Sucker Punch is everything I thought it would be… and that is not a good thing. For as much as director Zack Snyder has made his name in visual style, I’m afraid that he has let style completely trump substance in what seems to be a ratcheting up of his very well examined aesthetic sensibility. Beginning with my favorite zombie movie at this point, 2004’s Dawn of the Dead remake, he wowed us by giving us a genre film with not so much a twist to the tale but a more a twist in how we see it played out… and with 300, Snyder found exactly what he was looking for.
Comic books seem to color everything he has done… whether it was zombies, homoerotic Spartans, giant naked blue penis or talking Australian owls he appeared to by drawing a humungous graphic novel on the screen. Sucker Punch is no exception. The dialogue sounds as stilted as a panel by panel bit of conversation… as though the screenplay, a first for director Snyder, were written on storyboards as opposed to paper (more realistically a computer screen… I know). And that is it’s weakest link.
Like Watchmen, the opening montage plays out silently and immediately we are immersed in this dark, blue filtered world. Baby Doll (Emily Browning), who apparently wears thigh highs in all situations, is distraught as her mother dies, her stepfather attempts to rape her and then she accidentally kills her sister while trying to keep the stepfather off of the younger girl. This is all played out to the sound of a cover of the Eurythmics’ Sweet Dreams… the evil stepfather then sends her to the Lennox House for the Criminally Insane where he plans to have her lobotomized in five days in order to keep her quiet. And within five minutes we have the groundwork laid for the rest of the story… how can Baby Doll escape?
The plot is thin, but effective in keeping the pace of the story moving… I will do my best not to spoil. The images from the trailer that make this film look so incongruous; giant samurai with chain gun, dragon, WWI trenches and most importantly, five young women dressed in anachronistic fetishized bondage gear kicking ass… these all make sense (in so far as any of it can) when placed into what are essentially Inception-like layers of reality… and the key to understanding which world you are in seem to be recognizing when a particular villain, Blue (Oscar Isaac) has a mustache… as if he were ready to twirl it if it were longer.
Joining Baby Doll in her quest for escape are a pair of sisters, Sweet Pea (Abbie Cornish) and Rocket (Jena Malone), Blondie (Vanessa Hudgens) and Amber (Jamie Chung)… all hyper sexualized young women meant to drag every fanboy into the theater in a drooling, panting mass. I suspect Snyder believed he was making a pro-feminism statement, but it ends up coming off as a bit exploitative and kinky. If I were still 14 or 15, I think I would be proclaiming this movie as the greatest thing since the big bang… but I’m not. Carla Gugino has a meaty dominatrix role and John Hamm makes an all too brief appearance. Rounding out the cast is Scott Glenn, who upon seeing the dreck he was having to say in the trailer terrified me for what his role would be in the end… but his was an almost welcome character who appears to be Baby Doll’s alter-reality Yoda.
If this were a videogame, it would be quite awesome… but it is a movie. Yes the visuals are incredible… every geek’s wet dream… violence, the aforementioned giant samurai, dragon, biplanes and trenches… not to mention orcs, creepy German WWI baddies who expunge steam instead of blood and who can forget the robots… all in one movie. As if his intent was to have it “all” in one movie… all, as in everything the collective nerd pool of fantasy can come up with… at once.
For as negative as I’ve been, I am a fan of Snyder’s films… I believe him to be one of the best directors we have… but not a screenwriter. And for great as it is to have a signature look and feel… there does come a point where too much of a good thing becomes sour and mundane, and Sucker Punch, while not completely failing, comes way too close for comfort.
I did have a great time watching this at times… as I said, it did not completely fail. The fight scenes and moments of genuine tension were welcome relief from basically any time anyone had to say anything… and fortunately, Baby Doll doesn’t say a word for ages and barely seems to be more than catatonic for much of her performance (which is a shame… I like Emily Browning). This film is not about it’s acting… it’s about Zack Snyder getting in touch with his inner 14 year old and the 14 year old took over. Fortunately, Zack Snyder’s inner 14 year old is still more interesting and inventive than most.
Would I recommend seeing this? This is an easy question really… if you like Snyder’s previous work, then yes. If you don’t? I would not bother… you may end up pissed off.
Sucker kick to the crotch,
Cornelius J. Blahg