Somewhere in the Maximum Movie Mode on this Blu-ray disc, Jena Malone sums up Sucker Punch as "surrealist feminism". Your soundbite summary, meanwhile, might read something more like "hot chicks fucking shit up." I mean, this
is a movie so unrestrained, so excessively excessive, and so maniacally ridiculous that one minute, a twentysomething blonde is standing perfectly still in an underground brothel-slash-dance studio in the 1960s with some Icelandic electronica blaring in the background, and the next, she's slinging a katana against a squad of ten-foot tall stone samurai warriors in a Japanese temple. Before you really have time to think "golly, that's pretty far out there", another colossal stone samurai marches in, this time with a rocket launcher and a Gatling gun. There's a sequence set during World War I, complete with zeppelins and trenches and stuff, but to really keep things hopping, there's also a legion of steam-powered zombie-cyborg Krauts, that one girl from High School Musical hacking them all apart with a hatchet, and a steampunk mech with a pink, fanged cartoon rabbit on the front. To symbolize a lighter being snatched out of a dude's coat pocket, the movie cuts to a floating castle version of Middle Earth where you're treated to the sight of a baby dragon's throat being slit and one of those barely-legal Maxim cover girls fishing around his gooey innards to find a couple of magic stones. I can keep clacking away at my keyboard trying to describe just how batshit insane Sucker Punch is, but...yeah, I don't know if there are really words for that sort of thing.
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Sucker Punch kicks off with a wordless intro spelling out the backstory: a father's miffed about being cut out of his late wife's inheritance, he figures the best way to vent is to try to rape one of his daughters, he winds up murdering her instead, and Daughter Numero Two-oh plugs him in the shoulder or something with a pistol. The surviving kid's dragged off to a mental hospital where an orderly is bribed into having her lobotomized. Oh, but then just as that long metal jabby thingie is about to poke through the corner of her eye, the camera whips around, and that whole thing was just a gaggle of actresses on a stage. This place may look like a ritzy nightclub on the outside with a big band, the whole cabaret deal, and all sorts of elaborate stage shows, but it's hiding a gasp-inducing shocking secret: teenage girls kept under lock and key as sex slaves! The new girl, Baby Doll (Emily Browning), gets a pass for a few days 'cause she's a virgin, and there's a high roller coming into town who'll pay big money to pop her cherry. If she wants to get out of there with her dignity and her hyman intact, she's gotta move quickly. Everyone else that's ever tried to break out of the place has been mercilessly slaughtered, but Baby Doll has an ace up her sleeve -- a fever dream where Scott Glenn gave her a shopping list of items she needs to pull off a successful escape. The plan is to entrance the staff and customers with her otherworldly dancing, freeing up her fellow slaves (including Abbie Cornish, Jena Malone, Vanessa Hudgens, and Jamie Chung) to grab all that stuff. 'Course, since this is a Zack Snyder flick, you don't see Baby Doll's dancing firsthand and get to be
dazzled instead by one dementedly over-the-top fantasy-genre-mashup-action symbolic metaphor after another, complete with dragons and robots and orcs and steampunk zombies.
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Pretty much every reviewer out there with a keyboard and a functional Internet connection hates Sucker Punch, which is rocking a 22% score on Rotten Tomatoes as I write this. There's all sorts of chatter in the extras about the movie's feminist bent, the themes, the metaphors, and all that, but I'm not going to push up my glasses and bother defending it on any sort of intellectual level. You buy into it or you don't. Sucker Punch is Zack Snyder making a laundry list of a bunch of shit he thinks is cool -- cyborgs, dragons, machine guns, Scott Glenn doing his best David Carradine impression, zeppelins, zombies, swords, spastic visual effects, scantily-clad girls, steampunk, and on and on and on -- and loosely stringing them all together in one flick. This is a movie that by any vaguely conventional logic shouldn't exist: an $82 million action movie with a bunch of asskicking girls in the lead, not a single big name on the marquee, no male teen heart-throb to bare his abs on the poster, no romance whatsoever, and a wildly unconventional ending. Nothing about Sucker Punch plays it safe, and with as many sequels, remakes, and lazy star vehicles keep coming down the pike, I really am impressed by the balls it takes to greenlight something like this. Um, the gamble didn't pay off, judging by its anemic take at the box office, but still...!
