Why Sucker Punch sucked

Mike GristBook / Movie Reviews 26 Comments

There are 2 main reasons why Sucker Punch sucked. These reasons have got nothing to do with all the half-naked girls, the cartoon violence, or the complexity of 3 nested worlds. No. Director Zach Snyder would be glad to have any of those problems. He’d love it if they were all we could fault the movie on, especially after the success of movies like Moulin Rouge, 300, and Inception.

Nope, the problems are much deeper than that. They’re in the bones of the story, the structure.

Sucker Punch is the story of Baby Doll, who within the first 3 minute prologue/music video watches her mother die, and her step-father kill her sister. Because she fails to kill him when she has the chance (gun in her hand) he puts her (rightly, I guess, who wouldn’t have killed him?) in a mental asylum, where she will be lobotomized in 5 days.

Soon after arriving the asylum shifts into a Burlesque brothel. Ok. The guy who was the corrupt warder becomes the mafia don, forcing the girls to dance for his ‘clients’. Exactly what that means in the real world is unclear- but there’s probably a good chance he’s pimping out the girls to his buddies, for money.

Baby Doll enters a third fantasy world of utter fantasy whenever she dances. Her dancing is ultra-sexy and leaves everyone in tears. Why does she have this special skill? No reason. She takes advantage of her dancign to hatch and execute a escape plan, with video-game like precision- gathering 4 items from a checklist in a boringly linear fashion, while battling through hordes of game-drones to get there.

So why does it suck?


Why the structure sucked- one

The first point is simple and obvious to everyone who saw the movie. The middle was too long.

OK, let’s get more technical- the third quarter, or second half of the second act, was too long.

This is basically an insurmountable problem. While we were watching it we got bored. Every time Baby Doll steps up to dance, we know we’re going into another empty, meaningless battle sequence, within which no major milestones will be hit upon, no major bad guys will be faced, and no major good guys will be deposed. It is a wasteland of interest. Hot girls and fancy CG are no longer enough to hold our attention. We are bored.

The only answer to this problem is to cut about half of the fantasy scenes out. They could be replaced with a few much faster scenes in the asylum world or brothel world. They could even all be combined into one long montage of occasions the girls fought, got various items, and escaped alive.

We cannot really put too much influence of the real bad guys in the middle, either, in the hopes of spicing things up. Putting bad guys into the middle would initiate the turn into the fourth quarter too soon. So our only option is to cut.

OK, we cut. The movie is now an hour long. We need to add some stuff in.

The obvious place to put it is in the first two quarters.

QUARTER 1 – We should spend 10-15 minutes in the home of the step-father, see Baby Doll’s miserable life more, learn what losing her sister really meant. Instead Zach gave us a gripping 3 minute music video prologue of the ORDINARY WORLD. Ok, fine, but by doing that he added 12 minutes onto his third quarter. Oops.

QUARTER 2- We should spend 20 minutes or so in the asylum just figuring things out, before any fight and step up to the plate to the quest. Baby Doll needs to learn the boundaries of the new world better. Instead we get it all in a 5-10 minute montage. Another 10 minutes not used, added onto the third quarter. Oops again.

All this added up to a very fast-paced start, but with nowhere in terms of story milestones left to go until the end. We have almost an hour of nothing much happening to get through before the end. And that was boring, repetitive, un-alleviated by dragons, steampunk zombies, or flashy robots.

If Snyder had fleshed out his first two parts, we would also have come to care more for Baby Doll and her fellow inmates. What happened to them next would matter more.

Why the structure sucked- two

The ending was silly.


What Baby Doll achieves by self-sacrifice is too Deus ex Machina to have any real resonance. She willingly goes under the lobotomist’s hammer, and in that last moment her knowing look makes Dan Draper doubt himself, which sets in motion the arrest of the asylum jerk who ran the brothel.

OK, saved from outside.

The other aspect of her self-sacrifice, to save Sweet Pea, was utterly meh, because Sweet Pea was about the dullest character in the story, AND the only one who didn’t want to even escape anyway. So, stupid.

But not only that. All that is not even the main problem. The main problem is that the ENDING DID NOT RESOLVE THE QUESTION THE BEGINNING PROMISED US.

The beginning hooked us with her evil step-father. We hated him most, and got into the movie for revenge.

