Zack Snyder’s Sucker Punch may be the most appropriately titled film since Snakes on a Plane. It is a painful experience, a cheap and violent piece of work that is woefully miscalculated on almost every level. It looks and feels less like a film and more like the wet dream of an adolescent that’s been weaned on comic books and has never spoken to a woman in his life.
We’ll start with the story. Sucker Punch follows a young woman referred to only as Baby Doll (Emily Browning), who has been committed to an insane asylum by her evil stepfather. In five days she’ll be lobotomized as part of a plan to take her inheritence. The world of the asylum then suddenly changes into an alternate reality set in a brothel, where Baby Doll has been sold into bondage. She learns that she’s being saved for the arrival of a client known as The High-Roller (Jon Hamm), and in the time beforehand begins to plan her escape. In the days leading up to the High-Roller’s arrival, she starts to visit yet another fantasy world, where her and her fellow imprisoned women fight in epic battles and adventures while finding the tools they need to escape.
If this sounds confusing, or ridiculous, it’s because it is. Sucker Punch doesn’t know how to balance its varying levels of reality, and so instead of introducing the viewer to a multi-layered fantasy about the power of the mind, it ends up being nonsensical and unfocused. The parameters of the first alternate reality, the brothel, are never properly explained, and so we aren’t ever sure what the stakes are. This becomes a bigger problem when Baby Doll and her fellow female fighters descend into her wilder, action-packed fantasies, because we never feel they’re truly in danger. How does one get hurt in a dream that’s part of a larger dream?
What’s worse is that the action sequences aren’t even convincing on a level of pure entertainment. Baby Doll fights massive samurai, dragons, and armies of the undead, but none of it looks convincing. The images aren’t necessarily supposed to look realistic (it is, after all, fantasy), but here they’re hardly believable on any level. The animation of the fantasy world is so inconsistent that we never for a moment believe that any of the creatures depicted are actually in the same space as the human characters.
For Snyder (of 300 fame), a director once hailed as a ‘visionary’ on the posters for 2009’s Watchmen, Sucker Punch is his first chance to give us a film that is truly his own vision. Until this point, his features have all been drawn off someone else’s source material. Here, he’s telling his own story, and he isn’t quite sure of his footing. The finished product comes off like a mixtape of ideas, as if he wasn’t sure what movie he wanted to make and just threw all of his possible projects together. He is still a director obsessed with style rather than story, and since his story gives him no substance to build off, he just pours on more eye candy to try to make up the difference. It ends up as an exercise in excess.
There are also serious flaws with how the women in the film are depicted. I have no doubts that Snyder intended Sucker Punch to be a film that empowered women, but that simply isn’t how it comes off. The women in this film are constantly fetishized, even when they’re in a fantasy world that they supposedly create and control. They appear dressed in school girl clothes or revealing leather and fishnets, and each shot is framed to highlight certain body parts and bare skin. Snyder is saying one thing, but filming something completely different.
Perhaps Sucker Punch could’ve been better if it wasn’t so dreary and serious. The film opens and closes with heavy handed narration, and all throughout the picture we get the feeling that Snyder thinks he’s saying something really important. That the film never reaches this level of seriousness makes it more ridiculous. Nonetheless, I’m sure there will be people who defend Sucker Punch, saying that it should be enjoyed as a piece of mindless entertainment. They wouldn’t be wrong about the mindless part.
Sucker Punch is a confused, bad-looking, overly serious mess, and a drastic misfire for Zack Snyder: D