This review first appeared in the Sunday Star Times, 10th April 2011
To “sucker punch” someone is to fight outside the rules, usually by hitting them somewhere that’s not traditionally allowed – therefore delivering an unexpected, and also slightly unjust, blow. This certainly encapsulates the theme of Zach Snyder’s latest cinematic assault on the senses, which the director of Watchmen and 300 cheekily taglines “You will be unprepared”. Perhaps a riff on the Girl Guide motto, maybe just a boast – but in any event not quite true. Sucker Punch provides much in the way of entertainment and spectacle, but it cannot be said to be surprising or novel.
Five young women (led by Australians Emily Browning and Abbie Cornish), beguiling and tough-as-nails, are imprisoned in a brothel that’s never quite spoken of as such, where they are pimped out by Blue (a truly sinister Oscar Isaac) to “dance” for generically powerful and unattractive men. All pigtails and false eyelashes, these abused beauties are a cross between Little Orphan Annie and almost any woman from a Tarantino movie (mostly echoing Kill Bill). Exploitation movie, here we come.
Like last year’s Scott Pilgrim, the girls have to succeed in a number of challenges that play out like levels in a video game. Unlike that film, our fearless five are not fighting off ex-boyfriends in order to win the love of a new beau. Instead they must battle dragons, zombie Nazis and oversized samurai to gain certain items that will ultimately see them fulfil their quest to break out of their living hell and on to freedom.
The videogame analogy fits not just the slightly overlong fight sequences (where’s a cheat sheet when you need one?) but also the jumps between various realities – Browning’s Baby Doll is originally committed into a mental asylum following an Aerosmith-inspired music video introduction. The girls’ costuming and proficiency with weaponry remind you of characters straight out of Soul Blade or Tekken.
Putting aside notions of feminist theory (which, quite frankly, you have to), Sucker Punch is laden with exhilarating moments, usually when the soundtrack pounds out a familiar song just as Baby Doll unsheathes her sword and delivers some deadly blows. It looks great, sounds great – and does just what it says on the tin.