Saturday, July 2, 2011

Counter Punch

I never have seen worse reviews for a movie from professional critics than for Sucker Punch (2011): "Two hours of solitary confinement, which feels more like dog hours" (Michael Philips, Chicago Tribune); "Movie lives up to its name" (A.O. Scott, New York Times); "What happens when a studio gives carte blanche to a filmmaker who has absolutely nothing original or even coherent to say" (Lou Lumenick. New York Post); and so on. Many of the reviewers were downright angry. The reviews were so bad that they intrigued me.

Sliding the DVD into the player last night, I was expecting unparalleled awfulness. I didn’t much like director Jack Snyder’s earlier major films (300 and Watchmen) even though these got much better reviews, so Sucker Punch, I feared, might send me screaming from the room in agony because fumbling for the remote would take too long. My only reservation was from the small smattering of critics who liked it, including Betsy Sharkey of The Los Angeles Times, who called it a "wonderfully wild provocation — an imperfect, overlong, intemperate and utterly absorbing romp through the id that I wouldn't have missed for the world." There are always a few eccentric responses to anything, however, so I dismissed this minority view.

I was… well… sucker punched. Apparently, I didn’t see the same Sucker Punch as the majority of the critics. I saw the same movie Betsy did.

Yes, as most critics complain, this surreal and beautifully shot film shamelessly exploits adolescent sexual fantasies. True, the use of video game metaphors is far from original (e.g. Scott Pilgrim). Yet, lots of highly regarded movies exploit adolescent sexual fantasies – maybe most. Despite the strange neo-Victorianism that is slowly emerging in the current century, that is not in and of itself a bad thing. As for originality, how many truly new ideas on stage or in film are there? What matters is the way an idea is handled whether new or old. Some critics also complained that the plot doesn’t make sense. But it does. The film very much has its own logic.

Basic plot: wrongfully committed to a high security asylum by a perverse, evil, and corrupt stepfather, the young "Baby Doll" seeks her freedom while indulging in two layers of fantasy. Minor **SPOILER** in response to critics who complained they saw the ending coming: the sucker punch of the title is not what happens to Baby Doll. It is exactly what the movie tells you it will be at the beginning, which is the question of whose story it is.

The user reviews of this film on Rotten Tomatoes shows only 22% like this movie. User reviews on Amazon tilt the other way, but not overwhelmingly. Accordingly, I won’t give a simple positive recommendation to Sucker Punch. Clearly, a lot of viewers – maybe a majority – will hate it. Truly hate it. There is a sizable minority, though, who won’t. Think of this movie as Shutter Island (2010) meets the exploitation flick Teenage Doll (1957) meets the Nintendo game Zelda, the Ocarina of Time. If you like all three, and if blending them together doesn’t seem too outlandish, you might join Betsy and me on the “thumbs up” team.


  1. You know, I'm with you on Mr. Snyder's previous films. "300" grew on me a little bit after the initial surprise at the approach of the film. It also is hilarious with the Rifftrax commentary "This is a Sparkplug" still comes in handy at parties.

    "Watchmen" wasn't bad, especially for such difficult source material. The movie's final audience has puzzled me. Too much was changed for fans of the graphic novel, and new comers were baffled.

    Now "Suckerpunch" seemed like something a bit more interesting. The exploitation vibe was very obvious, but I also caught some serious anime stylings in there. Your review has renewed my curiousity. I think I'll give it a shot, even if I'm a bit leery of Mr. Snyder.

  2. It is worth a look and you might well like it too. The vehemence of those who hate it, though, is startling. I posted a positive review on Amazon similar to the one above, and included a fair warning that a majority of critics and users disagree with me. 5 people instantly tagged my review "unhelpful."