I was sucker punched by “Sucker Punch.”
Not being a big fan of action-fantasy movies in general or specifically Zack Snyder’s digital-heavy movies like “300” and “Watchmen” (though I admired “Legend of the Guardians” fairly well), I was not expecting to like “Sucker Punch” much at all.
Boy, do I love finding out I was wrong and winding up enjoying a movie as much as I did “Sucker Punch.” And I have yet to regret going the extra mile to see the movie on a giant full-size IMAX screen. “Sucker Punch” was no exception — this is yet another that translates extremely well to the larger screen and superior sound system of IMAX.
The movie opens Friday (March 25) on 229 IMAX screens domestically and at least 78 IMAX screens internationally simultaneous with Warner Bros.’ release of the movie in traditional theaters.
For the first 15 min. – 20 min. of the two-hour film I was not having a good time, though the opening was not at all what I expected. While visually dynamic and interesting, it seemed like it was stylized exploitation, going for the lowest common denominator in starting out like a horror film with scenes of parental rape of a stepchild and then segueing into a setting at an insane asylum for young scantily-clad orphan girls who were being abused by an administrator acting as a pimp (the latter part in the vivid imagination of our protagonist).
Then it morphed into wild anachronistic fantasy mixing modern technology into settings with helicopters and zeppelins flying over medieval castles. The sexy helpless girls suddenly became super-humans, using huge swords and giant machine guns and leaping inhumanly high. They were never slowed for a second after being batted roughly against walls during epic battles with zombies, robots, and dragons. Battle scenes that seemed to blur World War I with World War II all intermingled with primary settings that seemed to be of 1950s era Americana.
Little of it was logical and the story seemed somewhat hard to follow at times.
Then, about the same time the first of many great songs in the movie was introduced — an ear-catching unlikely version of the Eurythmics’ “Sweet Dreams (Are Made of This),” sung by star Emily Browning (off-screen, gratefully not in musical style like “Moulin Rouge”) — I decided to abandon all traditional viewing perspectives for this movie and just enjoy the ride.
What a pleasure to see such a rare fresh approach to cinematic style and entertainment, from Snyder’s trademark color-saturated and/or grainy washed-out settings to his brave and effective framing of shots, such as an extreme close-up of the lead actress on the left half of the frame and another actor in a medium shot on the right side and also in full focus. And writer/director/producer Snyder got some terrific performances out of relatively unfamiliar lead Australian actress Browning (“The Uninvited”), here with stark white hair and very fair skin, and fairly unknown lead villain Oscar Isaac (“Robin Hood,” “Body of Lies”), who is brilliantly intimidating (don’t miss his performance of Roxy Music’s “Love Is the Drug,” with co-villain Carla Gugino during the closing credits).
There are also fun smaller turns by more familiar actors such as Jena Malone (“Bastard out of Carolina,” Into the Wild”), Jon Hamm (“Mad Men”), Scott Glenn, and especially a departure role for “High School Musical” sweetheart Vanessa Hudgens.
But one of the most enjoyable elements to be sure is the reworking of popular songs such as a mash-up of Queen’s “We Will Rock You” with “I Want it All” from “Armageddon,” Icelandic singer Emiliana Torrini’s take on Jefferson Airplane’s “White Rabbit,” and many others.
– By Scott Hettrick