But there was no revenge. Baby Doll never escaped. The Step-father got off scott-free. Utterly unsatisfying.

So, fail.

Every other issue in incidental to these two issues of story structure. With a solid story underneath him (I guess not written by him, as this was) Zach Snyder’s crazy directorial style and sure grasp of CG would work wonders. I really liked both 300 and Watchmen, for those reasons. Here, it just ran away with him.

And finally- Sucker Punch? What the hell does that even mean, with regard to this movie?

Japanese title Angel Wars is just as silly, but at least vaguely appropriate. Was there even one Sucker Punch in the whole movie? Perhaps when she kicks the guard in the balls at the end?

Full story structure dissected below:


IDEA Fantasy battles, insane asylums, and hot girls in a brothel
CONCEPT What if a hot girl in an insane asylum/brothel enters a fantasy world through dancing.
PREMISE What if a hot girl in an insane asylum/brothel enters a fantasy world through dancing and uses that skill to attempt an escape.
MILIEU Insane asylum / brothel / fantasy world.
HERO EXTERNAL Silent, somewhat gutsy, baby doll girl
HERO BACKSTORY Her sister died because she couldn’t save her, at her step-father’s hands
HERO ARC / TURN She decides to sacrifice herself to save some random girl- after failing to save her own sister, and that girl’s sister too
SPECIAL SKILL / ITEM Dances real sexy- into fantasy battles
INNER DEMON Death of sister, feels responsible
OUTER VILLAIN Step-father, asylum warder, lobotomist
THEME Lot of voiceovers dictating the theme-

Everyone has an angel

Got to step up and fight with the weapons you’ve got

In fact, theme is- willing self-sacrifice leads to vanquishment of foes

1- SETUP / ORPHAN Baby Doll loses mother and sister, fails to kill step-father, put into asylum
1a- HOOK Cool music video, root for her, dramatic camera work
1b- THREAT Powerful, step-father kills sister, mother, hints of abuse
1c- HERO’S WORLD UPENDED Thrown into asylum., will be lobotomized.
2- RESPONSE / WANDERER Doesn’t know what to do, asylum morphs into brothel, gets by until she is forced to dance, and meets mentor in a dream world, who tells her how she can fight back. She kills samurai and starts on her quest.
2a- THREAT Samurai, threat of lobotomy in 5 days, asylum warder
2b- ACTIONS Swabs the decks, mopes about, fights.
2c- MENTOR Old dude- angel, full of fortune cookie wisdom.
2d- HERO’S 1st REVELATION Decides to fight back with her sexiness.
3- ATTACK / WARRIOR Go on several quests to get various necessary escape items. No push-back until the end, and three of the girls die, the lobotomist is there.
3a- THREAT Asylum warder, lobotomist
3b- ACTIONS Lots of killing meaningless drones.
3c- LULL Three girls die, he gets up in her face.
3d- HERO’S 2nd REVELATION Pulls out the knife she somehow stole from the cook and stabs him in the neck- kicks off escape.
4- RESOLUTION / MARTYR Frees one girl remaining, they escape, baby doll must sacrifice herself so she can escape.
4a- HERO’S FINISHING MOVE Sacrifices herself, so willingly that the lobotomist thinks its weird, and sets in motion events that see the asylum warder arrested.
4b- RESOLUTION One girl escapes to return home, baby doll becomes duller than ever

Comments 26

  1. You are spot on. I just finished the movie and couldn’t wait to get it over with, thanks for explaining exactly what i was about to write!

  2. man.. i know exactly what youre saying.. i just watched it online, and i actually skipped the robot scene, i just wanted to skip to the ending, it really was just me watching the progress bar, waiting for it to end.. the biggest regret of the movie, was the horrible ending.. no happy ending.. i dont feel better having seen it, the hero died, and whats this crap about switching whose story it was at the end.. i wanna see all those girls break out, and take revenge on all the ppl who messed with them.. if it wasnt for the line “shes been running around setting fires, and stabbing guards” i would have thought it was all in her head.. so i guess those girls were real? does she really have super dancing powers, or was that in her head too? ugh at least i feel better reading this review, so i know other ppl who watched this movie share my feelings to vent..

