Sucker Punch

Trailer #1

I’ve been in town for a few days to celebrate my parents' births and to rest my damaged body from the rigors of the road, and In honor of the Hyperion Empire's 11th Anniversary my brother Achmed dragged me to see SUCKER PUNCH. But first we had dinner at what is fast becoming my favorite chain: Red Robin. (yum) Love that place. Love it. Such was the mad-cap craziness of the evening that I - brace yourself - I did not even order a sandwich. Yes, friends, I had a salad. (And a side of steak fries, but again: no sandwich. Me!) 

My salad came with Poppyseed Honey Mustard dressing. OMFH!  Much like getting the Rock and Vin Diesel on screen together (see below) how the holy zachsnyder did we live this long without combining those two dressings? It makes Hyperion wonder: what OTHER awesome flavors are just sitting out there waiting to be be discovered? Where will the next Peanut-Butter and Jelly, Biscuits and Gravy or distressed horny Japanese girls and flexibly-tentacled monsters come from?  We need some sort of committee on this.

Trailer #2

The reason I wanted to do an extra-special review is because the last Zach Snyder movie I wrote about (300) inspired my very best review ever. It actually started me on a whole different genre of writing, for which I don't even have a name. More on that another time, but if you want to know why I care, take a look at my review for 300 and see if you agree that Hyperion had some extra giddy-up in his step.

Trailer #3

As I’m sure I’ll forget once I’m actually writing the Review....

I keep reading SUCKER PUNCH compared to other films, and while I often feel this is a lazy shorthand way of describing a reviewing a movie, it’s hard not to do the same thing in SP’s case, mostly because director Zach Snyder has noticeably included many references to other films and genres. The look of the movie is CLEARLY inspired by Japanese Manga and Anime, especially the stuff that’s less well-known in America.  Japan has long been making their pop art in an adult way, and what may seem bizarre or exploitative to us is normal in that world (more on this later). I have heard SUCKER PUNCH described as “300 for teenage girls” or “Alice in Wonderland: the Video Game.”  Those are great tags to describe aspects of the film. I sat around trying to think of a few descriptions that used movies or genre styles to help explain a bit the experience of watching SUCKER PUNCH:

Sailor Moulin Rouge
The ShawMatrix Redemption
Sinception City
Mickey Mouse Fight Club
Little Orphan Manga
JaPan's Labyrinth

Oh, and for what it’s worth: I couldn’t fit a clever name into anything, but pay attention during the castle scene; I swear there are orcs!

Trailer #4
(these are the actual Trailers we saw before movie started)

FAST FIVE (see trailer here)
It's the battle of Fast Cars and Mayhem America has been waiting for: Vin Diesel vs. The Rock. (Finally, right?) I turned to my brother and said, “It’s disrespectful to Nic Cage not to have him in this.”

HANNA (see trailer here)
Despite rumors, this is not the latest Miley Cyrus joint. In fact the cast features Eric Bana and Cate Blanchett. That’s all I got (I’ve already told you more than I know.)

HANGOVER PART II (see teaser trailer here)
Will this make lots and lots of money? No doubt. Will it be any good.  We’ll see....

ARTHUR (if you must, see trailer here)
Even if you paid me all of Arthur’s money I wouldn’t see this. I refuse to lust after Helen Mirren for a whole month for her participation. (Well, a fortnight.)

DYLAN DOG: DEAD OF NIGHT (see trailer here)
The title sounds like a back-cover short on a Casper the Friendly Ghost comic. One of the characters is Josh from the US version of Being Human, which was weird because in BH Josh is a werewolf, but here he’s a zombie. Make up your mind, dude!

FRIENDS WITH BENEFITS (see trailer here)
Hey, director Will Gluck: way to capture the pop-culture zietgeist....of 2003.  I would bet the house (well, your house) that this script has been “in development” for most of the decade. Two things worth mentioning: Justin Timberlake is the dude, and in the trailer they let him jokey-sing a few times. I can’t believe it took Hollywood this long to stumble into the Elvis Rule: when you have a talented performer but you’re not sure how to use them, let them sing their roles! Even better: the movie stars Mila Kunis, who’s looking for casual sex without the emotional commitment. Wait a minute...doesn’t that sound a lot like last year’s NO STRINGS ATTACHED starring Natalie Portman? And wasn’t Mila Kunis Portman’s understudy in BLACK SWAN?  Are you picking up what I’m putting down? I think it would be hysterical if every time Natalie made a movie Mila had a similar movie come out. How long before Natalie would crack? (18 months, tops.) There is one great line where Mila Kunis looks at a romantic comedy movie poster and yells, “Shut up Katharine Heigl, you stupid liar!”

