My old buddy at MTV, Kurt Loder, wrote this as his opening paragraph in his review of Sucker Punch: “If you had to explain Sucker Punch to someone—and I’d wish you luck in doing so—you might say it’s sort of like Charlie’s Angels, but with two more Angels added, as well as an infusion of Nazi zombies, airplane-eating dragons, various lumbering behemoths, and whole cities in flame. Which is to say, it’s not really like Charlie’s Angels at all. Or anything else I can think of offhand.”
Really, Kurt? Because it’s obviously “An Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge” by way of Comicon. Of course, that high-concept is predicated on an awareness of the famous Ambrose Bierce story and a familiarity with the country’s biggest pop culture trade show, which is admittedly a small overlap on the Venn Diagram. But, still. Zack Snyder wasn’t making a movie for the Lowest Common Denominator and you shouldn’t write reviews for them, either. But surfing around the geek sites, I see no one got this movie at all, and I think I know the reason, because the same thing happened to Jon Proctor and me when we did The Black Diamond. The audience sees the ads or the previews or hears the marketing and forms its own expectations based on the smallest amount of information. The trailers and movie posters for Sucker Punch play up the fetishized costumes and archetypical names of the characters: Baby Doll, Sweet Pea, Rocket, Amber, and (wait for it) a brunette named “Blondie.” It looks like Snyder just readSmoke and Guns and decided it’d make a good movie with two more girls, less cigarettes, and more Scott Glenn.
But that’s not what the movie is about at all. Sure, there’re hot girls in fancy dress literally slaying dragons, and there’s that; don’t get me wrong. But the “Sucker Punch” of the title doesn’t relate to anything overtly in the plot of the film, but rather is a statement of intent from the filmmaker to the audience. The whole point of the film is telegraphed from the very first frame of the film: a young girl sits on her bed with her back to the camera in front of the Proscenium Arch. And, as such, an audience reared on XBOX 360 and alcoholic, caffeinated energy drinks who are used to an intimacy and interactivity that websites and ARGs that augment your usual cinematic offering are going to miss the point of this movie wide.
This flick, which promises you thin girls in tight skirts fighting giant machine-gun-wielding samurai, fetishized pressure-suited pilots machine-gunning dragons in mid-air out of the belly gun of a B-52, damsels in emotional distress wearing the plate armor usually reserved for the knights who’d save them saving themselves from heartless mechanics, and black-clad dance ninjas offing steampunk Nazis… well, this flick delivers all that. Except, that’s the frosting on this particular cake, and all the reviewers are tasting the decoration and not the craft.
A “Sucker Punch” is a blow without warning, and even the title is a little misleading because Snyder warns us all right at the beginning that he’s crafting a story about story. He’s setting up audience expectations to work against them. This whole thing is a narrative poem, an etude, an experiment of considerable difficulty designed to perfect a particular skill. There are dullards who will not understand the point, and, worse yet, those who will cry over all the overt “violence against women.” For that one, I’ll just loudly wonder where all those cats were when Snyder’s 300 showed a similar amount of stylized violence against men.
For me, Sucker Punch delivered just what it said on the tin: the eleventh-hour narrative swap was the sucker punch I was waiting for and all the story-about-story made this writer very happy.
And Abby Cornish. Man, was she great.