Summer is approaching, and that means that over the course of the next few months we will be treated to several films featuring muscular men in a variety of "macho movie awesome" displays - blowing things up, driving really fast, letting loose with thousands of rounds of ammo, etc. These will all be tremendously stupid films (to varying degrees, let's say). I bring this up, because they will all fly, more or less, under the critical radar. Critics will give them low ratings, and move on, and it is unlikely that you'll be forced to notice. "Ehh. This one isn't good. Duh. Whatever."
Sucker Punch is a film that is similar in many ways, except that the skantily-clad people pulling the triggers are women. Hot women. The call to arms is thus upon us, and not only will you hear more about this movie (and the particulars of its horribleness) than any other goofball action flick to hit theaters in years, but the rage aimed at director Zack Snyder (300, Watchmen) is already of Michael Bay proportions.
Gender bias aside - in several senses, but chiefly insofar as half-naked men shooting guns is simply action movie status quo, and half-naked women shooting guns is sexist, wet dream - there is little to suggest that Sucker Punch is anything but, at worst, equal in its level of general stupidity.
In a long, and perhaps overly drawn out, introduction, we meet a young woman known to us only as Baby Doll. Her mother has just died, and she is left in the care of a truly despicable stepfather, who is none too pleased that his wife has left everything to her daughters. Clearly abusive, in every horrible sense, said stepfather goes too far when he turns his attention toward Baby Doll's younger sister. A gun appears, and Baby Doll ends up accidentally killing her sister.
We next see her entering a mental institution, and per a shady arrangement with an orderly, stepdad has arranged for a lobotomy. Baby Doll only has five days before she won't be talking to anyone about what may or may not have transpired during the fateful shooting.
At this point, Baby Doll breaks with reality, and the rest of the film takes place (let's say) in her delusion of reality, which involves her being held in a kind of den of prostitution slavery, waiting to be taken away in five days by the High Roller. Baby Doll meets some of the other girls - Sweet Pea (Abbie Cornish), Rocket (Jena Malone), Blondie (Vanessa Hudgens), and Amber (Jamie Chung) - and learns that all the girls have to dance, not only to arouse the clients, but to serve the establishments "front" as a dance club (or whatever).
But, when Baby Doll dances, she enters another level of dream world, one in which a mysterious wise man (Scott Glenn) tells her she can escape, and provides her with the tools for her plan. Back in the not quite real world, we discover that Baby Doll dances so erotically that those who watch her are utterly transfixed, and Baby Doll explains the plan to use this to the girl's advantage. They will acquire the things they need for escape while she dances for those who need to be distracted. During these later lapses into our "dance psyche," the girls are along for the ride, and do battle with everything from dragons to robotic Nazis in order to acquire whatever they may be after at the time.
The result is without question one of the weirdest movies you ever want to come across, filled with fight sequences that ultimately dominate the runtime, and leaps from one odd connection to the next, without much thread leading betwen them. It's a lot of slaughter and gunfire, and even the best of spins you can put on things still leads to the conclusion that there is no real reason for it. The occasional breaks we get are mostly just opportunities to see sexy, young women in a different selection of clothing that is... well, sexy.
(L-r) JENA MALONE as Rocket, ABBIE CORNISH as Sweet Pea and VANESSA HUDGENS as Blondie in Warner Bros. Pictures and Legendary Pictures epic action fantasy SUCKER PUNCH, a Warner Bros. Pictures release.
Here then, I think, is where the rubber meets the road.
Different critics have different ideas about what the job is, and the idea of personal taste vs. something objective has led to a battle that has raged on since there have been critics. (See below for a link to a long-winded manifesto on why Sucker Punch makes no sense - as if that is a designation that lays claim to anything)
While there are a wide variety of theories, I choose to meet movies head on. This is why, for example, I do not rate all horror movies zero stars without even seeing them, despite the fact that they are (in my opinion) stupid by definition and really have no redeeming qualities.
The question I find that I cannot help forcing myself to ask whenever I read a review is, "To what extent did this person actually need to see the movie in order to write this?"
It's hard to come up with a complete description of Sucker Punch that doesn't include the idea that it is "fantastically stupid," but to tell the truth, I might mean a lot of different things by that. You knew there was crazy, likely nonsensical, destruction and violence from the trailer, and the posters let you in on the marginal clothing requirements. It's just that kind of film, and outsmarting it isn't really something you want in bold on your resume.
On the other hand, it at least has a fun and semi-clever excuse for its nonsense. Plus, there is actually something to think about in it. Baby Doll snaps, for whichever reason works for you, and we dance along in her madness. All the while, something that more or less coincides is happening in the real world, and there is a certain depth to the whole affair. It doesn't actually take a lot of muscle to pull a trigger, but some things really do take more guts than most people have.
Of course, I'm playing along with the film more than it has any right to expect people will, but if you don't know this movie is winking at you, this isn't a game you should be playing.
Ultimately, there are a lot of questions film critics should be answering, and the least important of all is whether or not they liked it. Did I like it? Not really. But, it was awesome.
The truth is, for the vast majority of people, this is a movie that needs no review. You watch the trailer and know exactly where you are. One one side of that coin, I give the movie one star. Even at worst I see some interesting effort in it. If you're on the other side of that coin, and there is any chance you'll like it, I call it four stars. I'm guessing you'll like it.
There's a lot of difference between being stupid, and calling the audience stupid. Almost everything fun is really pretty stupid.