Thank goodness for home video! (Do we still call it that?) When a unique artistic vision like Sucker Punch comes out, it’s difficult to know whether I’ll enjoy it (still my favorite criteria for evaluating movies) or be embarrassed to be seen watching it. With such rapid releases on disc as we have now, I’m able to sample it in my home, on my own time, while I still remember what other people said about it, good and bad.
Sucker Punch is an extremely stylized visual metaphor. The back of the case calls it an “epic action fantasy” in which “Babydoll (Emily Browning), locked away against her will, must band together with four fellow prisoners and use imagination and dreams to escape her dark reality.” In trying to describe it to KC, I thought (based on impressions formed from other reviews and ads) it was about institutionalized young women finding release through role-playing. Or, depending on your interpretation, it’s a clumsy statement about using women as visual fantasies. That, in fact, is what Sweet Pea (Abbie Cornish) stops the movie to tell us (in the form of Dr. Gorski (Carla Gugino)) 13 minutes in. The problem is, if you lean that way, that the film itself is an example of what it presumably is decrying: it puts plenty of fetishes on-screen and frequently threatens rape against females.
If you’re not into the eye candy, the movie will seem overwrought and overblown, and it’s questionable how empowering a female fantasy it is as the vision of Zack Snyder. Like his previous movie, Watchmen, the soundtrack is heavy-handed and intrusive, as though he’s making a series of music videos strung together to promote a video game, with the most obvious choices possible. There are muddled messages about freedom and escapism, but the fact remains that the girls can’t do anything without Scott Glenn telling them what to do.
Babydoll, about to be lobotomized, imagines herself into a cabaret brothel where interchangeable young women — dressed in short schoolgirl skirts or spaghetti strap push-up bustiers or other relics from a Fosse show, plus ridiculously profuse amounts of eye makeup — practice dance routines for men to watch. The girls are forced to look like they’re happy cuddling up to old, fat, disgusting men in order to achieve their own plans. (Look, it’s commentary on Hollywood! In a big-budget wannabe blockbuster!)
Visually, it’s dark, shadowy, and grimy, to the point of being difficult at times to tell what’s going on. (The better to hide the computer-generation of much of it, I suppose.) Our supposed lead character doesn’t even speak until 23 minutes in, when she magically visits Glenn as a sensei to teach her freedom, which begins the first action sequence ripped from other sources. When Babydoll and her babe buddies are not battling inside her head, the movie feels like a roadshow burlesque version of Annie (except the girls have stripper names: Amber, Blondie, Sweet Pea). It kept reminding me of Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow and will likely be as long remembered.
Sucker Punch is definitely a movie lover’s movie, in that it’s full of exaggerated things you have to watch to gain anything from them, the pinnacle of special effects for their own sake. The story is unclear and confusing, too in love with its own poorly thought out symbolism to communicate or touch the viewer on anything but a superficial level. I had a hard time believing that a stereotypical abused orphan would envision escape as action video game sequences, but the makers and fans of these kinds of films don’t need meaning, just violent scenarios with techno soundtracks.
I can see why this was such a critical and commercial (made $36 million in the U.S. on a budget of 82) failure. It’s of appeal only to a limited subset of the young male demographic, those already familiar with this style of visual language and who want to be flattered into thinking they’re seeing the movie for more than just staring at hot girls in short skirts waving weapons.
If you don’t care about spoilers, here’s a hilarious review of the film from when it was in theaters. There’s a whole ‘nother discussion to be had about the “psych! screwed you up!” ending switch, but I try to avoid spoilers. My co-watcher’s final thought was “I hate this movie for ruining all that music for me by associating it with these horrible visuals.” He felt it was insulting to the original artists to have their work reused in this way.
The Blu-ray Combo Pack comes with two Blu-ray discs — one of the theatrical release, one of the extended cut — and a third disc with both the DVD and digital copy versions. You can also buy a Blu-ray only version (no DVD or digital copy) or a single DVD.
The special features are minimal. There are cartoon shorts (with limited animation, total of 11 1/2 minutes) for each of the four fantasy worlds, providing background for the different settings. The only featurette is the less-than-three-minute “Behind the Soundtrack”.
The showpiece second Blu-ray disc adds 17 minutes or so to the released cut (which bumps the movie from a PG-13 to an R rating). One significant change is the early reinsertion of the “Love Is the Drug” musical number previously only seen over the end credits. This version also allows for “Maximum Movie Mode”, a picture-in-picture commentary and director tour with actor comments, background footage, optional galleries, design images and explanation, and so on. While watching it, I learned that the little blonde girl with pigtails named “Babydoll” represented innocence. In spite of my being snarky, if you liked the movie, you’ll definitely want to see this enhanced track.
The studio has also set up a video creator site, where you can remix selected clips from the film with effects and transitions. On the one hand, it’s kind of impressive just what can be done with technology as a toy; on the other, it’s the same kind of faux creativity, copying what’s already been done, that underlies the movie itself. (The studio provided a review copy.)