Why I was a sucker for Sucker Punch

Posted on April 5, 2011 by


Yesterday I said that to describe Sucker Punch as an audio-visual tour-de-force would not do it justice, this is the elaboration of that statement.

I saw Sucker Punch yesterday in IMAX and I was blown away but what I experienced. I had been warned by those who had already seen it to not expect too much from the plot, that it’s all about the action sequences, but I was, like the advertising said, unprepared. It’s like Zack Snyder, fresh off the success of 300 and Watchmen, wanted to show the rest of the world what an action movie could look like if you shook off your shackles and unleashed your imagination upon the world.

Last year Inception (deservedly) won acclaim but I can’t be the only one who thought that for all it’s “dream within a dream”, the dreams in question were rather pedestrian in nature. You’re dreaming that you’re catching a taxi, then that you’re in a hotel, then that you’re on a snowy mountain with jet skis and finally a desolate city where buildings collapse from their own lack of purpose. That’s as exciting as the dreams got in Inception. Sucker Punch’s first dream has heroine Babydoll in an ancient Japanese temple being armed by a wise old man with pistol and Katana before fighting three 20ft tall demon tengu samurai wielding a Halberd, a Sword and a Mini-gun respectively. And that’s just the first dream.

I could go on about how in later dreams Babydoll and the other girls are fighting steampunk nazis and bi-planes with a Bunny Mech suits or taking on a legion of Orcs and a Dragon with a Gunship, but you’ll know this already from the trailer. What’s amazing is how well it’s all put together. It’s all down with green screen of course, yet when you see these sequences played out in slow motion with quick cuts and long dynamic camera movements which would be impossible in real life, yet always manage to keep the actresses as the centre of attention. Much like 300 before it, in every fantastical environment, with every impossible composition, you always feel that the characters are there, amongst the unbelievable chaos.

I’ve seen people refer to the action scenes as being like a video game, which, if I were to use the comparison, would be because video games were where CGI action sequences flourished (before everything became real time engine rendered) they were never held back by the camera. I worked with 3D Studio Max while at Uni and I adored the sense of freedom you had, doing an establishing shot was just as easy doing an extreme low angle shot beneath the leads – normally you’d need to faff about with building a pit for the camera to be in and all that. You could film what you wanted to film, the only thing holding you back was your imagination.

Which is what resonated with me while watching Sucker Punch. Zack Snyder wanted to show you things you had never seen before in ways you had never seen before. He’ll go from an establishing shot to a close up of a gun barrell to a slow motion trail of the bullet through an enemies skull before tracking over to another character slicing her way through a swathe of enemies then zooming in for a close up of her face; and that’s all in one shot with no cuts. Zack Snyder has stepped up and showed the world what you can really do with CGI, it opens up all realms of possibilities, you are limited only by your imagination, why then limit your ability to tell your stories to the rules that old fashioned cameras allowed? It’s not the greatest action movie ever, but it may well be the most impressive CGI based action movie ever.

I realise I haven’t touched upon the wonderful soundtrack – each song a cover version of a classic, twisting your pre-conceptions – the costume design – sexy, empowering, a critique on female objectification – how it made me think of the Gilliam film Brazil and about the story….yes, the story. Frankly I liked the story, it was simple to follow leading from one dream sequence to the next, I just didn’t like the way the experience came to a close. The rest of the story made sense to me, it was crazy, but it made a kind of sense, but the ending, no, it did not sit well, it left me cold and confused. Perhaps this was the “sucker punch” alluded to in the title, but I simply didn’t “get it”, which dampened the experience somewhat. Having read interviews with Snyder it appears the original ending was changed due to test screenings, he talks about it here and what is sad is that it’s the ending the film should have had, but now probably never will.

Posted in: Richie Churchill