Sucker Punch (2011) / Action-Fantasy

MPAA Rated: PG-13 for sexuality, thematic material, violence and language
Running time:
109 min.

Cast: Emily Browning, Abbie Cornish, Jena Malone, Vanessa Hudgens, Jamie Chung, Carla Gugino, Oscar Isaac, Jon Hamm, Scott Glenn, Richard Cetrone, Gerard Plunkett, Malcolm Scott
Director: Zack Snyder
Screenplay: Zack Snyder, Steve Shibuya
Review published March 27, 2011

Many questions emerge shortly after walking out of a viewing of Sucker Punch.  Perhaps the first and foremost one is, "What the *bleep* was that all about?"  There may be a few more thoughts that emerge, each with its own sets of *bleeps* and some will end in exclamation marks.  However, one of the basic will be, "Why was it called Sucker Punch?"  Or, more importantly, "Why wasn't it just called Suck?"  And finally, "The guy who made this is also set to reboot the vaunted Superman franchise?"  Bleepity bleep bleep bleep!

Zack Snyder writes and directs (and metaphorically masturbates) Sucker Punch, an almost wholly visual assault on the senses that seems to have been cobbled together from a think tank of middle-school-aged boys.  You want dragons?  They're in there.  How about zombies?  Robots? Nazis? Samurai? Sexualized young heroines that look like they've jumped out of a Pussycat Dolls video?  Yes, yes, yes, and hellz yeah!!  How about if all of this is crammed into a visual style influenced by steam punk, anime, comic books, and video games?   And that's quite a fine video game you've come up with, Zack, so it's a disappointment to not be been handed controllers to have fun along with it as we walk into the theaters.

After essentially copycatting the comic book works of Frank Miller for 300 and the Alan Moore's seminal Watchmen, Zack Snyder finally gets to show us all if he can direct a straight-up comic book action film successfully without trying to mirror the action in the panels of a comic book with an original script.  If Sucker Punch is all we have to go by, the answer is unequivocally negative.  But it's too early to write off Snyder just yet, because there's no question that his flair for the visual is a definite strong suit that could, when given the proper story around it, deliver a truly magnificent action-adventure film.  The trouble is Snyder co-scripts the film himself from his own ideas, and after seeing what has splashed up on the screen, his ideas are about as thin as the film the visuals are projected from. 

The plot of the film reels forth from Baby Doll's (Browning, A Series of Unfortunate Events) incarceration in a all-girls mental institution resulting from the death of her mother and accidental death of her younger sister while trying to keep her evil stepfather (Plunkett, Snakes on a Plane) from inflicting the kind of abuse on her he's been inflicting on her.  Told in "An Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge" style prior to experiencing a brain-scrambling lobotomy, the action shifts to a cathouse where the girls of the institution in the previous reality become sexy showgirls trained to perform publicly as the chosen eye candy through their sexy dancing and revealing stage outfits.  But even within the artifice of the second life Baby Doll leads, she escapes into her thoughts one more time by concocting violent scenarios where the girls go on missions as part of a super team of kick-ass heroines, trying to gather the tools for which they will hatch their escape.

Sucker Punch isn't so much a story as it is an excuse for Snyder to show what he's best at, namely, his knack for slow-motion shots of acrobatic fighting mixed in with a nearly mind-numbing array of kill shots against hordes of enemies that seem to have walked straight out of a video game.  These ultraviolent dream vignettes defy any ability to comprehend and have only the scantest of tangential tie-ins to the rest of the story that forms the backbone of the plot.  In essence, Snyder directs five extended length music videos (nearly each significant scene contains a cover of a well-known pop hit to ham-handedly provide the thematic meaning of it)  featuring sexy girls in tight clothing unleashing a god-awful lot of violence against undead, fantasy and mechanical villains (remember, gotta keep that PG-13 rating to appeal to that all important adolescent male target audience). 

And why not avoid the R-rating when the movie seems to be a fantasy, not from the minds of abused young girls, but from the minds of barely pubescent boys -- the ones who will flock to this film in hordes?  But that leads to the film's main complication, and one that virtually undoes the thinnest of premises in one fatal swoop.  How are we supposed to identify that what we see on the screen is meant to be one girl's escapist fantasy when it is so clearly Zack Snider's fantasy she's having?  That she does this as a means to get through what we're told (it is never shown) is an unbelievable ability to nail sexy dance numbers is perhaps the most laughable aspect of all.  No, Pan's Labyrinth this isn't.

Sucker Punch is a bloated, overblown and almost entirely senseless action film that has about the slightest of narrative pinning with which Snyder can sneak in another grandiose depiction of knife, sword, gun, plane and hand-to-hand combat using his live-action dolls and action figures to play with in the heavily green-screened CGI-scape.  The back-story is one of lives borne from misery thrust to tragedy, and yet we never get a feel for the characters, their plights, and when faced with mortal peril, and even death, we don't feel even a shred of sadness, despair or even just a morsel of humanity for them at all.  We wince from the brutality of it and wonder why we, the audience, must be subjected to ugly images when everything that came before it asked us to put our concerns for substance and seriousness on the shelf for a rip-roaring, heavily stylized action extravaganza.

Once you realize, and it's quite early on when you will, that Snyder isn't going to do much more with these characters except give you more porn fetish outfits for them to try on and move them into a variety of increasingly over-populated action-war scenarios, you will find yourself doing what Baby Doll does in the film, zoning completely out and into the comfort of your own daydreams as the bullets fly and explosions erupt on the screen.  And if there's one thing Sucker Punch can't afford to be, it's boring.  Eye candy can only get you so far in terms of telling a story.  At some point, you're going to have to back it all up with a reason for it all to exist, and it is in this that Snyder fails, and fails miserably.  And just where are the parallels of the dreamscape to identify the story elements that provide narrative meaning to the alternate reality that itself is meant to be a reflection on the first?  We're too far removed, not only from the reality (it doesn't help that Baby Doll's reality is depicted as stylized as her alternate realities), but from the story that is buried under the overly elaborate chaos and destruction that permeates the bulk of the fins run time.

 Qwipster's rating:

2011 Vince Leo