Sucker Punch was released this weekend to extremely negative reviews, with a score of 36% on Metacritic, and an abysmal 20% on Rotten Tomatoes. You can't set expectations much lower than that, yet I enjoyed every minute of this film. I am still thinking about it this morning, and all its implications, hence this blog post.
I will start with a non-spoilery review, and then launch into a detailed analysis of Sucker Punch from a feminist perspective.
I know why critics did not like this film. And so in this review, I will tell you what you need to bring with you, so you can enjoy the film as much as I did.
First, watch this trailer. It is the best of the trailers, and gives you a good setup to help you understand what is going on. It is a deeply-psychological movie, in the tradition of David Lynch (Twin Peaks, Blue Velvet) and Charlie Kaufman (Eternal Sunshine of a Spotless Mind, Being John Malkovich). Additionally, it is a "layer" film, like Inception or The Matrix -- there are multiple versions of reality. Armed with that knowledge, you should be able to suspend disbelief, sit back, and go with it. No part of you should be screaming "That would never happen!", because when you're inside someone's mind, anything can happen.
That said, the fantasy action sequences should not be considered gratuitous. This movie illustrates how the human mind deals with severe trauma in order to survive. If you have a basic understanding of dissociation -- the idea that the mind can detach from reality in order to not experience pain -- the entire premise is not only plausible, but meaningful.
You are joining a girl's fantasy, created to protect her mind from the terrors she will experience in a mental institution in the early 20th century. Unlike Lynch's Mulholland Drive, (Salon.com analysis here), the narrative is well-portrayed in a chronological, clear storyline. It is easy to follow if you understand the premise at the outset.
In other words, be prepared to take certain parts of the film unseriously. Enjoy the ride. Take other parts very seriously.
It helps to have seen a number of darker comic book movies like 300 and Sin City, as well as a few over-the-top kung-fu movies like Kill Bill, Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon, House of Flying Daggers. Being familiar with Japanese animation will also help. Snyder very much captures the feel of all three genres.
A basic understanding of feminist issues will also contribute greatly to your enjoyment of this film. When the credits rolled, I said: "This film is a summary of the experience of women throughout the 20th century." My hope is that women will have a better time of things in the 21st. In the meantime, this film has much to teach the ignorant about the plight of women. It is a primer. If you think feminists are a bunch of angry women who whine for no reason, or bra-burning dykes seeking revenge against males, go see Sucker Punch, and then come back and read my analysis.
Lastly, be prepared for a very dark story. It crosses some barriers of what's "ok" to do in a movie plot. Be prepared to let go of your notions, because much like another Zack Snyder flick, The Watchmen, this film is unafraid of revealing harsh reality in a fictional guise.
If you are a writer or connoisseur of storytelling, and have not seen the film, refresh your memory of the Hero's Journey before viewing. It follows the steps very closely, and it was a joy to watch this unfold. There is perhaps, arguably, even a meta-Hero's Journey, which I mention with a bit more detail in the spoilery section.
Many critics slammed the acting, but I enjoyed the actors. Somehow Emily Browning (Baby Doll) captures the essence and spirit of an Japanese anime schoolgirl, even though nothing about her looks Japanese. She manages to pull it off in spite of her Scandinavian eyes and too-blond hair. She fills the rest of the film with soulfull looks that seem to tap the heart and the "ethereal beauty" centers of the brain.
Those reviewers who did not understand the psychological premise, or those who were unfamiliar with or do not like the genres listed above, may have thought the film incomprehensible or over-the-top. But mostly, critics hated it because they did not have the feminist context through which to interpret this film. It breaks certain rules and exagerates certain norms, the combination of which I believe many people would find disturbing or nonsensical.
If good stories examine the human condition, then this is one of the best.
Now, go see it, and then read my analysis.