So it was that yesterday, (Sunday if you happen to be reading this on say, not a Monday), myself, the charming KL Kenzie, the good Rev. Cpt. Sam Flint and the lovely Lady Lisa all went to view what we were sure was the new fan-boy wank fest “Sucker Punch“.
Flint, already having read reviews from people who have the time to see movies on opening day, promised us that though the film would be very very pretty to look at it – it would also be completely bereft of anything involving either plot or substance. Having watched the trailer a good 14,028,215 times I came to the conclusion that this was okay – and that we had to see it Sunday so we could have an article up on Steampunk Chicago by Monday.
So to begin, I’m going to start by saying, yes, I know this movie is “dieselpunk” not “steampunk” according to a number of people who have the time to take barely established counter cultures and differentiate them into further sub-genres. That aside, if you’re looking for a film that evokes the kind of timeless visual imagery of such works as City of Lost Children, Dark City or even Fight Club, this movie is for you. This brings me to my first laud to Mr. Snyder.
Snyder has deftly taken the style of post World War 2 America for the film, but cleverly and smoothly throws in a number of anachronistic hints that make classifying the movie to any specific time period impossible. This is hands down, one of the greatest stylistic strengths of the film, and adds an immediate dream-like feeling to its world.
As for the plot, I’m going to come forward and say that I think all the ill talk of it is un-founded. I found the plot to be engaging. I can imagine the biggest issue the casual viewer might have being that it is anything but traditional in the western world sense of plotting, where one starts at point A and goes from point to point until it neatly ends. Yet plenty of succesful films have avoided that for the better. Where Sucker Punch is different is that it also defies the more post-modern conceit of the beginning being the end, the “it was all a dream” or even the “it was all in her head” motif. It’s never made clear just where the movie is really taking place, and it uses this to its own strength.
Without giving too much away, the film is essentially a story within a story within a story, and though – at first – where they begin and end seems evident, after watching the movie in its entirety you’re left not being so sure. While I enjoyed this aspect, I can see it intensely alienating a majority of viewers. I think Sucker Punch is a significantly more clever, and intelligent film than one might expect.
Perhaps that is really the “sucker punch” here (yes, pun intended). The chain gun toting samurai robot-demons and the steampunk Nazi clockwork robot zombies and the bomb train guarded by androids going for the super city are all really really really awesome, but a movie together, they do not make. Where the film really lies is the plot of five women trying to escape from… well, it’s not clear. One might say this is a problem, but I don’t think it is here. This is a film that’s as much about a Buddhist-esque escape from the self as it is about escape from some kind of physical prison, and the nebulous quality of precisely what the prison is really is the center of the story. It lends itself up to intense speculation and interpretation, and in a culture where we’re increasingly told what to think or how things are, it’s refreshing to not be told what was right, how it was done, or where it came from.
Is Sucker Punch perfect? No. Is it entertaining? Yes. It’s also intensely disturbing and extremely dark. The fantasy scenes, of which virtually all the hype is being given, are not so much essential to any key plot points, but are essential to your not losing your own mind at how absolutely destitute the lives of the protagonists increasingly become. So perhaps that’s what we’re left with. A sucker punch; we come expecting only extraordinary eye candy and yet leave with our minds in a knot.