Trailer #5
sucker punch
— n
1.    a sudden surprise punch, esp from behind
2.    a sudden unexpected defeat or setback

When I first saw the Trailer for SUCKER PUNCH I was very excited, but after learning the main character’s name I couldn’t help but think that BABY DOLL would make a better name for the movie. I could see where Punch evokes violence and Sucker has a vaguely sexual connotation; sexual AND violent triggers can’t be all bad, but at the same time I just thought that Baby Doll got the same point across but perhaps even better, and was more widely accessible. 

Well, what do I know?  Anyway, after seeing the film I understand fully why Director Zach Snyder chose to go the way he did, and while I still think my idea is a good one, at least this way NOBODY can say they were not warned.  

Check out the Trailer, if you haven’t seen it already:

Opening Credits

As I’m going to be referring to the characters, not actors, I thought maybe you’d want to see who plays who and some of the costumes of the film:

“Baby Doll”
(Emily Browning)
“Sweet Pea”
(Abbie Cornish)

(Jenna Malone)

(Vanessa Hudgens)

(Jamie Chung)

“Dr. Vera Gorski”
(Carla Gugino)

(Oscar Isaac)

(Scott Glen)


“When I was a child, I spoke like a child, thought like a child, and reasoned like a child. When I became an adult, I gave up my childish ways.”~ I Corinthians 13:11

“For those who fight for it, life has a flavor the sheltered will never know.”~ John Stuart Mill (repeated by Wiseman in SUCKER PUNCH)

There comes a time for parents to start making the tough choices, such as whether to take the children to church, public vs. private school, Soccer or Piano (or both), and perhaps most importantly....

Actually, let’s get back to that later.  Let us now speak of SUCKER PUNCH the movie, the experience, the social movement, the...well, perhaps I am getting carried away.

Perhaps not.

SUCKER PUNCH the movie is undeniably cool, with the self-assured swagger of the THE MATRIX RELOADED, SIN CITY or Tarantino in full PULP glory. In fact, the movie has more self-confidence than it could possibly deserve, but when you go for something this audacious, the last thing you want is a tentative approach. 

Our main character is Baby Doll, and a more apt name simply could not be chosen. She’s a cipher, an enigma, as unreadable and perfect and...fragile as a baby doll you might give your daughter when she turns 3.  Tragic events have brought Baby Doll to Lennox House, a hybrid of Arkham Asylum and Annie’s Orphanage, an impossibly dreadful place that not only hints of after-hours malevolence, but practically sweats it from its glitter-flecked pores.  

If this review speaks to you I want to you see SUCKER PUNCH, so the plot I will not reveal. I would only point to the opening set piece that wordlessly gives us the background in clear terms without stepping a hair over the line. It is masterful film-making. It is also worth pointing out how essential music is to the film. Many of the scenes are integrated with the music in a way that evokes Baz Lurhmann, and conveys story, emotion and the truth of the characters in a way that normal dialogue could not.

This is not a trivial point.  Many times during SUCKER PUNCH you the viewer are asked to see things that seem fantastic, like a fairy tale, a video game, a dream, a drug trip, the ramblings of a disturbed child. Are they real?

This question might seem ridiculous when you see 20 foot Samurai demon-monsters or the planet Saturn close enough to lasso, but the question is not ridiculous, and it gets to the heart of whether you will ever be able to engage SUCKER PUNCH on more than an escapist level.

Can something your mind tells you cannot possibly be real actually be real? What does that even mean? After all, nothing in any movie is real. They are all actors, speaking lines, on sets, with props, cameras, and trailers to go to when the Director yells cut.

Yet if you reduce a movie to that level you miss the essence of it, the possibility, the wonder, and yes, even the Truth. So I ask you again, viewer, can you watch SUCKER PUNCH, can you see things that cannot be happening - can you see things THAT EVEN THE MOVIE ITSELF DOUBTS ARE HAPPENING, and take them as real?

