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Review | Sucker Punch

Sucker Punch didn’t deserve its PG-13 rating. Really, in accordance with guidelines laid out by the Entertainment Software Ratings Board, it should have been slapped with a T for Teen. Make no mistake, this is a video game, if a non-interactive one. Really, director Zack Snyder said it best in his recent Spinoff Online interview: “It’s the game you want to play but it hasn’t been made.”

Sucker Punch does something that hasn’t really been done before in cinema. Snyder, who developed and wrote the story himself in addition to directing, took the structure and the core elements of spectacle from AAA video games and capably converted them into a blockbuster film. There are off moments and hiccups, but it should be clear to anyone who understands the language of games that the overall effort is a resounding success. Sucker Punch very much is the game you want to play but can’t.

Fortunately, you get to watch it all unfold. The story follows Babydoll (Emily Browning), a young woman who has been committed to an insane asylum by her wicked stepfather. The incarceration is only a first step, however. Babydoll is set to be lobotomized five days after her arrival, to prevent her from telling anyone the truth ugly truth about her dear, old stepdad. Knowing this, she bands together with four of her fellow inmates and hatches an escape plan.

The description hardly does justice to the story, which weaves in and out of a fantasy reality Babydoll constructs for herself in which the asylum is rendered as a sort of Prohibition era-themed brothel. In truth, we only see the actual asylum at the beginning and end of the film; the brothel scenes are interspersed with fantasy-within-a-fantasy action sequences, each one driven by one of the cover/remix/mashup-heavy soundtrack’s musical numbers.

The movie is visually spectacular, with all of the eye candy offset by a soundtrack of newly recorded compositions that are strong enough to put the full collection up alongside classics like The Crow and Judgment Night. The real appeal, however, is in the subtext, the lines of relativity that can be drawn between the film and the interactive form of entertainment that inspires it. The soundtrack’s content even informs that idea, its assortment of non-original works reflecting what amounts to Snyder’s cinematic “cover” of interactive entertainment.

Babydoll possesses a number of traits that are common to your typical video game protagonist. The story is influenced more by her actions than her words, and she in fact doesn’t actually speak until roughly 30 minutes into the movie. Being a newcomer to the Lennox House for the Mentally Insane, she provides a unique perspective to the way things work in the institution.

The two layers of fantasy then serve to deliver exposition and action, with the brothel offering more of the former and the quintet’s music-infused “quests” for items needed in their escape fueling the latter. At the front of each action sequence you’ve got Scott Glenn as the “Wise Man,” laying out the details of the latest mission. These moments pair up with a game’s pre-mission briefing, complete with trite one-liners that offer advice as well as a hint of what’s to come.

This is the make-it-or-break-it aspect of Sucker Punch. If you’re a person who “gets” video games, and you’re open to appreciating the subtext at work here, this is a movie that you will want to watch again and again to explore and better understand its mysteries. It’s not that the film’s overarching message is profound in any way; it isn’t. But that’s not really the point.

It’s the fact it’s there, this explicit summarizing conclusion, and the events that inform its delivery. All together, they paint a picture. This is a video game rendered in film, remember, in much the same way that Babydoll repaints her reality as a brothel.

The only unfortunate thing is that, by and large, film audiences are not versed in the language of video games. So a lot of what’s going on beneath the surface is going to be missed.

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Judging Sucker Punch purely as a narrative work of cinema, it is pure, unadulterated spectacle. Snyder is virtually unparalleled in the business when it comes to the staging and execution of action; he has an inherent grasp of what looks “cool” and his talents are on full display here, bolstered, as I already mentioned, by a top-notch soundtrack.

The performances are solid, though the standout — really, the most well-developed character — is Oscar Isaac’s evil orderly/gangster Blue. He’s both terrifying and immediately likable, an obvious scumbag who still seems like he’d be fun to share a beer with. Like Christoph Waltz in Quentin Tarantino’s Inglourious Basterds, he’s not an immediately threatening presence. There’s a joviality to his character, which makes the nasty asides and occasional outbursts all the more frightening.

The five female inmates — Browning, Jena Malone, Abbie Cornish, Vanessa Hudgens and Jamie Chung — do their best, and they all shine brightly in the film’s action sequences. The characters themselves are rather one-note, although more complexity would have diminished the film/video game interplay. Carla Gugino is an undeniable weak link; her performance is fine, but it feels like her character is missing a few, important establishing scenes.

