Sucker Punch represents the first original film from Zack Snyder. Dawn of the Dead was a remake, 300 and Watchmen were adaptations of Frank Miller’s and Alan Moore’s comics respectively and last year’s Legend of the Guardians was based on Kathryn Lasky children’s books. So far he has been committing the visions of others and not his own to the big screen.
The story revolves around Emily Browning’s Babydoll, locked away in a mental asylum after a tragic accident. Faced with being lobotomised, she retreats into her imagination conjuring up different levels of fantasy. One is re-imagined as a brothel, a second as a World War I battlefield, another as a castle under siege, and the last as a futuristic cityscape. In each fantasy, Babydoll and her companions must retrieve an item (five in total).
With Babydoll, a character Snyder thought of ten years ago, the story progresses from a tale of her repression to a liberating and often dangerous journey to free herself. With a story credit by Snyder and the script written in collaboration with former classmate Steve Shibuya, in its early development it was touted as “Alice in Wonderland with machine guns.”
Sucker Punch is a heady mix of different styles without a bearing in one specific era.
The sizeable cast is made up of a veritable smorgasbord of young actresses with Abbie Cornish as Sweetpea, Jenna Malone as her sister Rocket, Jamie Chung as Amber, and Vanessa Hudgens as Blondie. Each went through a rigorous training regime (for some it went on as long as three months) to prepare for the physical confrontations as well as the song & dance sequences that pepper the film. Supporting them are actors Carla Gugino, Jon Hamm, Oscar Isaac and Scott Glenn as the wise old shaman who guides Babydoll through each of the fantasy worlds.
Despite its notable cast, the casting process went through a rocky road at first with actresses frequently dropping out of contention. Amanda Seyfried was initially up for the role of Babydoll but dropped out, Emma Stone was to play the role of Amber before doing Easy A and Evan Rachel Wood was the first choice to play Rocket, but also succumbed to scheduling conflicts.
“Sucker Punch is a story of redemption, friendship, imagination and freedom”
With a predominantly female cast dressed in (ahem) rather revealing costumes throughout (Babydoll has a Manga-like schoolgirl vibe) there have been questions over whether the film functions as female empowerment or some kind of fetishistic fantasy.
Snyder, known for using a wide range of music in his films, incorporates songs from The Beatles and Jefferson Airplane while cast members’ vocals litter some of the remaining tracks. Along with the different worlds, the musical cues ensure that Sucker Punch is a heady mix of different styles without a bearing in one specific era. So while the film resists any sort of neat genre classifications the different levels of fantasy invite favourable comparisons with last year’s Inception.
And that title, what does it mean? Is it a guttural punch or something more significant? According to Snyder it is a misnomer, a title that would not “even try to encapsulate what the film is, or even what it isn’t… Sucker Punch is a story of redemption, friendship, imagination and freedom – and when the curtain goes up, that’s true no matter which side of the looking glass you’re on.”