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Sucker Punch

Film Four Stars
I was very excited to watch Sucker Punch, the latest film from Zack Snyder, after all he'd given us Watchmen (Filmstalker review) and 300 (Filmstalker review), both excellent films with a unique vision that delivered story, characters and action in equal amounts. Sucker Punch looked no different from the trailers; in fact it looked even more ambitious and visually exciting as the others.

I'd watched reviews and comments arrive about Sucker Punch as soon as the press screenings began and that feeling began fading, it seemed that there was quite a number of people who didn't enjoy Zack Snyder's Sucker Punch, and there was some commentary about the exploitation of the female characters. I was slightly disheartened, but I still had hope and wanted to see it.

I've just come out of seeing the film and those that are saying "exploitation" clearly haven't been watching any film in the last...well...anything coming out of Hollywood for some time, and those that didn't like it have me confused, I did, and quite a bit too.

I'd already seen the opening few minutes which was released online before the film was released to the cinemas, and I was taken by it immediately. The powerful visuals and the strong and positive use of special effects alongside practical imagery, the fantastic choice of music and the stylistic way that the back story was told quickly and efficiently. It looked brilliant, and that carried through into the film.

Plot.pngSuckerPunch.jpgSucker Punch begins with an explanation of the back story of the main character, a story that plunges her into terrible circumstances where she's institutionalised for something she wasn't really guilty of. What's more is that the home is run by a rather unscrupulous person who is using the women and carrying out whatever the people admitting them will pay them to do.

Trapped in a mental home for young women and piled high with guilt, she has five days before her time runs out. With all the pressure she mentally retreats into her own world, a world where we join her and see her fight for freedom play out in a fantastical way.

TheFilm.pngThe most obvious thing to mention about Sucker Punch is the style of the film which is apparent from the opening moments and fills the entire back story sequence in every aspect. It carries through the rest of the film too, but it really does get shown off right up front.

The style is fast becoming a mark of Zack Snyder, from Watchmen (Filmstalker review) and 300 (Filmstalker review) and now Sucker Punch, and it's a great style that marries CG and live action together seamlessly, building on all aspects with a great score and superbly choreographed almost balletic action sequences that flow with the eye.

For the viewer his films look gorgeous and one of the biggest points for me is that the action is so easy to follow and looks so fantastic. Unlike many of the Hollywood action films where they are overly blocked and feature multiple cuts from multiple cameras, Snyder keeps the cuts low, lets the action flow and allows for the audience to follow on the big screen.

It's not just here that his style permeates, it pours through every aspect of the film including some superb musical choices that with Sucker Punch have definitely made me want to go and buy a copy of the soundtrack.

Snyder's not all visual and audio style though, his writing and direction are very strong through the film and there are a number of decisions and directions that caught my eye and were excellent additions.

One example is the fact that we never see Baby Doll dancing, this is a key aspect of the film in that when she's dancing for everyone in her world she's distracting them, allowing the other girls to carry out aspects of the escape plan. Just as she begins to get lost in the music and start the dance is the point where we turn around the view of the audience to the view of Baby Doll and join her in her dream world, a dream within a dream world.

It's cleverly done and I really do like the fact that we never really see what's happening when she dances, but when we return we see the reactions from everyone else, emotional applause, stunned amazement, and we never understand what she's performing, just what's happening in her mind.

Another nice aspect is the way that Snyder throws us into these dream worlds of the main character and doesn't try to analyse or explain them, it's just what's happening and we're taken into it. Some great examples of where he doesn't feel the need to show us too much, and in fact where keeping things from the audience brings for a better film.

I also really enjoyed the brief time in the real world when she enters the asylum and we catch plenty of visual references to what is to come, little snapshots of images that will return as the story builds and the pieces of the plan come together as well as to anchor the imaginary worlds to the real one and without losing sight of the main plot.