There’s no way to know for sure, but if you’re not willing to try, SUCKER PUNCH will never be more than a video game with a cool soundtrack, girls kicking ass with knives and guns, dressed as if they belong on the Cabaret stage, a dark fantasy of questionable (depending on your views) taste. And that’s fine. If you are that person, then engage as you are able.

For the rest of you, pay attention from the first scene. Notice how long it takes before you hear Baby Doll speak a single word, and notice what is in her hands when she finally does. This is not a coincidence.

At its heart, SUCKER PUNCH is a movie about escape. This is Baby Doll’s quest, and it becomes the quest of her companions, too: Sweet Pea, Rocket, Blondie, and Amber. If these sound more like stripper names than good little girls of the 1950s this is not coincidental either. We don’t know WHAT Baby Doll’s actual name is; she’s given the nickname when she arrives at Lennox House, as she (and we) discover there is so much more going on.

This reality, what the girls are asked to do, asked to live through, is where most of the movie takes place. But there is a further level, when the degradation and pressure is too much for Baby Doll, and she escapes into her mind. At this point too you must ask yourself if what you are seeing is real, real in a way you perhaps had not considered (or did not want to).

It is at this point that the movie amps up to Video Game Music Video glory - and I say those terms not as put-downs. There is a Steampunk surreal feel going on - in a good way - as we watch battles with the re-animated dead, dragons, zeppelins, robots and runaway trains. Pay special attention to the male figures in these scenes. Who are they? WHAT are they? What do they represent?  

More importantly, pay attention to the female figures. No, not the girls, though they are nice to look at. The adult females, in all forms. What are you picking up?  What does it mean for the girls as they try to escape? What does it mean in the Big-Picture sense?

I’m bringing up a lot of stuff here that likely seems strange in a movie review - especially if you haven’t seen the movie.  But if nothing else you get the sense that there is a lot potentially going on here if you’re willing to go get it. The movie presents itself fairly straightforwardly and simple, but it isn’t. Just as there are multiple levels of reality within the film, there are multiple layers of story, of emotion, of Truth.

In one sense this was frustrating for me. The action scenes are jaw-dropping, almost an overload to look at, but I kept wanting more of the deeper story. Rarely do I wish a movie were much longer, but would that SUCKER PUNCH had the same running time as Snyder’s WATCHMEN, to allow the Mythos to truly intertwine the story and characters.  At times it felt like just when essential Truth was coming around the corner it was time for another Rock ‘n’ Roll adventure.

(The Internet is awash with the rumor that Warner Brothers demanded 18 minutes cut from the film  in order to achieve a PG-13 rating, and this upsets me to no end. First of all, the subject matter here is DARK; this is NOT a kids’ movie, although I say that but then I’d turn right around and say that your 14 year old will implicitly understand it better than you. There isn’t any content that goes over the PG-13 line, but I wish the film presented as intended, or that was at least an option.

A movie like SUCKER PUNCH only truly works if all the chips are pushed into the middle. It’s a huge gamble trying to pull something like this off.  Have you seen 300 on TNT? It’s terrible, isn’t it? You have to see the DVD to grasp what’s going on. I haven’t seen the extra 18 minutes of SUCKER PUNCH, but I have 100% faith that more adult content would actually make the movie more effective. I don’t say that pruriently, though I’m sure there’s a T&A factor that adds titillation. It’s’re in, or you’re not, you know? I still think SUCKER PUNCH is engaging enough to make it worth seeing in the theater, but I also am looking forward to the Director’s Cut DVD.)

It’s worth spending some time talking about the outfits. There’s a paradox here -and to be fair, in virtually all movies of female empowerment - that while the girls are kicking ass and discovering their inner Ninja they are dressed like call girls and other tropes of male fantasy. There’s no getting around that.

But there is some explanation. Not making excuses, but more than any other film or genre, SUCKER PUNCH takes its visual and thematic cues from Japanese anime and manga, and anyone familiar with the cartoons and comics being produced over there for decades wouldn’t blink at any of the outfits here. It is simply the way the women (and often even the young girls) look.  You can call it exploitation and I wouldn’t argue with you, but the fact remains that it is the “norm,” and for what it’s worth, I’ve seen thousands of adult Japanese Anime, and the girls dressing like Halloween Hookers does not hold back their power. If anything, the opposite is true.