It all comes back to the presentation. Sucker Punch is not a movie that everyone can love, but those who do probably will with their whole hearts. Snyder has created something truly special here, an action-packed, pop-fueled rock opera that serves up a rich audiovisual smorgasbord. It’s a video game, but it’s a movie too. You may not be able to play it, but for those who are receptive to the experience, it certainly plays you.

Sucker Punch opens today nationwide.

Don’t miss Spinoff Online’s earlier Sucker Punch coverage:


  • David Fullam

    This is going to be divisive. The first review I read today stated that the film is one of the worst so far of the year. It will be interesting to see what comes Monday morning.

  • Kareem Harper

    This is the review I’ve been waiting for – it somewhat sucks that the core demo from this film is being discouraged by early reviews. BRAVO Adam Rosenberg, bravo.

  • Azkal

    This is one of the worst films of all time. The script and the acting are awful.

  • Shawn Schwickerath

    I read a review that slammed it- because it was PG13 and not seeing the girls strip irked the critic apparently. Myself, I can google porn and find my local strip club, so I won’t have the same problem at all. Looks like a fun movie.

  • Krakenattack

    I heard Snyder say it was inspired by Heavy Metal, so I wonder if 10 years down the line it will have a cult following?

  • Russell Duckett

    Bravo for this review! I was getting scared away by some of the critics but this is exactly what I was expecting. I guess this will be similar to the excellent Scott Pilgrim film that no one watched. It’s a shame that society cannot be open to new things.

  • Scud

    You must not see a lot of movies.

  • Brendan Anderson

    This movie was absolutely horrible in terms of story and acting. There was no sense of justice or revenge in the end. It left you empty. It’s like waiting for justice that ultimately gets even worse and never comes. The affects are the only good thing about this movie. Not worth your money at all….

  • chris

    The movie was terrible.

    But this review has a point, its as entertaining as watching someone play a videogame

  • chris

    Even if this is the first movie someone sees, they should see that it sucks

  • Thecostcutter

    I am a lifelong core gamer/comicbook reader/all around fanboy. That being said, I knew after four seconds of the trailer that I would never see this movie. In fact, on principle I won’t even steal it from the internet. I think the idea that Sucker Punch has anything resembling a subtext is an affront to intellect that even the subhumans on Jersey Shore would be capable of understanding.

  • sladewilson

    Some of the reviews on here are absolutely hilarious. Obviously the people who were looking for “Citizen Kane” dropped down the wrong rabbit hole. Of course, you all are the same folk who think “Call Of Duty” is a waste of time.

    Sucker Punch isn’t for you. Move on. Thank you.

    As for us gamers and comic book geeks – Sucker Punch is absolutely fantastic. Visually, it’s stunning. The effects aren’t mind blowing but are put together in such a way that they never hinder or overpower the story. A visceral thrill ride with a killer soundtrack…

  • Mastadge

    “Sucker Punch is not a movie that everyone can love, but those who do probably will with their whole hearts.”

    I think that hearts are probably not the organs that people will be loving this film with. . .

  • Wyatt

    No, it is not similar to Pilgrim. Pilgrim was good, made sense, and had a strong narrative. SuckerPunch, on the other hand, was cotton candy. This movie actually pulled off the impressive feat of having a strong plot, but a terrible narrative. There was not a thing in this movie that was earned. It was all just delivered to you before you asked for it (or even wanted it).
    This movie is not a new thing, it is a glitzier, more CGI and Blue-Screen version of an old thing. And that old thing was not good.

  • Lion_okitkat

    I saw it today, just got home from the movies. I enjoyed it, warts and all. I agree with the spinoffonline review except the stuff about Carla’s character. Sometimes justice/revenge is never achieved, or it doesn’t turn out the way you want. Life isn’t perfect. The cinematogphery was really good and so was the acting. The actress who played Sweet Pea should be cast in the Total Recall remake as the wife of Arnold S. character.

  • Esteban Pedreros

    what the heck is a “smorgasbord”?!

  • Jacob

    I dno, my heart seems to be set down there…

  • Flip Maker

    Dude, Google/Wikipedia/the Dictionary is your friend.

  • Flip Maker

    OK, so I saw the film this afternoon and here’s what I thought.

