Review by Kristen Heine
“Chick Flick” would not likely come to mind when you mention the name, Zach Snyder.
As the director of 300, Watchmen, and a 2004 remake of George Romero’s Dawn of the
Dead, Snyder seems decidedly grounded in the “making movies for guys” category. All of
these films have had solidly male casts, stories based around some kind of underdog
trying to overcome the odds, and a whole lot of people getting hacked or beaten to death.
Yet his most recent turn at the wheel yielded Sucker Punch, an action movie for sure, but
most definitely a chick flick.
The central story follows Baby Doll (Emily Browning), as she goes from beloved
daughter, to object of abuse, to would-be murderer, and finally to psychiatric patient in a
Victorian-esque mental institute. This doesn’t really give anything away, as this all
happens in music video-like fashion, in the first few minutes of the film.
The dank mental hospital, run by Dr. Vera Gorski (Carla Gugino) is where the rest of the
film unfolds. The atmosphere and appearance of the asylum set a pretty dark tone. The
weather is always stormy, the colors are dim and gray, and everything in the place looks
dirty and rusty, like you might get tetanus just from breathing the air. The only contrast
is the bright blonde hair and white porcelain skin of Baby Doll—a little glint of hope
against the gloom.
Held there against her will, Baby Doll must procure a series of objects in order to escape
being lobotomized by a very handsome doctor (Mad Men’s Jon Hamm). Sucker Punch
throws the audience down the rabbit hole at this point, moving the characters into one
imagined reality within another imagined reality. While it may sound that way,
complicated it’s not. Snyder’s goal is to bypass a lot of storytelling, and get to a point
where he can use as much CGI as possible. Normally that kind of thing would sink a
film, but the CGI is impressive. Really impressive.
Baby Doll and her cohort of inmates/dancers/fighters make their way through a series of
tests, all guided by a cliche-spouting guru (Scott Glenn). Sweet Pea (Abbie Cornish) is
the cautious one, often wielding a machine gun; Rocket (Jena Malone) is Sweet Pea’s
younger, and much more foolish sister; Blondie (Vanessa Hudgens) and Amber (Jamie
Chung) also tag along to do away with a whole slew of monsters.
The girls fight their way through giant stone samurai, Nazi zombies, fire-breathing
dragons, and finally futuristic robots. The film is chock full of the clinking sound of
swords, the click and clack of wartime machinery, and bullets whizzing by the girls’
pretty little heads. In the midst of so much that’s been computer generated, the three
stone samurai stand out. Their size- skyscraper like when compared with the tiny Baby
Doll—is imposing, and their fast but heavy movements are menacing.
This probably doesn’t sound a lot like the rom-coms that most typically bear the “chick
flick” brand, but it’s the girls’ camaraderie that drives the story. The men in the film are
all villains—an abusive stepfather, a sociopathic psychiatric attendant/pimp, a corrupt
mayor, and the lobotomizing doctor. The girls develop an all-for-one and one-for-all
mentality, and when one of them breaks from that and puts her faith in the male
characters, bad things ensue.
While the thought of seeing a chick flick has most men rolling their eyes and groaning,
you won’t have much trouble dragging your significant other to Sucker Punch. The CGI
filled fight scenes trump what Snyder was able to do in 300 (though there’s less violence
in this film), and the empowered female characters jaunt about in skimpy lingerie and
The actresses that fill the roles of our heroines are all pretty accomplished though, and
even if the storytelling is clearly an excuse to have a lot of special effects, the women put
their all into the performances.
Even though Snyder relies heavily on computer-generated imagery in all of his films, he’s
honing craft. He’s choosing actors who can provide meatier performances, and the CGI
worlds feel more complete and less like you’re watching a fancy video game. Sucker
Punch is a wild ride indeed, and I can’t wait to see what Snyder does with his re-imagined Superman movie that arrives in theaters in 2012.
© Kristen Heine, 2011