Zack Snyder has slowly been carving himself a niche in muscular, effects-laden blockbusters over the past decade. Packed full of overblown melodrama, stylish visuals and more macho bravado than the entire cast of The Expendables , his films have been a steady marriage of rich source material and pitch-perfect promo filmmaking. And then we come to Sucker Punch, Snyder’s first venture directing with his own material. Away from the limitations of an adaptation, Sucker Punch is a playground for Snyder’s imagination to run wild, and the results are, for better and worse, absolutely bonkers.
Playing out its pop culture hybrid of Nazi warfare, stylish sci-fi and fantasy burlesque across a plot that isn’t half as clever as it thinks it is, Sucker Punch is all kinds of incomprehensible. Framed by scenes that appear to take place in reality, the main story (take a deep breath) plays out across four set-pieces that unfold under the blanket of two fantasy dream worlds, in an insane asylum masquerading as a Moulin Rouge-like strip club.
Inhabiting said strip club are Sucker Punch’s leading quintuplet of female stereotypes. In a film packed full of dazzlingly flashy images, they come across as mere shades of characters and act more as bland avatars for Snyder’s action-packed frenzies. Holding the front end up is Emily Browning’s Babydoll, whose monosyllabic, uncharismatic lead is as dreary as the monochrome colour scheme. Her central character’s plight isn’t fleshed out at all, and despite her eye-catching wardrobe, she blends easily into the background of Snyder’s war zone. Faring slightly better are Abbie Cornish and Jena Malone’s sister act of Sweet Pea and Rocket, who at least have a workable dynamic and back-story to play off. Filling out the remainder of the female cast is Vanessa Hudgens’ uninteresting Blondie and Jamie Chung’s clueless Amber, who don’t as much act as stand to the sides of the screen and look pretty. It doesn’t help matters that Scott Glenn’s creepy Wise Man pops up every once in a while to chew on the scenery and hand out nonsensical snippets of advice.
With all of Snyder’s good intentions for the admittedly fantastic choreography of the action scenes, they are spectacularly undone by the lack of an emotional hook or, for that matter, any substance whatsoever. Whilst Sucker Punch’s leading ladies aren’t exactly the most endearing of heroes to root for, there is absolutely no sense of palpable danger towards any of them in the emotionless action scenes. And as pretty as the set pieces look, they end up being loud, boring and completely devoid of suspense as a result. It’s a massive disappointment seeing so much money and talent being wasted on what is, essentially, a long succession of jumped-up music videos.
There are, however, several flourishes of excellent directing, including an opening number laying down Babydoll’s back story to a haunting version of the Eurythmics’ Sweet Dreams (Are Made of This), which almost tricks the audience into thinking they’re about to watch a good film. It’s no coincidence that this scene and its bookending counterpart following Babydoll’s tragic denouement are the best scenes in the film. Not only do they take place in what the film purports to be its realm of reality, but they also give the viewer some much-needed emotional context to the inane consistency of the action scenes. Showcasing that Snyder is – when he wants to be – a good director, these scenes tragically work to amplify how much the rest of the film comes across as a load of nonsense.
With a little bit more time spent on rounding out the characters and story, Sucker Punch could have been something very special. As it stands, it’s a half-baked, unexciting advert for women’s lingerie. Whilst the action solidly works on a technical level, and the sheer absurdity of it all will inevitably grant it cult status, Sucker Punch is a hollow, humourless mess when it could easily have been inventive and original. Stick to the pretty pictures next time, Zack.
Best performance: Jene Malone’s above-averagely (for this film anyway) chirpy, Rocket.
Best scene: Babydoll’s back story is another great example of why Snyder is a virtuoso at creating stylish opening sequences.
Best line: Whilst not exactly featuring any good dialogue, the following caused some unintended giggling: ‘You can’t write a cheque with your mouth that you won’t cash with your ass’ – Sorry, what?
Watch this if you liked: 300, Watchmen
Don’t watch this if you liked: Moulin Rouge, Shutter Island
Zack Snyder considers this to be his first action film.