Sucker Punch (Review)
Sucker Punch may not quite achieve the lofty heights it aims for, but the massive ambition of Zack Snyder’s first original project is impressive and entertaining.
Sucker Punch is the fifth film in Zack Snyder’s catalog of directorial efforts (following Dawn of the Dead (2004), 300 (2006), Watchmen (2009), and Legend of the Guardians: The Owls of Ga’Hoole (2010)). After this sequence of films based off of other works, Warner Brothers gave Snyder a budget and allowed him to direct his own production; Sucker Punch is written, produced, and directed by Snyder and is a 100% original piece. It’s clear that Snyder took this creative freedom to heart: his movie is ambitious, bombastic, and absurd. It’s a massive collection of ideas and influences from each end of every spectrum, making for an extremely busy and unconventional action picture.
The film’s first frames are styled as an opera house. As the curtains adorned with studio logos rise, we are shown a 20-year-old girl, “Baby Doll” (Emily Browning) taking center stage. The camera moves fluidly toward her and into her house, and a wordless opening montage in Snyder’s trademark graphic novel-style slow-motion shows Baby Doll’s tragic home life and sexually abusive stepfather, set to the song “Sweet Dreams (Are Made of This)” hauntingly sung by Emily Browning. After she tries and fails to shoot her stepfather after he attempts to lay hands on her sister, Baby Doll is shipped off to an insane asylum by her stepfather.
Arriving at the asylum, Baby Doll meets and befriends Rocket (Jena Malone), Blondie (Vanessa Hudgens), Amber (Jamie Chung), and Sweet Pea (Abbie Cornish). The mysteriously pornographic names of the girls are explained when the girls describe to Baby Doll how the owner of the asylum, Blue Jones (Oscar Isaac), has turned the asylum into an underground brothel where he forces these young girls to dance for rich and powerful customers while he makes massive profits. Baby Doll decides that she must escape before the mysterious “High Roller” (John Hamm), comes for her in a few days. To do so, she must recover several items that will enable her escape. Baby Doll realizes that she has the ability to dance an entrance all onlookers, which she uses to distract the men that oppress her as her allies snag the necessary item. These dance sequences, which were regrettably cut from the theatrical version of the film, serve as the bridge into the dream world.
The main draw of the film is the visual style. Zach Snyder has at this point developed his own feel for his films, making the images look like they are leaping from the pages of a graphic novel. There is no doubt that for any faults he may have in terms of plotting or character directing, he is a wizard behind the camera when it comes to aesthetics. The fact that many of the scenes feel like a graphic novel set on the stage of a large-scale opera production is what drives the whole film. Once the scenes move to the dream world, Snyder allows his imagination to run wild. Dragons, robots, orcs, steampunk Nazis, and towering samurai get knocked around a lot, all within a variety of themed venues such as a snowy dojo, dragon’s lair, or runaway train. One of my favorite sequences of the film was on this train, where an army of robots gets decimated by the girls, all in one long, sweeping take that lasts several minutes.
Snyder’s film is a massive gamble. It takes risks I would have never thought mainstream films would have. The narrative is frequently open to interpretation, and multiple tropes and motifs come and go throughout the film, culminating in an ending that may or may not be metaphorical. Internet forums are still buzzing about the significance of certain characters and what constitutes reality within the film. This is simultaneously an ingenious element and a stumbling block for the film. It makes the narrative feel fresh and daring, yes occasionally felt like it was being symbolic and nonlinear for the sake thereof. Even so, the film is a lot of fun to try to deconstruct and figure out what was going on in Snyder’s mind. Sometimes, it feels a bit overstuffed. Snyder is easily one of my favorite directors, and I will defend my love for his stunning adaptation of Watchmen with whatever force is necessary. However, there are so many great ideas going on at one time in Sucker Punch that they occasionally step on each other. Snyder still has a lot of growing to do as a storyteller and as an independent creative force, but he shows a ton of promise here.
Sucker Punch is a fascinating film. It works on many levels but falls short on others. Essentially, however, it succeeds magnificently on what its primary focus is: a thrilling girl-power psychological action movie. It’s a liberating flight of imagination that, despite being excessively busy with ideas at times, is a blast to watch. There is still something that keeps every element from clicking together perfectly, but at the very least, I have to give Zach Snyder and his crack team of visual wizards, in all of their creative genius, a sincere round of applause for blasting forward with more ambition then I have seen in a movie in years. I cannot wait to see what he does for Man of Steel.
Score: **** (out of 5)
Rated: PG-13 for thematic material involving sexuality, violence and combat sequences, and for language.