    1/2 really impressive film with incredible visuals and amazing direction.

    1/2 a really disappointing film without any semblance of a real story and attempts at subtext that ultimately fail.

    I would not call the film a failure. It’s ambitious, for certain, but the attempts at depth fail miserably. The best sequences are all the action set pieces, but the insane asylum and bordello stuff is borderline.

    But enough can’t be said about the movie visually — it’s absolutely gorgeous looking. The colors, the design, the costuming, wow.

    What I do like about this review is that Adam really takes an alternate view at the film and while he admits it’s not perfect, he believes it accomplished exactly what it set out to do. I can see that.

  • MXM194

    The “Citizen Kane” defense is so weak that I can’t believe anyone uses it anymore. Well, I guess there’s always the “What were you expecting, Shakespeare?” defense. Just because I expect something in a movie other than flashy visuals doesn’t mean I’m expecting a movie on par with what many consider to be the greatest movie of all time.

    Glad to see that you gamers and comic book geeks haven’t developed any sort of discriminating tastes in what you consume at the movie theater, and will mindlessly consume and enjoy whatever the studies market directly towards you. Sad.

  • Anonymous

    Right, because spinoff.comicbookresources is filled with people who hate Call of Duty and list Citizen Kane as their favorite movie..

  • Anonymous

    It’s the brain in Swedish computers.

  • Supermanrules

    uhm, yeah, and the chicks are all wearing garters and little else while fighting.
    I would have thought it cool….when I was twelve.

  • Shadowchaser076

    Suckerpunch was Showgirls meets Heavy Metal meets a trainwreck on top of a trainwreck that was made by Michael Bay, The Wachowski Bros, M. Night Shyamalan and Simon West. Snyder has achieved this feat that they could never have done together.

  • Kareem Harper

    I disagree with you, but damn that made me laugh hella lot.

  • Kareem Harper

    I think it will.

  • Eko Prasetyo

    So it’s so bad it’s good?

  • mkp

    Snyder seems to have a very good feel for the strengths of individual media (movies, comics, games), but doesn’t get that you can’t stuff the strengths of one into another and expect it to turn out well. As a lifelong fan of both games and film I want a movie-that’s-actually-a-game about as much as I want a hamburger-that’s-actually-origami.

  • Jeff Cusack

    Looking at the previews for this, it sort of looks like it was inspired by Oshii’s Assault Girls, which is a film that is straight-up set in a videogame that I would really want to play (Avalon).

    Of course, since that film is by Oshii… “action” packed isn’t something that could ever describe it. More like “something happens at the beginning,” “nothing happens,” and then “something happens at the end”. Still, its a good movie, and if anyone is interested in a good character-driven movie that explores a video-game related fantasy world, I highly recommend it. You’ll get more out of it if you’ve seen “Avalon” or the two short films AG is based on though.

  • Jason Thibault

    Luckily we had another theatrical option this weekend up here in Canada. I opted for HOBO WITH A SHOTGUN instead. Best time I’ve had in ages at the cinema. Probably made for 1/50th the budget of Sucker Punch. But it delivered on all of its promises.

  • seekupjw

    I attempted to watch this movie on Saturday – attempted.
    30 minutes in – I walked out. Thankfully the theater refunded my money without any fuss. They asked which movie I saw – Sucker Punch – then they made nice with the refund.

    I’m a gamer – comic book reader – and usually a fan of visually inspired movies. But this movie was absolute garbage. Regardless of the visuals, you can’t polish a turd.

    I sat through Batman and Robin in the theater – BATMAN AND ROBIN!! – I walked out of Sucker Punch. Don’t waste your money.

    For those who like it – good for you – although I question your taste in movies and overall judgement in life.

    Everyone who has seen this movie should be very, very worried about the Superman reboot.

  • Anonymous

    I liked it, but certainly understand folks that don’t. I’d just encourage folks who are curious to check it out for themselves.

    It’s ambitious and it works as an action musical. But it never succeeds at being deep (and it acts like it’s trying), and what could have been a decent girl power/non-gender-specific empowerment message is undercut by the hentai costuming and the recurring threat of rape.

    The main thing I disagree with in Adam’s review has to do with Isaac’s character. Blue is the writing and acting highlight of the film, and he gives the film its only real sense of menace or stakes. But I didn’t find him remotely likeable – I try to not have beers with sexual sadists.