The book on Sucker Punch director Zack Snyder has always been that he’s especially gifted when it comes to visuals and effects, but weak — occasionally bordering on terrible — when it comes to story, narrative and characterization. Sucker Punch is his baby, a film that’s 100% original Snyder. He co-wrote the script and screenplay and directed it. He hand-picked his cast. He was given over $80 million dollars, and basically let off the leash completely by Warner Brothers, based on the success of his prior two films, Watchmen and 300. It is his opportunity to show exactly what he is made of, and what he is capable of. Thus, Sucker Punch was born, and released upon the hungry masses this weekend. It is visually stunning, a cacophonous smorgasbord of genre-bending pretty.
It is also, without question, breathtakingly incompetent.
The story, for what it’s worth is this: Emily Browning plays Baby Doll, a 20 year-old woman with 12 year-old looks who is committed to an insane asylum by her villainous stepfather (Gerard Plunkett) after her darling mother dies. The asylum is managed by the lecherous, corrupt Blue Jones (Oscar Isaac) and Vera Gorski (a poorly accented Carla Gugino). Only here’s where things get fuzzy, because quickly after being committed, the asylum transforms into some sort of burlesque whorehouse for people with daddy issues, where the girls are trained to dance and prostitute themselves for wealthy clients. Except that it’s not. Or it is. Or is it?
Unfortunately, by the end of the film, you’re just not going to give a shit.
Regardless, Baby Doll is apparently a hell of a dancer, except that you never see her dance — instead, she goes into some sort of trance and then poof! We’re in alternate universes where she undergoes wacky quests with four of the other girls — Sweet Pea (Abbie Cornish), Blondie (Vanessa Hudgens), Rocket (Jena Malone) and Amber (Jamie Chung). The quests are led by a nameless mystical old Yoda-wannabe played by Scott Glenn, doing his best David Carradine impression, whereupon they are tasked to find items that are paralleled by items in the real world that will help the girls escape. The acting is uneven at best, with Cornish and Plunkett as the only ones who are remotely interesting at any time. Everyone else (including a pointless and annoying stint by Jon Hamm) lurches impotently through the film, gnawing tiredly on their vapid dialogue as they gaze soullessly into the middle distance. It felt like they were all waiting for a rifle shot that would take them from this asinine nightmare.
It’s as if Snyder spent a weekend dropping acid and playing every video game he could find, and developed a series of hallucination-based short films. Then, he came up with a sordid, melodramatic-as-fuck story about young girls trapped in a brothel/insane asylum/burlesque club/Dickensian shithole. Then, he decided he was gonna get all girl-powered and developed his own brand of lingerie-inspired pedophelia-themed feminism. Then he took all of those things, stuffed them into a bag three sizes to small, and then beat the fucking bag with hammers until he shit himself.
He then topped off the bag with feces, and hit me in the face with it. In short, Zack Snyder is an asshole.
Sucker Punch is such a disjointed, nonsensical, pretentious mess that despite my walking in with diminished expectations, I still walked out in a confused fury. The story is painfully trite and cliched, and it’s hard to tell who Snyder is pandering to more: 12 year-old boys with school girl fetishes, or 12 year-old girls with a severely warped, MTV-fed understanding of feminism. He’s claimed repeatedly that the film is meant to be about young girls finding their inner strength and fighting against the world — a sort of fetishistic Girl, Interrupted with dragons and robots. But it’s hard to find its feminist leanings when everyone is prancing around in their underpants, using their dead-eyed little girl looks to seduce.
Sure, they get to kick some butt. A lot of of it, in fact. Snyder’s lurid dreamscapes are at times pretty astonishing, and use every genre convention in the book — zombie nazis, giant samurai, super mechs, trains on strange planets filled with robots, and a truly impressive dragon. And Baby Doll and her little imaginary army of panty-clad, hooker-heeled lasses rip through them with machine guns, katanas, fists and kicks. The action is surprisingly effective — there are still an abundance of jump cuts, and the stylized CGI-rendered backdrops are distracting as hell — but there are several great moments where Snyder just lets the camera focus on the battles, and when that happens, the film is exciting as all hell.
If he’d left it at that, I could have gotten into it. But he insisted on shoehorning his Olivia-Twist-on-mescalin ideas into it. If it’s so empowering, why is everyone in corsets and heels? Why are the girls constantly covered in garish, sparkly makeup? While I appreciate that he didn’t give any of them a love interest, and instead opted to have them rely on each other, his message is basically lost amidst all the scattered ass and glittery eye shadow.
Warped girl-powering aside, the story just doesn’t make any fucking sense. I mean, it does, on an elemental, basic level. It’s not like I didn’t understand what was happening, or why. It’s that there was no purpose to it. In fact, the real truth is that all of the vivid, fantasy/sci-fi blended actions scenes are ultimately pointless. They serve no purpose other than to show people how big his video game dick is. By the end of it, you’re wondering why he bothered with the endeavor at all. And then it does end, and the film finally earns its fucking name, because the true sucker punch is the clumsy, ham-fisted twist of an ending that renders the entire film moot, and made me want to punch everyone in the theater into unconsciousness, and then drive my car into the ocean.
There’s no denying that Sucker Punch has some amazing moments, and some impressive action set pieces. It’s the kind of film that’s begging for a critic to call it “an eye-popping visual extravaganza.” And that will happen. And when it does, you should find that critic and jam his laptop up his ass sideways. Because Sucker Punch, while perhaps eye-popping, is equally brain-rotting. It’s a teenage video game-dream attempting to look smart; a staggeringly insipid, poorly written, excruciatingly badly acted exercise in fanboy masturbatory fantasy.