Zack Snyder delivered solid film adaptations of 300, Dawn of the Dead, and Watchmen before bringing his own original creation to the screen with Sucker Punch. This 2011 psychological action film looked like a sure fire hit full of scantily clad girls, zombie steampunk soldiers, dragons, and big guns, but critical and box office responses gave the movie a sucker punch of its own, returning disappointing ticket sales and less than favorable reviews. After watching the movie once in the theater and once on the extended cut Blu-ray, I am happy to break from the pack and proclaim that Sucker Punch is an awesome ride.
There’s no question that Sucker Punch is not for everyone. It is a much darker movie than the trailers suggest, and many moviegoers entered with an entirely wrong idea about what they were about to watch. The previews and advance promotion paint Sucker Punch as a full-out action movie, set in the common movie land where heroes can pour bullets into bad guys with wild abandon, where repercussions for the good guys are rare, and where everybody ends up with what he or she deserves at the end of the day. The world of Sucker Punch is unexpectedly different from that. Yes, there are big explosions and a lot of bullets flying around, but those are the dreamland battles that hide a bleak and sinister reality that is hard for many viewers to accept.
Sucker Punch opens in the 1960s (though the movie really could be set at nearly any point mid-century) with a young woman (Emily Browning) accidentally killing her younger sister while trying to protect her from their abusive stepfather. After the incident, the stepfather spirits her away to the Lennox House for the Mentally Insane, where he schedules her to be lobotomized, presumably to get her out of the way so that he can claim the inheritance from her mother’s recent death. A corrupt orderly, Blue (Oscar Isaac) forges an asylum doctor’s signature to authorize the lobotomy, and the young woman, now nicknamed Babydoll, begins her incarceration.
Dr. Vera Gorski (Carla Gugino) is the asylum’s psychiatrist. Although she is an integral part of the tragic system that works Lennox House, she has sympathy for the girls in her care, and she strives to protect her patients by encouraging them to retreat into fantasy worlds in their imaginations. Babydoll soon meets four other inmates, all of whom are part of a shared fantasy that has them living and working in a brothel instead of surviving in a mental institution. Both the fantasy brothel and reality have them enduring abuse at the hands of the males of the asylum, but the fantasy world gives the young women a small measure of power they lack in the real world. Abbie Cornish plays Sweat Pea, and Jena Malone is her sister, Rocket. Jamie Chung plays Amber, and Vanessa Hudgens rounds out the gang as Blondie.
Babydoll’s lobotomy is only a week away when she tells the others that she has a plan for escaping Lennox House, and she will bring all of them with her. Through a fantasy within a fantasy, Babydoll has met a wise old man (Scott Glenn) who has given her the weapons she will need and has told her about five other objects she needs to obtain in order to escape. The five women resolve to work together to get the objects and to see Babydoll’s plan through to freedom. The path is fraught with danger and tragedy, and reality mixes with imagination as the inmates work towards their escape.
Sucker Punch tells Babydoll’s story in parallel through the brothel fantasy, brief flashes back to the dark asylum reality, and periodic deeper fantasies that pit the young women against an array of genre hopping bad guys. The movie looks distinctly different as it transitions from the real world to the imagination, with more dynamic and dramatic colors and effects painting the imagined events. The soundtrack spans decades with an assortment of fantastic cover songs, several of them recorded by actress Emily Browning herself.
Beneath the flashy action and arresting fight sequences lies the ever present and increasingly dangerous real world in the asylum. Which aspects of the fantasy worlds and how they map to what’s really happening to Babydoll and her companions are subjects of much debate among fans of the movie. This aspect of the story, coupled with the natures of several characters and a surprising turn at the end, provide a lot of material for analysis and give Sucker Punch several layers that go largely ignored by most critics. I appreciate dense movies like this one, even as the horrible and cruel reality pervades the entire movie with a building dread.
The extended cut of Sucker Punch adds more than 17 additional minutes, bringing the overall runtime up to 127 minutes. One of the additions is a musical number featuring Gorski and Blue early in the film. It’s not an essential scene but lends a Moulin Rouge flair to the fantasy brothel. Far more significant is a scene with the High Roller (John Hamm) near the end of the movie. This scene originally was edited down and eventually scrapped in order to get the movie a PG-13 rating. It is an essential scene, and its absence in the original cut is unfortunate. Having it included in the extended cut provides some much needed context for the end of the movie, as well as some enlightenment about the High Roller character. The other extended and deleted scenes are sprinkled throughout, but nearly all of the restored segments add something significant to the film.
Both the theatrical and extended cuts are included in the Sucker Punch combo-pack that released on DVD, Blu-ray, and digital download last week. Additionally, there is a feature length Maximum Movie Mode on the Blu-ray that walks viewers through the entire production with Zack Snyder as the host. He did a similar visual commentary on the Watchmen Blu-ray, and this sort of thing remains my favorite kind of bonus feature to have arisen from the Blu-ray revolution. The other features are included on both the Blu-ray and the DVD. The first is a collection of four animated shorts that were promotional clips prior to the movie’s release. Each clip is beautifully animated and provides back story about each of the dreamlands featured in the movie. These clips are brief, but the way they embellish upon the fantasy lands is significant. There’s also a 3-minute featurette that goes behind the movie’s soundtrack.
The featurettes and the Maximum Movie Mode provide some great additional material on top of the extended and added scenes, making this new release the definitive way to watch Sucker Punch, so far the most underrated movie of 2011. Even if you’ve already seen and enjoyed the movie, the restored footage makes a rewatch imperative.
Sucker Punch released in stores on June 28. To promote the release, Warner Bros has set up a website that allows fans to create their own compilation videos using clips from the movie, and you can find the official Facebook page at www.facebook.com/SuckerPunch.