So I'm sure by now most of us have seen the critical bitchslapping "Sucker Punch" has been getting all over the place, from published reviewers to internet geek-culture hubs, and while opening weekend has barely begun it's probably safe to say that a crash-and-burn is inevitable at this point.
Having just seen it myself I have to say only this-- that's a goddamned shame.
I'll be straightforward right now: I loved this movie. My initial assessment upon first seeing the trailers was that it would at least be a fun straight-up action movie with an all-female ensemble, something that almost never happens on its own. What I got from the film itself was definitely that to some degree, but I didn't expect to get as emotionally involved as I did. This is-- for me, at least-- easily one of 2011's best films. Christ knows I hate being on the same side of anything as Moviebob, but well, there it is.
Narratively speaking, "Sucker Punch's" thesis-- imagination as a means of escape/coping mechanism-- is one I have a great deal of fondness for, and the fusion of dream logic/fantasy with reality to the point where they intermingle in strange ways is something I never get tired of seeing, even if I know how it's going to play out.
Some of my favorite films-- "Pan's Labyrinth," "Inception," "Brazil," "2001"-- are built on these premises, and "Sucker Punch" definitely shares that core sensibility. For some reason I've never had a problem 'following' the threads of films like these (I still don't see why so many people had trouble keeping track of "Inception's" dream-within-dream layering considering they took great care to explain and set up everything as they went), so the complaints of its big setpiece moments being disconnected from the main plot and it 'not making any sense' are basically lost on me. Not to say others WOULDN'T be, but I'm trying to explain my own position here and only you know what you would and wouldn't follow. It all fits together, you just have to be paying attention to see how.
Secondly, I've heard many complain that the characters are too flat or aren't interesting, and I again have to personally disagree. For a film that borrows so much of its visual language from animanga, characterization here is surprisingly subtle.
To explain myself here I'm going to have to segue a little-- While I like anime and manga in principle (and there are certainly enough genuine classics there for me to lose my Legit Animation Lover card were I to write it off altogether), I've found that my biggest issue with the style lies in how almost all of them are written. Which is to say, how they're over-written. Very rarely is a character's arc or growth or relationships conveyed visually, or even indirectly; instead, this is addressed with big walls of text or long expository speeches. (To be fair, this isn't a problem exclusive to that media, but it's certainly prevalent there.) To put it bluntly, whenever the token love-interest tells the big masculine hero something like "you've changed," very rarely is this ACTUALLY the case; rather, they haven't changed at all, but in order to convey this to the audience in order to move things along, just delaring this basically makes it 'true'. Friends aren't friends unless one of them says so (even if they already know these things), a motley bunch of different individuals who eventually put aside their differences and form a bond don't "count" as a family until they telegraph that directly for the audience's benefit.
(To segue further, its rejection of these audience-insulting niceties is EXACTLY why "Cowboy Bebop" is still one of the best animated shows ever made period-- by the end we don't NEED to be told that Spike, Jet, Faye, Ed and Ein were far more than disgruntled acquaintances; it's crystal clear entirely by way of how they interact with each other and the things that AREN'T said between them. Okay back to the point.)
What I'm trying awkwardly to say here is that in most cases, unless people are told EXACTLY what they need to feel or EXACTLY what they're supposed to think about a certain character via dialogue, they're written off as being poorly developed oftentimes. The rejection of this approach is something else I liked about "Sucker Punch"-- again, perhaps it's just me, but I got a strong sense of who these characters were-- their bonds, fears, friendships and feelings-- because of their behavior and interaction. The characterization's definitely there, but it's almost entirely in small moments, and I appreciated the film trusting me enough to get a sense of everyone through my own interpretation. I'm not going to say that these are ZOMG TEH BEST PPLZ EVARZ IN A MOVEI LOL and God knows I don't mind archetypes, but none of the women here ever felt like strictly-defined "types"-- they all had some ambiguity, vulnerability and strength in different ways, not full-on 'tough girls' or 'girly girls' or 'emotionless blow-up dolls'-- just people.
Lastly, "Sucker Punch" is absolutely gorgeous. In terms of composition/palatte/framing/design, everything just looks beautiful. Those looking for a film with pretty colors and things going boom will not be disappointed in this regard. The fight setpieces in particular, considering how short most of them are, do an excellent job in building a concrete sense of place and atmosphere for each genre-nod they embody, something hard enough to accomplish in the context of a film fully dedicated to a single one. I can't say I particularly love the costumes themselves-- arguing a spectacle-heavy film headlined by beautiful women really does have some depth is hard enough when not a single one is wearing anything close to pants-- but considering some of the correlations the dream-layers make it DOES make some sense (or at least that was MY impression).
I'm not going to act like this is a film for EVERYONE-- the majority polarization is clear enough-- but for what it's worth, I enjoyed the hell out of "Sucker Punch" and if you go in with the right attitude, you might too. Still, I seem to be one of the few people who unironically enjoyed "Bulletstorm's" story and liked "Tron: Legacy" despite disliking the original, so take all that with a well-deserved grain of salt if you must. :)