The action sequences themselves were superbly imagined and brought to life, and the effects and action were pretty damned spectacular, at times topping what we've seen from the director previously, and for those claims that the action sequences are too over the top well please do remember where we are at this point, in the mind of a psychologically unhinged woman who is in a mental institute and is undoubtedly on drugs. Too much? Hardly.

These sequences are fantastic and I'm amazed that despite the level of fantasy how much I became caught up with them. There were a few moments where I physically reacted to what was happening, screwed my face up at the impact that one of the characters received, smiled at the retribution they handed out, and the emotion I felt on that final mission.

That brings me to another strong aspect of the film, the way Snyder and Steve Shibuya have written the story and decided to play out events. It's not at all what I expected and it really did surprise me a number of times at the end, but Sucker Punch? Well this is where perhaps I think the film didn't quite have the impact I had hoped for.

I really wanted to be reeling from the Sucker Punch of these moments, but I didn't. They were surprising but just not the shocking revelation I thought they could have been, and that's a little bit of a shame, and it's something I felt a few times in the latter half of the film.

Yet there were moments that did deliver that punch. The film opens with a strong sense of harsh reality that does make you feel very uneasy, it's all the way through the opening sequences where Snyder demonstrates his mastery of how far to take something and just when to cut away and not to show more, but the film lightens and the pressures you can feel on the character lifts quite a lot. It's one scene later on where that dramatic weight returns to the story, the characters and the audience with a bang that delivered the punch for me and turned the tone of the lead character, and from there on that tone remained.

While I felt that the tone should have been a bit stronger through the rest of the film, it does mean that when it returns it gives that sucker punch feeling and it was here where I did feel a blow. Twice. Another great feature of Snyder's writing.

There's something else I want to tackle about this film before I sum up, and that's the question of exploitation of the characters or actresses, something I've heard a couple of times and is countered by the argument that it's empowering for young women. The latter is actually the side I would agree with.

I watched the film with my friend Louise, and neither of us thought that there was exploitation or too great an amount of titillation going on. There were a couple of thoughts we had on that argument, one was wondering if the people who were suggesting that had watched anything coming out on film in the last twenty or even thirty years, and the other was about the situation these characters were in. They were being exploited in the film itself, in the first dream world they are performing dances for men which translates to god only knows what in the real world.

So there are scenes where they are in low cut tops, short skirts, pop socks, well think about the situation the characters are in, and frankly it doesn't seem like exploitation or titillation and it didn't feel anything like half the films we see coming out of Hollywood, at least here there's tons more to the film, and if Quentin Tarantino had created another Grindhouse exploitation flick, would anyone be rattling their gums about this?

It's an argument to nothing, although I have to admit I developed a huge crush for Abbie Cornish during the film. She looked fantastic throughout and did add an incredible sexiness to the scenes of the girls running SWAT style through the castle. Yes, there might be something a little wrong with me, but she is incredibly sexy there.

Jena Malone, Carla Gugino and Oscar Isaac were also great in their roles, all giving plenty to their performances, as did Emily Browning in the lead who really did capture me in those opening moments, but it was Abbie Cornish whose performance caught me the most.

Isaac's portrayal of Blue and the way that he was written was a perfect level of villain for the piece, never becoming too much and keeping it just on the right side of evil. Oh, and I have to mention Scott Glenn and his "one more thing" lines, that raised a smile every time he came to say it.

Overall.pngSucker Punch is a really good film and I don't believe deserves some of the negative comments it's been receiving. There are a few areas where it could have been stronger, but it's visually exciting, provides a rich, and in the latter half of the film a dramatic and weighty story that does live up to its title at a couple of moments.

Snyder delivers a great cinematic experience once again with a superb score and proving that he has a great eye for creating action on screen, and yet doesn't rely on the action or effects, using them all to build on the story, a story that opens and closes with a bang.

Sucker Punch is far from boring and flies above other Hollywood films as it delivers on many more levels. While it might not impact as much as 300 or Watchmen, it does excel in other areas and once again proves that Snyder is a fantastic writer and director.

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