Zack Snyder has built himself a impressively successful career thus far. He slipped almost quietly through the back door with his remake of Dawn of the Dead (it didn’t yet have that “Zack Snyder” stamp) but made people really stop and pay attention when he brought us the macho action-fest that was 300. Then he delivered what is likely the most slavishly faithful adaptation of a comic ever made, the dense and striking Watchmen. And his last film, Legend of the Guardians: The Owls of Ga’Hoole, was a misfire on so many levels.
Now Snyder is back with yet another big budget, highly stylized film with Sucker Punch, bringing his undoubtedly unique style to a plot that, unlike all of his previous films, isn’t based on any previous source material. So does Snyder deliver the goods once more? In a way he does but only if you’re looking for visuals and nothing more. This time around Snyder’s hyper-active style actually hinders the film as a whole, with a relentless blur of admittedly gorgeous visuals not really serving much purpose and, as a result of the evidently random way the action and visuals crops up, the film is curiously unmemorable.
The story follows a 20-year-old woman, nicknamed Baby Doll (for some reason…), who, after the death of her mother, accidentally kills her little sister while trying to murder her stepfather. As a result her stepfather has her committed to a mental institution, ultimately left to the hands of one of the men who work their who use her and the rest of the inmates to make money off of men who pay to see them “perform.”
Baby Doll – alongside other inmates with names like Amber, Sweet Pea, Blondie and Rocket – decide they want to escape from their prison, with the help of some very wild imagination leading them to require specific items (a map, fire, a knife, a key) in order to escape.
Sucker Punch‘s initially intriguing premise unfortunately doesn’t have enough there to back it up. The film sets up a framework for which the action is to take place i.e. in the imagination of Baby Doll and the rest of the escapees but the film doesn’t play by its own rules – it doesn’t play fair. Little makes sense and the whole thing doesn’t hold together as it should. It may seem silly to say that a fantasy story doesn’t make sense as that’s ultimately part of the point. But even a fantasy film has to make sense within its own world and here there are serious issues in that department.
For instance, the things that Baby Doll conjures up in her mind that she has to fight in order to achieve a goal doesn’t relate to what she’s trying to do in the real world. What does samurai, hordes of dead Nazi soldiers, giant fire-breathing dragons and electronically times bombs (to name but a few) have to do with anything? It really is as if Snyder (and the blame falls squarely at his feet for all this considering he directed it, produced it, co-wrote the script and came up with the story) had all of this stuff that he thought would look cool and he made sure it was in there, even if it makes no logical sense.
The visuals are without a doubt stunning, with each “world” Baby Doll visits every time she retreats into her imagination presenting a unique style to feast your eyes on while the action takes place. But the action is also where a big part of the problem lies – there is just too much going on, a mess that no amount of Snyder’s overused slow-motion moments or impractically complex fighting can keep control of. You’d think that the more action there is the better but this just proves that there is such a thing as too much of a good thing. There is so much happening on-screen and it’s showcased so relentlessly that it ceases to be exciting, enthralling or fun and all becomes “blah.”
Snyder is clearly making a point with the film that guys aren’t the only ones who can kick ass convincingly. The non-threatening looking Emily Browning is believable as an action star, and most of the rest of the main cast are equally as convincing in their respective roles. The performances are not exactly the point of the film as everything is ultimately sacrificed for the sake of cool visuals but the cast do what they need to do. Carla Gugino is, however, a stand out as Dr. Gorsky, putting on an extremely convincing Polish accent and providing what small amount of genuine emotion there is to be found. The likes of Jon Hamm (of AMC’s Mad Men) and Scott Glenn are giving very little to do and so their talents are wasted (particularly Hamm’s).
What I most enjoyed about Sucker Punch was the soundtrack. Featuring new, strange versions of classic songs like “We Will Rock You”, “Sweet Dreams (Are Made of This)”, and “Where Is My Mind?”, the soundtrack is as enjoyable within the film as it is own out with it. Song choice is one of Snyder’s better attributes as a filmmaker – he already proved that with Dawn of the Dead and Watchmen and continues to prove it here.
What could have been one of the most fun films of the year turns out to be a big mess of incoherence and over-abundance of visuals and action that lose their potency the more they assault your senses. It doesn’t exactly help matters that the film is quite misogynistic and sleazy, pretending to be about female empowerment when it’s really about watching young women in skimpy outfits brandish samurai swords and machine guns. It’s not the worst film you’ll see all year that you can be sure of, and it certainly has its moments, but for the most park Sucker Punch fails to hold together as a narrative and amounts to nothing more than a series of visuals that seem plucked right out of the latest video game. Disappointing doesn’t even begin to cover it.