There have been incredibly mixed reviews concerning the movie Sucker Punch. I can kind of understand why people hated it — I have one friend who told me he enjoyed the movie overall, but had he known about one particular scene he would not have gone, since it squicked him. I, however, rather enjoyed it, and I’m going to sort of mentally meander here about why I did. Fair warning, though:
This review has great big honkin’ spoilers! ;-)
There were the obvious reasons to enjoy the movie, of course. As I noted previously, quoting someone I know: “It has orcs! -and zeppelins!” The zeppelins were indeed incredibly spiffy. The five young women who were our heroines wore extremely stylish and stylized fantasy outfits and were marvelously competent in the wonderfully dramatic, video-game style combat. The bad guys in the missions were established instantly as so non-human and/or evil as to require no remorse whatsoever as they were mowed down. There were duels with three giant Japanese oni which were utterly spectacular, and there was an aerial dog-fight between an awesome fire-breathing dragon and a B-52 bomber (I think?) [later correction: it’s a hybridized B-52 “Mitchell” gunship] that had me practically bouncing in my seat with excitement. The soundtrack was fantastic, the visuals were crisp and gorgeous, the plot moved very swiftly, and perhaps most of all: the controlling bad guys were not idiots! They were scarily smart, in fact, figuring out almost immediately what our heroines were up to, which ratcheted up the tension accordingly.
Those are the easy reasons why I enjoyed the movie. The less obvious reasons, at least for me, were the wonderful and constant small grace notes. For example, the Sucker Punch soundtrack was amazingly appropriate to the movie — I so want it! :) There were covers or mash-ups of songs originally sung by Queen, the Beatles, Eurythmics, the Smiths, Pixies, Iggy Pop, and others, and the music was clearly carefully chosen to enhance the scenes. There were a few points where the lyrics had creepily immediate meaning to what you were watching on the screen, as when you hear, “Some of them want to use you… some of them want to be abused…!” and you see Babydoll in slow-motion-silent, eerily dream-like struggle with her drunken, brutal, and greedy stepfather.
The music really enhanced the dramatic visuals within the missions as well, which were entered through Babydoll’s dancing. That dancing was the gateway to the story’s second level of fantasy, metaphorically escaping from a rococo brothel (the first level of escape into a barely more palatable fantasy world) to ferociously martial missions on quest for the five specific items necessary for fleeing Lennox House, the insane asylum for young women. The fight choreography was absolutely gorgeous too, in a sort of live-action anime style that was clearly and wonderfully breathtakingly over the top.
The girls’ names, weapons, and gear were another grace note I enjoyed, with little personalizing touches and a consistent theme working through them. Babydoll’s expression, for example, was always rather wistful or plaintive, and she appears very young throughout — both from her non-fighting demeanor and due to her pigtailed blonde hairstyle. Her gear carried that pseudo-innocent theme throughout: she had kitschy little Hello Kitty-style charms hung on her pistol, and wore short, flippy-skirted, schoolgirl sailor suits. Sweetpea had an almost religious or paladin-like theme going, with her hooded long-coat, long-sword, armored metal shoulder pieces, and beaded rosary-like thing hanging from her belt. She was also the person who effectively sacrificed herself by following and protecting her little sister, when Rocket ran away from home, ultimately ending up in the insane asylum with her.
Of the other girls, Rocket’s gear was frequently futuristic looking, in keeping with her name, and she lived up to it by acting before thinking, living hard and fast, and flaming out quite dramatically and generously in the end. The Asian girl was called Amber, which signifies good luck, healing, and light-hearted freedom. Further, the name Amber in Hindi is derived from Sanskrit, and means “the sky” — very appropriate for the girl who drove the flying mecha, the helicopter, and the airplane. Amusingly, Amber’s mecha also had an aggressive Hello Kitty-style bunny painted on it, and her WWII airplane had kill-marks painted on the appropriately themed nose art. Blondie, whose hair was black, looked Hispanic and had a sort of Old West or American Indian theme going: she had leather fringes on the arms of one of her outfits, and her throwing hatchets had a heart shape cut-out in the heavy side of the axe blades.
Thinking back, I was struck by how little actual cheesecake there was. Sure, the girls were attractive and dressed in idealized leather fantasy outfits for the missions — but during those missions there was no deliberately seductive, non-martial lounging around just to look pretty. Further, the clothing was (as I’ve noted before) the sort of fantasy attire you’d expect from girls of that age who wanted to look good as well as kick serious ass. I recall some shots where the flippy little cheerleader style skirts flew up as the girls leap and kicked, but I’ve seen similar types and numbers of shots in straight martial arts movies as well. Frankly, if I had the body for it, I’d love to wear clothing like that too. :)