I’ve long had dreams of a film in the vein of the Final Fantasy video-games, or a movie where a plucky girl-band-esque group kick serious butt. I never thought such dreams would ever feed through into reality. But then along came Sucker Punch, the film that sees the true wonders of the imagination painted out in the most vivid way possible. Sitting down to watch a special press-screening of the film at the BFI IMAX - accompanied by a brilliant and highly informative Q&A session with the movie’s director Zack Snyder – I really wasn’t sure what to expect. I’d seen the trailers and thought the film looked cool. I was about to find out just how cool.
The story is that of 20 year old ‘Baby Doll’ who is shipped off to a mental asylum by her cruel step-father. To escape the impossible horror of the situation, Baby Doll immerses herself in the fantasy world of her own mind, striking up a friendship with four fellow girl-inmates. And it is the adventures of this feisty fivesome that become the foundations of the jaw-dropping spectacular that is Sucker Punch.
The film is a pure visual treat, a piece of the sweetest eye-candy you’ll ever taste. The pace never slackens; this is the action film genre at its most relentless. It really is Kill Bill on steroids. Never before have I felt myself going ‘Oh My God, that was so cool!’ so many times in a film. I was actually grinning ear to ear at times simply from the pure sense of awesome-ness on offer – this film sure as hell knows its audience and plays to it at every moment. The result: a fine-tuned end-product that hits all the right buttons. Let’s just have a run-down of some of some of the stuff on offer:
Lots and lots of fight-sequences.
A mind-boggling amount of slow motion.
Girls in skimpy outfits firing lots of guns.
Giant samurai with glowing red eyes.
Steampunk clockwork Nazi’s.
A massive siege on a castle, complete with giant fire-breathing dragon.
A bomb-laden train hurtling across a backdrop dominated by a Saturn-like planet hanging in the sky.
I Robot-style ‘mechanised soldiers’.
And then there’s the grim, oppression of the prison setting and period set-dressing – bringing with it parallels to The Shawshank Redemption and The Green Mile. At a push you could even say it was the ‘girl version’ of said films – at any rate, there’s those same themes of finding hope in the darkest of places. A singular driving focus, a yearning for escape, keeping you strong through everything the world chucks at you.
Sucker Punch also plays around a lot with the whole dream-within-a-dream concept; and in a post-Inception world, it more than holds its own. There’s definitely something of the energy, creative visual power and feminine force of stuff like Run Lola Run. The styling is inspired too; that whole 50s with a few modern twists vibe that the Fallout videogames and Lemony Snicket’s A Series Of Unfortunate Events have done so well.
In terms of the CGI visuals and sense of immersive-ness in the film, it’s easily on a par with, if not better than, the likes of Avatar and Tron Legacy. Sucker Punch was made for venues like the IMAX where you can be truly tipped into the action headfirst; swooping, falling, diving endlessly through a rollercoaster of energy, tension and pure no-holds-barred action. It’s Indiana Jones on over-drive, The Matrix running on atomic power. There really is a little bit of so many films here; their essences distilled down and combined into one. Add in the fantastic soundtrack, which forms a key part of the film, and you have something really special.
For many films, the soundtrack seems almost an afterthought, something pretty to round everything off – but with Sucker Punch, it becomes integral; the life-blood running through the very heart of the movie. All the tracks fit perfectly, from Emily Browning’s atmospheric, gothic cover of the Eurythmics Sweet Dreams (Are Made of This) to Emiliana Torrini’s White Rabbit. For me though, the true highlight has to be the version of The Beatles’ Tomorrow Never Knows re-envisioned by Alison Mosshart and Carla Azar. They transform the 60s classic into an epic seven minute long masterpiece, all the psychedelic magic of the original turned up a notch and married with riotous guitar solos and immense beats - Imagine The Chemical Brothers meets Electronic. This track accompanies the afore-mentioned bomb-on-a-train scenes and it really does help transform an already highly impressive action sequence into true audio-visual poetry. It quite literally blew my mind.
Sucker Punch really is a cinematic experience like no other. It’s almost as if by drawing from so many different sources and elements from pop culture, Sucker Punch transcends to another level of film-making. I remain to this day a massive fan of science-fiction and fantasy, and back when I was at school, dreams and fantasies on the scale of Sucker Punch were my escape from the hum-drum tedium of classes. In my mind, I had it all there, all these fantastical ideas circulating around – as well as all the enchanting books, films and video-games that had helped inspire these ideas. Because that’s what science-fiction and fantasy are – a melting pot of ideas constantly feeding into each-other. And just as these ideas were my escape from reality, so to are they Baby Doll’s ideas; her dreams, her visions... her escape from reality.
A lot of people simply won’t ‘get’ Sucker Punch. And it’s a film that needs to be truly understood. Fair enough, it’s not for everyone; and no amount of persuading and convincing will change their minds (something I know only too well, trying to convey the wonders of pop music to indie-lovers). But for me, Sucker Punch is the perfect realisation of everything that is wonderful about the imagination. It's a movie that feels like it could just as easily be a video game or a two hour long music video. It’s the perfect fantasy, the perfect escape. And in a way, isn’t that what cinema is meant to provide?
Oh, and did I mention that the girls are absolutely, breathtakingly gorgeous?
Sucker Punch is out in cinemas on April 1st and the soundtrack is available to download from iTunes here.