“Don’t let appearances fool you.”
Zach Snyder directs, writes, and co-produces this unique action-fantasy, which begins with a young girl’s harrowing experience leading her into The Lennox House for the Mentally Insane. It is there that “Baby Doll” leads five girls in an escape attempt. They search for five items while anticipating a “deep sacrifice” and the “perfect victory.”
Sucker Punch begins like a silent film with some narration and music while Synder’s visuals speak volumes. The real sense of danger ebbs from the rusty bars and the dirty kitchen as a constant menace blankets each prisoner. The filmmakers displace the sense of realism and danger as the layers reveal the set up for the audience – a fine line between emotional and violent content.
Logical questions can be easily explained in fantasy, so the filmmakers address this basic premise – how the fantasy violence produces the emotional turns and resolutions based in the characters’ reality. For example, a too-brutal shooting becomes even more poignant because of the camerawork while providing a new solution when all hope seems lost.
Set in Brattleboro, Vermont, the film follows a simple story structure with Steve Shibuya collaborating with Snyder’s vision.The duo incorporates music montages, key dialogue, character archetypes, camera placement and, most importantly, a fantasy cued through special dance sequences that all expand the plot into two additional layers.
The brave and perhaps risky casting choices give five young females their shot at action hero status while the most recognizable stars play smaller, but influential roles. Scott Glenn plays The Wise Man who also charms with his amusing “one more thing” quips while Carla Gucino plays Dr. Vera Gorski, who has the girls’ best interests in mind. Jon Hamm plays a small but key role apparently based on his relatively high recognition. Audiences should remember him easily.
Australian actress Emily Browning stars as the blond lead character Baby Doll, who inspires four other girls within the Lennox House. The special layered techniques shield audiences from any scenes with her commiting any violence while she controls herself during a harrowing sequence involving her stepfather. Baby Doll takes necessary risks while fighting for her life and others.
Sisters Sweet Pea, played by Australian Abbie Cornish, and Rocket, played by Jena Malone, start some storyline sparks, but without a flashback they quickly flame out in a missed opportunity to bolster the unpredictable ending even more. “Look where that got us,” Sweet Pea says to Rocket. Cornish has a great screen presence and even resembles a younger Sharon Stone. Malone displays some of the strong acting talents thanks to her prominent childhood roles in dramas like Stepmom, Contact and Donnie Darko.
High School Musical star Vanessa Hudgens stars as Blondie and puts her physical/dance skills to good use especially in a World War I sequence in the trenches — the film’s most prominent non-CGI experience. Jamie Chung also stars as Amber as the quintet launches into fantasy worlds teeming with dragons, mech robots, orcs, knights, and modified soldiers. “Don’t feel bad, they’re already dead,” says The Wise Man.
Juliard graduate Oscar Isaac stars as Blue Jones, the Lennox House “kingpin” who exploits the girls for his own means. Blue spurts menace and threats calmly often without any background music as the memorable antagonist.
Gerard Plunkett also has a memorably nasty role as Baby Doll’s Stepfather including a fantasy scene where his appearance as a priest will likely cause controversy. Malcolm Scott also stars as The Cook and Alan C. Peterson who looks like and played Winston Churchill, plays The Mayor.
The amazing sound produces an even greater effect and allows filmmakers achieve a PG-13 rating by keeping the most brutal violence just off screen.
Snyder uses his same crew including cinematographer Larry Fong, stunt coordinator Damon Caro, and film editor William Hoy plus strong new additions like production designer Rick Carter (Forrest Gump, Avatar). Computer generated environments become most prominent during a train/helicopter sequence. All the visuals present a physical rollercoaster ride, but this film needs more mental challenges. After two hours the audience did not have much to figure out, but plenty to enjoy.
Marius de Vries and Tyler Bates handle the considerable music duties well. Their modifications of classic songs relates to character motives and inner thoughts closely so listen to the lyrics. “White Rabbit” from Jefferson Starship, “Asleep” by Morrissey, “I Want It All/We Will Rock You Mash-Up” from Queen and “Tomorrow Never Knows” from The Beatles are particular standouts. The “Sweet Dreams” (from The Eurythmics) sequence evokes strong emotions for invested audiences and primes viewers for the climactic, planned escape. Other musical songs include classical songs and Björk’s “Army of Me.”
The sound effects and mixing are excellent, particularly as the girls sear their weapons through the mech robots. Sound also enhances many of Snyder’s memorable shots including a chunk of cigar ash bursting apart as it lands on a shoe and light beam wounds emitting from giant samurai warriors. Sucker Punch will have inescapable comparisons to The Matrix and Inception, but has enough originality and a strong ending to stand on its own.
Look for animated shorts inspired by this recommended film. end credits to hear them perform an amazing version of Roxy Music’s “Love is the Drug” by Gugino and Isaac. Rated PG-13 for PG-13 for for thematic material involving sexuality, violence and combat sequences, and for language. Also showing in IMAX theaters.