  3. You lost credability after the first couple of sentences. She shoots her own sister! Why do I feel like I’m in the Twilight Zone when people say Sucker Punch sucked? Is it that the critics said it was bad, and people just want to fit in and agree. The movie had the action, a story, a twist, and decent acting. It was visual eye candy and not to mention it was original and not some reboot or sequel. To each his own I guess. I truely loved it and this is coming from a 30 year old whose favorite movie is “To Kill A Mockingbird” and not “Twilight” like the current generation.

    1. Post

      You’re not really answering my main complaint with the movie here. Who cares if she shot her own sister or not? I enjoyed the beginning bit. My problem, as I stated clearly above, was how long and repetitive the battle scenes were. Fight zombies, fight orcs, and all of it a wasteland for plot. Fights as fights with, for about 3 of them, until the cook scene, nothing at stake really, and no plot milestones.

      If you loved that, great.You have a very high tolerance for seeing the same thing again and again, with no development.

    2. I get what you mean 😀 I’m glad someone else thinks this isn’t such a bad film xx
      I like it cuz it shows that just cuz someone looks vunerable doesn’t mean they are. I hate it when people are like that. This film just explains it to people who are to stuborn to see that.
      I don’t really see what’s so bad about it.
      If you don’t like it, quit complaining!
      Keep your opinions to yourself if they ain’t good.
      Rachel out, peace.

  4. There is only one fail here and that is this poor sucking review.
    Who cares about her situation at home, the story starts once she enters the Asylum.
    Ever thought of SP being herself where SP is the bigger sister of Rocket where BabyDoll is the bigger sister of the one she accidentally killed by shooting the lightbulb so the bullet changed course. With freeing the big sister (herself) she frees herself with getting lobotomized.

    There are so more things during this movie which you obviously didn’t get. If you don’t understand movies like this, just go back to watching Bambi and leave writing reviews for the one who really seen and understand a movie but appearantly the ending, how brilliant as it was, doesnt give enough clarification to you and you dont like it when the ending requires some selfthinking of is being done this way on purpose to start a discussion. Please, in the future, leave reviewing of movies like this to others as this review is based on nothing.

    1. Post

      Unpleasant comment.

      If you think the story starts at the asylum, then why do we even have the backstory at the start? How can we have that, then leave it unresolved at the end (her father-in-law not revenged upon)? Just cut it. It set my expectations wrong.

      There are things I didn’t get? I’d challenge you to enlighten me, but a- I don’t think you could, since your comment is vitriolic but essentially as empty as you accuse my review of being (which was emphatically not empty, but quite complete- see the full plot breakdown), and b- I couldn’t really give a toss.

      Bambi? wtf kind of viewer do you think I am? Do I not say I like this kind of movie? That I liked 300 and Watchmen both? I found this one to be inferior to both of those, because it was long and repetitive in the middle, and the ending was a big leap of luck. It’s not that I didn’t understand it. It’s that it was too obvious, there was nothing to discuss, and it was all Deus ex Machina anyway.

      Comment back if you like- but why not change your attitude to be a bit more reasonable? I didn’t attack you. My opinion is as valid as anybody’s.

  5. Point taken. In a more reasonable way then:

    “and her step-father kill her sister”
    Wrong. BabyDoll killed her as the bullet changed course after hitting the lightbulb, also a reason why BD wanted to have the lobotomy, to be free of guilt.

    “Baby Doll enters a third fantasy world of utter fantasy whenever she dances. Her dancing is ultra-sexy and leaves everyone in tears. Why does she have this special skill? No reason.”
    Does there need to be a reason for everything, cant it just be?

    “We should spend 10-15 minutes in the home of the step-father, see Baby Doll’s miserable life more, learn what losing her sister really meant.”
    By doing that you would probably even get more bored cause you (as in you in general) will be wondering what the story by now is that the director want’s to show us and her situation and life at home are not relevant as it’s about her life in the asylum. So having more footage from her home would only extend the movie but might indeed be better then the actionscenes where nothing really happened although with even less action this movie would be even more boring. Pick your balance but I think its good they didnt take too much footage from her life at home.

    “All this added up to a very fast-paced start, but with nowhere in terms of story milestones left to go until the end. ”
    I fully agree. Where Inception and Shutter Island for example take you on some sort of journey, with SP you dont really get to know the characters and in the end they shove all the info down your throat. This could have been done better.

