the patients are also dancers, imprisoned by the illegal establishment ran by Blue Jones. Vera in her fantasy is now her dancing teacher and Baby quickly befriends Rocket (Jena Malone), her older sister Sweet Pea (Abbie Cornish), Blondie (Vanessa Hudgens), and Amber (Jamie Chung) by asking them to survive and escape with her, after discovering her talent for attention numbing dance moves. Sounds ridiculous, yes? Well, it is.

In similar ways to that aesthetic beauty found in “300”, it’s truly hard to describe “Sucker Punch” in a simple sentence as Snyder takes his ideas from “300” and proceeds to push it to visual limits that no other director [that comes to mind] has previously done. Much like an artist with a painting or a photographer with his photo, Snyder tries to convey the story with less words and more visuals. Because of the lack of dialogue for what seems like ten minutes or so, the main reliance on imagery and the over-the-top story, it was hard for “Sucker Punch” to strike a chord with me initially, for perhaps the first forty-five minutes of the film. Everything was stylized yet lacked a sense of substance. One may say that I shouldn’t expect much for a movie like “Sucker Punch” to have more of an interesting story, but in some ways, I felt like I was being tricked to believing there was so much more to the story than there really was. Another film that springs to my mind that had more substance that was highly stylized was “Moulin Rouge”, though it also relied heavily on song. However, “Sucker Punch” began to find it’s stride when the fantasies (within a fantasy — think “Inception here”) became more interesting instead of the usual “fight here”, “spin here”, “blow up here” when the story in the dancer world became more intense. But it may have came too late as the film started to lose my attention once I got used to how beautiful the imagery and Snyder’s creativity was applied in “Sucker Punch”.

This film is sure to catch those eyes who love scantily dressed women or anime — or those anime with scantily dressed women. Emily Browning looks fantastic and just like a doll as Baby Doll, as well as the rest of the girls, who looked toned and fit in all the cool outfits they wore. Surprisingly, Abbie Cornish had more to do in this role than her more dramatic role in last week’s release of Limitless (which does not say much), and Jena Malone as usual, is a stand out in whichever role she takes on, this one not being any different, despite the slant on effects to carry the film. The makeup is flawless, as every close up of Emily Browning’s eyes, or Jamie Chung’s eyelids, were perfect. The cinematography by Larry Fong and the frames that were setup (I’m sure with Snyder) really caught my eye. One scene that comes to mind is when Baby Doll hears the conversation between her stepfather and Blue. It is so distinct and visual yet quietly emotional that it captured my attention immediately. Her eye takes up a third of the screen, and you can see her stepfather talking. Switch to her other eye, and you can see Blue talking. It was fascinating. Other plentiful moments of cinematic wonder were the many fighting scenes in Baby Doll’s fantasies, with similar techniques that were used in “300” (Larry Fong was also the cinematographer).

I keep going back and forth on this film. On one hand, the first half, though there was a purpose, seemed rushed, with little substance and seemed like a constant assault of visual images on the screen. There was no connection between the characters or with Baby Doll itself. Snyder seemed as though he wanted to capture the emotion of his characters with pure imagery and create character development by the closeup of the eyes as the window to their emotions. Carla Gugino and Jena Malone succeeded with this, but Emily Browning, though pretty and innocent, I’m not sure could really convincingly show me what she felt through the use of her eyes.

With the emotion lacking, the disconnect between the characters and the disjointed feel of the film, I was almost bored until the death of one of the characters that comes late in the film. However, even though you know it’s about to hit the peak, you’re not sure what to feel because there is no connection between them to the audience. None of the characters build much rapport with one another and it seems as though there is one character too many. The lack of flow and the failure in editing and storytelling make what this film an eventual disappointment. Though beautiful to look at, the story seemed to get itself together much too late.

One of the strongest suits of the film in addition to the visuals, the makeup and the cinematography is the soundtrack. “Sucker Punch” has one of the best soundtracks I have heard in a while, with each song matching the atmosphere of the film perfectly, note by note. Emily Browning provides the voice to some of the songs (ie. “Sweet Dreams are Made of This”) and her voice is haunting and in pain, which gives a voice to the film that is lacking. I strongly suggest picking up the soundtrack.

So what exactly is the message that “Sucker Punch” delivers? You try to survive, however you can. If you need the fantasies to survive, you do it. You do whatever you do, because it’s only you in the end. They allude to this a couple of times throughout the film, and it’s only towards the fourth quarter of the film where it tries to really deliver this message. Perhaps they didn’t want to force this idea down our throat, but with how the fights seemed just pieced together, the lack of transition from patient to new dancer, it doesn’t seem as though we were watching much of anything at all except for a few pretty images.

Bottom line: Watch the film if you like anime, or scantily clad women (they are fantastically dressed as I can foresee girls going to Comic-con dressed this year as Baby Doll, or any of the rest of the girls). If you are all about the visuals and love action and could care less about having a story, “Sucker Punch” is chock full of both and won’t disappoint. If you like your action to have a little bit of substance, skip it. Critics absolutely think the film is a pile of dung, and honestly, I can see why. There are other choices that are infinitely better than “Sucker Punch” that are worthy of seeing (“Paul” comes to mind), but definitely have an idea of what to expect when you go see this.

Visually amazing, but somewhat boring, disjointed and disappointing. It could have been so much more. Just OK for me. 2 dances / 5 dances

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