It's not smart. It's rarely clever. The feminist angle Sucker Punch pretends to have is deflated by the fact that the women in the movie are routinely beaten, murdered, almost-raped, and used as disposable sex objects. What Sucker Punch pitches as a triumph could just as easily be viewed as a cowardly escape or as simply succumbing, and a man does ultimately swoop in and save the day in what's supposed to be a movie about feminist empowerment, depending on how you want to look at it. Characterization is wafer-thin, and there's really not a single memorable line of dialogue in the entire thing. The distorted noise-rock-electronic-tinged covers that make up the movie's soundtrack don't do anything for me either. Hell, I'm a weird guy with even weirder taste in women, so even the parade of nymphs with their swords, machine guns, and bustiers doesn't rev my motor the way I guess it does for most people. Jena Malone's the only actress in the movie with any sort of memorable spark to her, and the rest of the girls are
forgettable enough that it's tough to care all that much about anything that happens to them. There's more I'd bitch about, but that starts to dive head-on into spoiler territory.
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So, yeah, a bunch of critics have shrugged off Sucker Punch as some sort of masturbatory, derivative, style-way-the-hell-over-substance fantasy from Zack Snyder...like, five barely legal Bayonettas in one glossy video game parading around as a movie. I guess my response would go something like "...and?" Sucker Punch will never be mistaken for a good movie, but it's a hell of a lot of fun anyway. Its manic energy never lags, and even during the long scenes in between the action -- gray, dreary sequences where the mostly interchangeable girls bicker and scheme -- I didn't find myself dozing off. The lengthier extended cut featured on this Blu-ray set clocks in at 127 minutes all told, and I can honestly say I was never bored throughout a single one of 'em. Even if you look at all the bleak, depressing stuff in between the action as some kind of torturous Ludovico thing, just fast-forward to the overcranked fantasy sequences that are psychotically elaborate, sprawling in scale, completely unrelenting, and ridiculous beyond words (not to mention well-staged and visually comprehensible, one-up on a lot of directors out there). Sucker Punch isn't a good movie in the sense of...well, anything, ever, but it looks great, and I guess sometimes a bunch of cool, crazy, ridiculous shit mindlessly blowing up does it for me. As shallow as it is, I'd definitely be more likely to pull out Sucker Punch for another spin than dreck like Tron: Legacy or I Am Number Four. I know I'm supposed to be writing something smarmy and snarky right now, but whatever. They're called guilty pleasures for a reason. Rent It.
This Blu-ray set of Sucker Punch piles on the original theatrical version of the movie as well as an R-rated not-quite-director's cut that runs 18 minutes longer. The sexuality and violence (and, well, the violent sexuality) are cranked up, although like the PG-13 version, the boobs stay in their bustiers. The assault on Floating Castle Middle Earth now opens with the girls gunning down an army of orcs that explode into goopy bits. One of the driving forces of the plot is made a lot clearer. There's also an elaborate musical number -- a salsa-tinged take on Roxy Music's "Love Is the Drug" -- that could very credibly pass as a big-budget music video although it's kind of my least favorite thing in the entire flick. If you're gonna watch Sucker Punch, don't bother with the PG-13 version, as if you desperately needed me to tell you that.
Even the most unflinchingly brutal reviews of Sucker Punch are gonna call the movie a glossy, gleaming visual spectacle, so yeah, of course these two Blu-ray discs look great. Both cuts of the movie are spectacularly crisp and detailed. Contrast is rock solid, bolstered by deep, inky blacks. Colors are muted pretty much straight across the board but appear to be reproduced accurately. As expected from Blu-ray discs minted from a digital intermediate, wear and speckling are not even a little bit of a concern, and no edge enhancement or compression artifacting ever creep in either. The very, very fine sheen of grain makes it immediately apparent that no filtering or noise reduction of note has been heaped on here. Its overall visual aesthetic definitely isn't going to be to all tastes, but the presentation of it all is as perfect as I could possibly have hoped to see.
If you're curious, I snapped a few comparison shots of the theatrical versions of Sucker Punch on DVD and Blu-ray. I have to admit that the DVD holds up better than expected in the few minutes I sampled, although the Blu-ray not surprisingly easily comes out on top. Click to pop them open to full-size:
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The theatrical and extended cuts of Sucker Punch are served up on their own separate BD-50 discs. Both have been encoded with AVC and are letterboxed to an aspect ratio of 2.39:1. The DVD is in anamorphic widescreen at the same aspect ratio, but you probably already guessed that.