This is more of a societal thing, so it’s unfair to dump everything on SUCKER PUNCH, or even Japanese art, but the Truth is, no matter what the reasons (and there are many) and no matter how it might make the uber-Feminists howl, many women don’t object to these outfits, at least up on screen. 

Being a woman has always been a strange thing in our world, especially when coupling empowerment and sexuality.  The most empowered woman on the planet - who wouldn’t turn aside from a group of men on the sidewalk and would rip apart sexist CEOs in the corporate boardroom might nonetheless find it VERY hot to have her man throw her down on the bed and roughly engage in (consensual) sex.

This dichotomy is worth much discussion, but I recognize will not be solved here. It is enough that it is acknowledged, and realized, added to the equation.  Every woman I know has a slutty outfit in the back of her closet, or wishes she does. Every woman I know has underwear she bought specifically with the idea of a man seeing her in, and the idea that it would drive him so wild that he pushed her up against a wall, even tore it off...well, that’s the general idea.

Why do I bring this up? Because SUCKER PUNCH implicitly addresses it, and it’s a strange juxtaposition that we have to accept if not understand.  A girl might like to dress like a whore, she might like to feel free with her sexuality. She might even want to be temporarily treated that way, but only within parameters that she decides, where she feels safe.  

While these ideas may seem incongruous, it is what it is. SUCKER PUNCH isn’t trying to have its cake and eat it too when it dresses the girls up slutty but has them kick ass: it is simply reflecting how girls already feel growing up in a world that constantly - and I mean CONSTANTLY - bombards them with diametrically opposed ideas: that their sexuality must be hidden and protected at all costs, and that they have no more worth than how sexually appealing they can appear to men. Neither idea is true, but both exist in society and in the minds of every woman. Denying it or calling it illogical doesn’t make it any less true.

Let’s go one more level. Virility, sexuality, is about youth. We can lambaste it forever but it doesn’t change how society is structured, or for that matter basic biology. I know of no beauty products for 40-year old women offering to help them look 60.  Once a woman hits her 20s she spends the rest of the time trying to look as if she were 17. Fuller lips. Firmer breasts, Toned tummies, tighter skirts and masochistic heels that make the butt and legs look a 17 year old girl.

Don’t shoot the messenger. Galling as it is, you know I speak the truth. Impossibly interwoven in this quest is the sexualization of the young. We have the cheerleader fantasy, the school girl outfit. On a sociological level they bother me. As a man I’m not going to sit here and tell you they aren’t hot. How do I live with those two ideas pushing against each other?  Forget what I have to go through - how do women survive in this world?  I may complain about women a lot (being a man this is my wont) but I tell you the truth: I cannot fathom how hard it is to be a girl. The pressures they are under boggle my mind.

This brings us back to Baby Doll.  The very name is in a way sick, but that’s not SUCKER PUNCH’s fault. Hell, I bet most of you have called your loved one Baby.  Have you ever thought about that? It’s a term of endearment, and I’m not looking to make trouble where there need not be, but just think about it for a minute: so obsessed with youth and sex is our culture that the very standard of loving pet name is to call someone an infant!

I know what you’re saying - Hyperion, you way over-think this.  No. I’m. Not. You haven’t thought about it at all. Most people haven’t, and that’s because the implications are so far-reaching that they can give you vertigo.

Don’t believe me? Well, let me ask you this? Who’s your daddy?  How bizarre is it that this term is so sexual in the right context?

I’m not arguing that it is; that’s obvious. I’m not even arguing that it’s harmful. The causes are way too large and complex to be decoded and understood here. But the point of all this returns to the outfits, to the names, to the tension that exists in society, and more to the point in SUCKER PUNCH - the juxtaposition of empowered girls who still want to

I can think of no plainer way to say it than this: girls might want to dress up slutty but they don’t want to be treated like sluts. They may want to be spanked but they don’t want to be beaten. They may want to call their boyfriends daddy but they don’t want to be fucked by their fathers.

Oh, do my words go too far?  Good. Let me say it again: Girls don’t want to be fucked by their fathers.