    “The ending was silly.”
    Too narrowminded in my opinion. The girl that broke free took the bus where the truck driver is the guardian angel from BD’s fantasy and on the bus it says ‘On to paradise’ or something. In the beginning the warden says to the father ‘After my treatment she will feel as if she is in paradise’. So was Sweet Pea real or was it the last bit of BD that she wanted to save. With her getting on the bus with the paradise sign on and BD getting the lobotomy they might mean the same thing. Finally at rest. Also the bus drivers last line is: And try to get some sleep which is what BD in some way is doing. Key here is that they both are at rest but due that Sweet Pea meets the Guardian Angel it might be the case that everything was in BD’s fantasy after all. Yes they say in the end she helped a girl escape but no name was mentioned so it might be that she did help a girl escape but that Sweet Pea was only in her mind. Another reason for this is that once BD is in the chair, the scene changes to a theater where Sweet Pea takes of the wig and gets out of the chair.

    “The Step-father got off scott-free. Utterly unsatisfying.”
    Wrong as well. When the warden gets pulled away by the cops he yells about the step-father and how he will tell everything so you can be sure he will get his revenge, they just didnt put it in the movie which I think isnt needed anyway.

    “And finally- Sucker Punch? What the hell does that even mean, with regard to this movie?”
    This is just finding something to burn to the ground for the sake of burning something to the ground. As well as the ending, the title can also mean different things. BD was in fact a sucker but she eventually punches her stepfather for example cause he will be punished. There are more explanations for the title.

    What bothered me in your review and what I like from Snyder is that he leaves some points open for discussion. Not everything is crystal clear and spilled all out for the viewer but he makes the viewer think as well, leaves the ending open for discussion (as you will see when searching the internet for it). The viewer can come up with different theory’s and cling on to the one he or she thinks it suits best.

    I agree. It isn’t his best movie but when reading your review I see you clearly missed a few things which, when not missed, might have lead to a better movie-experience for you.

  6. @Wouter:

    There are aspects missed by most people… you understand much of it, but not quite all.

    1st: I’m 40 – I like art films, good films and even some crap to watch with my kid (Cars 2 was crap – but to a 6yr old, its fun and it looked great). Shoot me before I see another transformer movie. I saw #1 1-2 times, #2 semi once (for free) – it was boring… so god awful boring and stupid. Star Trek, District 9 are very good movies.

    2nd: Love Snyders movie styles. Watchmen was very good to the book. Can’t fit everything in there.

    3rd: Sucker Punch – Looks great, but I would like to know a bit more about characters, but that wasn’t the point of the film. But here is the PART most people miss.

    The Hero, Baby Doll is on DRUGS. If anyone has known friends or family with brain damage or on heavy medication – their sense of reality is severely distorted. The movie takes place roughly in the 50s~60s. yet we see concepts and technology that is modern… which is not possible for the mind of a 20-some year old girl from the 50s. Like the half-jet half properly gunship/bomber.

    Baby Doll is whored out, the dance/prostitute world is her mind dealing with her environment. The Sci-Fi fantasy is her actions – in her deranged hallucinating mind.

    The only thing that is “real” is the stepfather/sister and coming to the mental hospital. She did steal items, she did cause a fire, she did escape – up to a point. But she had nowhere to go.

    What little that was left in her mind… was Sweet Pea Escaping.

  7. Perhaps a very late kick or bump, but I read somewhere a lot of scenes had to be cut to get a proper rating. Snyder really got frustrated by this. This might explain a lot. We will just have to wait for an extended DVD I guess.

  8. Just caught this on DVD, and I totally agree with the review. What an utter mess. A huge waste of money and the ‘acting’ is terrible, the layers utterly boring and a waste of time. The story has no major sense, and the whole thing will go down in movie history as the worst film ever.

  9. I tend to agree with the review. Sucker Punch promised to be so so good in the trailer. The awesome fantasy worlds, steam punk, zombie nazis, flying machines, action babes with big guns… I could not wait to see the story that tied all these awesome elements together, and find out what amazing fantasy universe could support them all.

    But of course that isn’t what sucker punch delivers at all. Right from the start I had two big questions that I really needed resolving before I could enjoy the movie. These questions were… “did she just get lobotomised?” and… “is this all some weird dream sequence?”. I don’t think it worked at all well to plant the notion that “it was all just a dream” before the movie has even started , makes it all feel a bit pointless.

