10 Years Gone: Sucker Punch’s Long Journey to the Screen

Right around ten years ago Zack Snyder had an idea. An idea that would come to take up about thirty seconds of Sucker Punch, but lend to the film its main character, its title, and its sex appeal. That original idea revolved around a girl named Baby Doll who escaped into the recesses of her mind while dancing for some very bad men.

He then partnered with his school buddy Steve Shibuya to start working that into a script. Things were probably going pretty okay on that, but they were about to get a lot better when Snyder found himself helming Dawn of the Dead, my personal choice for best zombie movie ever. You heard that right, Romero.

Sitting next to Snyder at the press junket, the man did no less than doodle an X-Wing on a pad of paper while talking, as if he needed anything more than Watchmen to solidify his nerd-cred. Before talking about the visually complex Sucker Punch, Snyder, sitting alongside wife and producing partner Debbie, the director took a moment to give us a glimpse into his filmmaking past, revealing as one might expect he was an early overachiever. One of his student films in the basic introductory film classes was a World War I epic, complete with trenches dug by a rented backhoe.

Before you get antsy, I’ll tell you what he said about his upcoming Superman movie: nothing. As in, he’s not allowed to speak of it. Duh. What he did express was confusion at why so many comparatively minor superheroes (Blade, Daredevil, Iron Man) have franchises while the superhero did not. Well, he’s out to fix that.

Only in Cinemas

Snyder and Shibuya, as revealed by cast member Carla Gugino, set out to make a film that could only really be appreciated on the big screen. First time writer Shibuya described the process of writing it as coming up with “big, strange, wonderful ideas.” Oscar Isaac, who portrays Blue Jones, called the film “live action anime” and an “imagination explosion” brought to life by an ensemble cast that created an aura of trust that allowed them to dive deep into their characters.

Speaking of the obvious Japanese influences on screen, the Japanese Shibuya revealed that virtually none of it came from him – it was how Zack envisioned the project playing out. Shibuya, a former model maker who worked on the cult classic Killer Klowns from Outer Space, spoke candidly about the writing process with Snyder. The two would each work separately on scenes and then pass them back and forth – pretty normal. What surprised me, however, was how openly he spoke about the major motivations of the script. Or rather, the lack thereof.

When asked why there was a World War I scene in the film, Shibuya said simple: Zack wanted it. When asked to describe his major scene contribution – the runaway train filled with killer robots- he more or less said they just wanted a cool sequence where someone could get killed. When asked if there was anything deeper there he replied simply and honestly: Umm… No.

Sucker Punch always was intended to be, and became, not much more than a cool action flick.

The Ladies

You can’t talk Sucker Punch without bringing up the all female cast. Led by Emily Browning as Baby Doll, all of the girls faced a grueling training regimen that was then tailored to their strengths. Jena Malone threw a mean punch, so her character is all about fisticuffs. Browning was very adept at flashier martial arts moves and spends much of her time flipping around and striking poses.

The intense training lead to a bond between the girls, all of whom “chased the beast” – that inner monster that allowed them to get through the physical demands before them.

The film wasn’t all kicks and punches though, as each girl was given a specific set of weapons tailored to their personality. Browning’s Baby Doll carried a Colt 1911, designed by one John Browning, and a katana to match her anime inspired appearance, while Vanessa Hudgens got to play with the big guns: a .30cal tail gun, a .50cal machine gun, and an M249 SAW machine gun.

The female dominated workplace wasn’t lost on the cast, or the crew, as the girls described how they came to dominate the set. Virtually all of them spoke of female empowerment or “turning the action hero” on its head by turning him into a her. Jamie Chung spoke about “damsels in distress becoming their own heroes” when it became apparent no one was going to get them out of there but themselves.

It wouldn’t be surprising to anyone in attendance if the stars of this film went on to find more action roles: Vanessa Hudgens, Emily Browning, and Abbie Cornish all talked about wanting to explore all genres of film and take on traditionally male dominated roles.

Mission Accomplished

In the end, everyone involved wanted to make a visual, daring film full of strong females – by that measure, they succeeded. If you read my review of the film, you’ll find that measure of success, in my opinion, didn’t translate into a good film. Perhaps too much time was spent on making things look cool rather than investing in the characters.

Either way it ‘s clear that everyone involved was on the same page in bringing Snyder’s to fruition and all were excited to take part in such a non-traditional and visually stunning film.

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