I hope this offends you. It should. But what offends me is that - for reasons we could (and should) talk about at length - AND PARTLY FOR THE VERY REASON THAT IT MAKES YOU FEEL UNCOMFORTABLE TO THINK ABOUT - this happens to girls. Over and over and over and over and over and over again.

Maybe it didn’t happen to you.  Congratulations. But I will bet you everything you have it happened to someone you know. It happened to someone in your extended family, and maybe not even that far away.  

I know I’ve written about this before, and maybe some of you are tired of it. Too bad. I’m going to keep writing about it, and you know why? Because girls keep getting fucked by their fathers, and for that matter mothers keep staying quiet.

Sorry to ruin any surprises, but the first five minutes of SUCKER PUNCH make it very clear that this is the movie’s essential truth.  Baby Doll has to escape the asylum or be lobotomized, but the real escape is from her father, the one that so many girls have to do. (And for the record, I know that often it’s an uncle or an older brother or mom’s boyfriend. The point is a young girl, a trusted adult.)

I wrote at the beginning of this review that the time comes for every parent to sit down and make the hard choices. The one I left out: should I or should I not fuck my kid?  Should I sit by and do nothing while someone else does?

How ridiculous and sick does it sound when I put it like that?  Of course it doesn’t happen that way, as if there were some horrific Pro/Con list a parent can make to ensure the right decision is made.  YET IT KEEPS HAPPENING.  

I’m not a parent. I don’t know how it happens. I don’t know what factors go into the thinking. I’m sure it doesn’t apply to you. But let me ask you this: what factors go into you putting your head in the sand and letting it happen to others?  If you’re not willing to talk about it, to see the problem, you might as well slip into your daughter’s room tonight.  After all, consistency is a very important thing for parents, or so I’ve read.

Okay.  Deep breaths.  Hyperion sometimes goes a little crazy with this subject.  But so what?  Screw you if it bothers you that I bring this up. It bothers me that you won’t.

One thing is for sure - and you need to understand why I wrote all this, and why here.  SUCKER PUNCH the movie is about a lot of things. It’s a dizzying combo of music and action.  It’s a kaleidoscope of colors and sounds, awash in emotions too complex to understand. It’s a not always successful but always entertaining story about girls kicking ass. It’s about girls finding their power, learning to fight for their lives, for their right to be free.

But when you strip the metaphors away, the movie is about girls not wanting to get fucked by their fathers.  If that sentence disturbs you, if this review is too much, then you damn sure can’t handle SUCKER PUNCH at anything other than a “shiny lights loud noises video game” level.  

Better to know what kind of person you are going in.  That way you won’t get sucker punched.


Thanks to Achmed for going with me to Dinner and to see the movie.

As soon as I got home Sunday night I got the Soundtrack. I’ve been listening to it all week. The songs are powerful in their own right, and gave me visceral memories of watching film. I listened to the songs all through writing this column. If you like the movie I predict you’re going to want to get the soundtrack. You can buy it on Amazon right now. Here are the tracks:

1. Sweet Dreams (Are Made Of This) Emily Browning
 2. Army Of Me Björk
 3. White Rabbit Emiliana Torrini
 4. I Want It All / We Will Rock You Mash-Up Queen
 5. Search And Destroy Skunk Anansie
 6. Tomorrow Never Knows Carla Azar
 7. Where Is My Mind? Yoav
 8. Asleep Emily Browning
 9. Love Is The Drug Carla Gugino and Oscar Isaac

I mentioned up above that watching SUCKER PUNCH brings recognition of different gilms and genres but on a personal level, there was also an overwhelming reminder of a Fairy Tale I wrote several years ago on a similar topic, called The Wall.  If you made it this far through the review you can probably tell that I feel strongly about this subject.  I recommend reading The Wall to anyone, and also my non-fiction follow-up Both Barrels. Thank you for your time and consideration.

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jacquelin said...

Great review, Hyperion. (and for standing up and saying it how it is). :)

Unknown said...

Ummm, so ... Hypie Baby! Long time.
First- GOOD review.
then- So, with all the movie hotties you keep posting pics of (and I thank you for it), ahh, when are you going to branch into XXX reviews?

I'm just sayin'


Anonymous said...

Excellent. Great parsing of a tangled skein of issues.