    I wasn’t able to fully enjoy the action scenes, because they were just meaningless interludes. They should have felt exciting and awesome, but in the context of this movie, you end up just wanting them to end, so you can find out what really happened to her. Then when you do find out what happened to her, it was what you expected… She got lobotomised and the whole film was just a thinly veiled excuse to string lots of unrelated and ultimately meaningless action scenes together, in a very unsatisfying way.

    It was a real shame about this movie because the fantasy worlds looked so interesting, and the action scenes were so well done. If the same scenes were actually put into some kind of reasonable context, it would probably have been one of the greatest action movies ever. I have wondered if maybe some day, someone might be able to rearrange all the scenes so there was actually some story there.

    I think I understand why the film is called Sucker Punch. The sucker is you, and the punch is finding out that the movie is just trailer bait, with no actual substance.

  10. I couldn’t agree w/ you more. This was nothing more than a visual masturbation for men.

    Snyder thought he was making something “unique” but a women watching this would be disgusted. This is an exploitation of women’s looks, not their talents. Sadly this isn’t what Snyder was intending, but he delivered that message entirely.

  11. Listen I just saw this movie on m fest and I couldnt watch more then 30 minutes before I flicked this crap and started watching desperado instead. Sucker Punch is what the A Hole that made that GIANT TERD should have received for making such a peice of crap film….

    Anyone who is defending this film must have a screw loose?

  12. This is the best movie ever. I really don’t understand why some people hate it so much, the storyline is amazing. The director did not list everything out for us to see clearly, it gives clues throughout the movie for us to piece it out together. Some people argue that the acting is terrible but yet again they are wrong. I watched alot of movies and I mean ALOT. Sucker Punch casts acting was not the best nor the worst. It was GOOD. Sucker punch is such a smart movie that tells the story true clues shown in diff scenes and it tells viewers how a girl who is in turmoil fight for her dreams. The only problem with thismovie is the stupid audience we been having inside our theatre. They expect a storyline which is laid out plain and simple for them. No thinking or debate, just sit and listen like they are a bunch of babies.

    1. movies you might like: memento, inception, shutter island, 12 monkeys, pulp fiction, donnie darko, once upon a time in america, cloud atlas, matrix, truman show (complicated storylines, though you’ve probably seen most of them)

  13. Hi all of you who you like Sucker Punch!

    I watched it first being stoned and I just fell in love with the movie. I did the same the next day. About four times after that I watched it being sober and even then I got something more in my mind. By that time I thought I maybe fully understand the movie but reading here now Wouter’s and Dr. Downs’s toughts I realized that I wanna watch it again 😉

    I think this is a movie for people with more like open minds not to those who don’t want to or don’t know how to think deep and enjoy this brilliant movie but just wants to be entertained.

    Just like Shutter Island and Inception, Sucker Punch is my favourite movie! (Regards to Wouter for bringing out these two movies into comparison)

  14. i dont care what you ppl said still loved the movie! better than crappy twilight that shows homo-vampires and giant wolfs that called themselves werewolf?

  15. 6 Reasons why Sucker Punch is AWESOME (like memento, inception, shutter island, 12 monkeys, donnie darko)

    1) The Stepdad gets incriminated by the warden as he is taken away by the police (we get a sense of revenge)
    2) The girls being half-naked is a ridiculization of female abuse (the mayor, warden and cook are all disgusting characters)
    3) The parallel between the asylum world and the burlesque world is AWESOME: lobotomization-sex / sex-dancing / Gorski tells Babydoll to fight to survive. Everything that happens makes sense on both levels (the fire, stolen knife, warden gets knifed).
    4)The initial scenes where we see: the cook with the knife, the guard with the zippo, the map…. At the end of the movie the guard no longer has the lighter and the cook no longer has the knife and the shed is burnt.
    5)The little details: eg. At the beginning Babydoll shoots a gas pipe and gas shoots out… this is reflected in the fantasy world when the monsters are shot and gas shoots out.
    6) The soundtrack is amazing: Emily Browning, Byork, Torrini, Azar

    1. By the way: Sweet Pea is the representation of Babydoll before she went crazy. Think about it… cares for her younger sister, is sane, wants and manages to excape, despises Babydoll for having sex to distract people (she criticizes Babydoll’s dancing)

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