I've gotta admit
to having mixed feelings about the 24-bit, six-channel DTS-HD Master Audio soundtrack on the extended Sucker Punch. I'll lead with the good stuff, though. The distinctness and clarity throughout this lossless soundtrack are pretty incredible; even with as chaotic as the action can get, I still feel as if I can clearly discern each and every individual element in the mix. Considering the staggering scale of those unhinged violent fantasies, it kinda goes without saying that the use of the surround channels is hyperaggressive, with aerial dogfights, relentless sprays of gunfire, and an unusual number of collapsing buildings taking full advantage of all the speakers at its disposal. Dialogue is balanced nicely in the mix and even sports some directionality at times. Two things about this soundtrack struck me as odd, though. One, the audio has a strangely inward orientation...if I were to sketch out on a piece of paper the sound waves roaring out of my speakers, they don't spread out to fill the room so much as lurch forward. A lot of movies have passed through this rig, and I very rarely have that reaction. Bass response is uneven too. Tyler Bates' score and the onslaught of mostly-'80s covers are reinforced with a thunderous low-end, yet quite a few of the most massive effects in the movie don't pack nearly as much of a wallop. For instance, there's one scene where a dragon careens head-on into a gigantic stone wall, but the subwoofer can barely be bothered to notice. It's not that the lower frequencies are weak, but they're not nearly as hefty as they ought to be, and sound effects are certainly overshadowed by the music in that sense. It holds back a very good soundtrack from standing out as a world-class one.
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There are no dubs or downmixes on the extended cut of Sucker Punch. The theatrical cut also features a DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 soundtrack but at a lower bit-depth. While it's at it, the theatrical version also dishes out Dolby Digital 5.1 dubs (640kbps) in French, Spanish, and Portuguese. Both versions of the movie feature subtitles in English (SDH), French, Spanish, and Portuguese.
Sucker Punch is a three disc set, with the first Blu-ray disc featuring the theatrical cut and the second showcasing this new R-rated extended version. A DVD of the theatrical cut rounds out out the packaging, doubling as a digital copy that plays nicely with both iTunes and Windows Media-powered devices.
On the extended Blu-ray disc:
- Maximum Movie Mode: The centerpiece of Sucker Punch's extras is similar to the Maximum Movie Mode on Watchmen a couple years back. Every so often, Zack Snyder steps onto the frame, with different images in different panes that he can freely play, pause, and even rewind. The discussion not surprisingly swirls most intensely around Sucker Punch's visuals: how some particularly ambitious shots were pulled off, what's real and what's CG, and what elements were subtly repurposed for some visual continuity in the real world and in Baby Doll's delusion(s). You get a peek at different stages
of the effects, animatics, and all that too. Snyder touches on a few other things while he's at it, such as some of the larger scenes that are unique to this cut of the movie and what the swords and machine guns symbolically represent or whatever.
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This Maximum Movie Mode (and, ugh, how much do I hate that name?) is driven mostly by running picture-in-picture video, showcasing lots of behind-the-scenes footage, thumbnail storyboards, animatics, and interviews with the cast and crew. They talk about how philosophical and feminist a movie this is (and it's neither) along with the psychology fueling these characters, some of the elaborate tricks necessary to pull off the ambitious visuals, production design, cinematography, and the grueling training regime to prep the girls for all this madness. Sucker Punch also lets viewers branch off to high-resolution still galleries keyed to certain sequences.
If you were keeping your fingers crossed for additional deleted scenes, there are none, not even the aborted musical number that was meant to close out the film.
On the theatrical Blu-ray disc:
- Sucker Punch: Behind the Soundtrack (3 min.; HD): The lone traditional featurette on Sucker Punch briefly touches on how music helps shape the different worlds showcased in the film.
- Animated Shorts (11 min.; HD): Finally, four animated shorts -- clocking in right at three minutes a pop -- flesh out the backstory behind each of Sucker Punch's fantasy realms.
Sucker Punch is also BD Live-enabled, and the three-disc set comes packaged in a glossy, embossed slipcase.
The Final Word
Pretty much everyone bitched and moaned about Sucker Punch when it was making the rounds in theaters, and a lot of those complaints are right on: it's deluded itself into thinking it's a feminist movie but is actually pretty misogynistic, the dialogue's embarrassing, characterization is borderline non-existent, the acting's either flatlining or cartoonishly hammy, and the whole thing is really just an excuse to put a gaggle of barely-twentysomethings in assless chaps to gun down dragons and zombies and whatever. If you want to sneer at Sucker Punch as a masturbatory, hollow visual spectacle, then you're not wrong. Me, though...? I guess I bought into it anyway.
I really am impressed by how wildly uncommercial and unrepentently ridiculous Sucker Punch is. That a movie like this not only was made, period, but was lavished with a shockingly high budget is surreal to me. I'm not going to pretend that Sucker Punch is some kind of underappreciated masterpiece or whatever, but I really don't get how vitriolic the backlash has been. Maybe it's just waltzing in with low expectations, or maybe I'm just as easily distracted by dragons, semi-automatic rifles, steampunk, and all those other shiny things as Zack Snyder clearly is. For me, at least, Sucker Punch is a guilty pleasure, and I'm not gonna apologize about it. This is such a polarizing movie, and if the reviews and message board posts I've dug through are any indication, chances are you'll hate it. If I were standing over there in your shoes, I'd opt for a rental first to see if this is your speed before forking over twenty bucks to buy it. Rent It.