If you were looking forward to Sucker Punch then it will unfortunately live up to its title. If you weren’t, it might live up to your expectations.
Zack Snyder made his name with a good remake of Dawn of the Dead and then 300 which, though it was a box office hit, already bore some of the hallmarks that would come to hinder the development of his career. Thanks to that early success, he has become a go-to guy in Hollywood, and has recently been handed the mantle of resurrecting the Man of Steel from cinematic purgatory. On the evidence of Sucker Punch, we should all cross our fingers very hard for that one.
Sucker Punch, which is written, directed and produced by Snyder, tells the story of Baby Doll (Emily Browning), a young woman who is incarcerated in a mental asylum after a short prologue which tells the story of her unhappy home life. On entering the institution she overhears her stepfather talking to Blue Jones (Oscar Isaac), the sinister head of the place, who reveals he will accept a bribe to have the girl lobotomised. From there the film delves into Baby Doll’s realm of fantasy, in which she has five days to escape the procedure. Unfortunately, the film’s brains were removed long before it found its way to the screen.
Why is Baby Doll’s fantasy a brothel in which all the female cast members are required to wear revealing costumes at all times? Perhaps it’s all the result of a psychosis picked up during her troubled childhood, which may have been an acceptable explanation if it carried even the slightest weight. We are presented with Baby Doll’s background in a pop-video of an opening drenched in slow-motion and stylised visuals (both irksome Snyder traits) and this aesthetic continues throughout, diluting almost any sense of character through a vacuum of special effects, poor musical choice and deadening violence.
Baby Doll joins up with four other (obviously scantily clad) ladies including Rocket (Jena Malone), who she befriends quickly, and her sister Sweet Pea (Abbie Cornish), who treats her with suspicion. Why should they, who have been unhappily surviving in this place for years, suddenly risk everything for an ambitious outsider? More pressingly, why should they want to act on a crack-pot plan that involves finding four arbitrary items? Nevertheless, they do, and thus we have the format of the film. Our ladies must acquire the items required for escape while Baby Doll dances for baying male customers, only we never see her dance; instead, we are whisked away to fantasy action sequences in which our girls (still scantily clad) must stab, shoot and destroy their way to a series of throwaway objectives. Why? If you can answer that question, your name is probably Zack Snyder.
And so our girls fight steam-powered Nazis in the trenches of World War II while a big robot shoots planes out of the sky. Why? Because it’s totally awesome! Baby Doll must fight three giant samurai before she can return and tell the others of her quest. Why? Because, hello, samurai are freakin’ cool, right? Wrong. This is all an excuse for Snyder to pack as many of his ‘awesome’ ideas as he can into one film, an excuse to show off some occasionally impressive but mostly boring special effects, an excuse to have attractive women running around in skirts and corsets with guns. And, my goodness, it’s boring. Dragons! Samurai! Hot girls! Boring, boring, boring. I couldn’t believe the runtime was less than two hours.
And the shame of it all is that the five girls (in particular the main three named above) are well cast. They’re likable. They do their best. They can act. We want to route for them but we can’t because every time there might be a hint of involvement, a hint of character, we’re taken away to the next vacuous distraction. One of the sequences, an almost-unwatchable train battle with faceless CGI robots, thankfully gives way to something meaningful, but by that time you’re just glad it’s finally over. Bar some decent choreography and effects in the trenches sequence, the fantasies are tedious.
So Sucker Punch is a failure, and Snyder’s worst film. Along with his disappointing foray into children’s animation last year, this d oes not bode well for Superman. He isn’t without talent, he just needs to reign himself in. There are guilty pleasures here, yes, but overall it’s overblown and shallow.