You will be unprepared.
That’s a tagline full of promise, all right. Though I have to say, I never felt “unprepared”. There was very little in Zack Snyder‘s Sucker Punch that I didn’t expect in the wake of the trailers promoting this movie. It takes big event movies across multiple genres – a pinch of The Matrix, a heaping helping of Kill Bill, a splash of Terminator, a dose of Rambo, a dash of The Lord of the Rings, a dollop of Fight Club, a touch of Inception – and tosses them in a blender. The result is a movie that certainly looks cool, but with a narrative that may seem as cobbled-together as the visuals if you start to think about it too hard.
Sucker Punch is indeed violent, but saddled with a PG-13 rating, it almost feels like neutered Snyder. There aren’t the buckets of blood splashed across the screen that there are in 300. No nudity or OMG! moments of brutal violence as in Watchmen. Yet, for that, this is Snyder’s most watchable film, for me (though I’d probably consider Watchmen “better”). He’s always been a very visual director; in this film, he manages sequences that are so out-of-this-world, you can’t help but be caught up in the moment.
Yet, for all the epic fantasy battle scenes, the most effective sequence in the film for me was the opening, where – without any dialogue, save a bit of voice-over narration – Snyder depicts the young woman who will come to be known as Baby Doll (Emily Browning) suffering in the wake of the death of her mother. When the mother’s inheritance is left to her two daughters, their wicked stepfather seeks to harm them to secure it for himself. Attempting to defend herself, Baby Doll accidentally kills her own sister, and is institutionalized, carted away to an asylum that – at least from the exterior – would do Batman’s Arkham proud. It’s all filmed to a chilling remake of the Eurythmics’ “Sweet Dreams” (performed, in fact, by Emily Browning, as is a remix of the Pixies’ “Where Is My Mind?”; music figures prominently in this film), and features Snyder’s unique visual style. But being not nearly so hyper-stylized as most of the rest of the film, it connects on a much more emotional level.
The rest of this film is pure eye candy.
Comparisons could be made here. With Sucker Punch, Snyder joins an elite group that currently includes Christopher Nolan and James Cameron – directors who are actually being afforded big budgets by studios to make whatever the heck they want.
Unlike Cameron’s Avatar, Sucker Punch certainly comes across as a much more original work, though it borrows from almost everywhere, mish-mashing everything into an orgy of visual effects.
Much like Inception, Snyder’s film features layers upon layers of unreality, as Baby Doll retreats in her mind to fantastical realms that help her cope with her harsh situation. The big fantasy sequences that take place in her mind serve as metaphors for what takes place in the real world – yet is never shown – as Baby Doll and four other inmates of the asylum attempt their escape. It’s layers of fantasy – not quite the actual dreams of Inception - yet the narrative seemed somewhat more complex. Or was it just disjointed? Or was a I just trying to think too much, when clearly, Zack Snyder was just creating a film intended to be the cinematic equivalent of a sugar rush?
After adding it to my personal Flickchart, Sucker Punch is clocking in at a respectable #266 out of 1309. This is falling in a range of movies that I genuinely like, but fall short of loving. I like big action; I’m a fan of comic book movies, and I don’t mind turning my brain off for a good thrill ride of a movie. But at the end of the day, if a movie can thrill me and draw me in with great performances and engage me with a great story, so much the better.
Sucker Punch is lacking a bit in at least that last category. Not only that, it’s nearly devoid of comic relief. (Unless one counts the Yoda-like pontifications from Scott Glenn‘s mentor character. The man actually utters the line “If you don’t stand for something, you’ll fall for anything.” I think this was actually intended to be tongue-in-cheek, but just comes across as silly.) When the concept is this outlandish, a little chuckle every now and then would seem to be called for, but Sucker Punch - for all its over-the-top mayhem – takes itself as seriously as a heart attack. What’s its future movement likely to be on my chart? At the moment, I’m not too sure whether it will advance or retreat, meaning it’s either likely to pretty much stay where it is, or drop a bit.
Whether I knew it or not, I’ve always wanted to see a movie with dragons, zombie soldiers, machine guns and fetching girls in fishnet stockings, all in the same scene. I’m sure there’s an R-rated cut of Sucker Punch just waiting for the DVD release, but this theatrical version satisfies an action craving. Visually, Sucker Punch is a pretty sweet treat, especially for fans of big action. But when the sugar rush wears off, you may find yourself wishing you’d consumed something a bit more substantial.
Sucker Punch is currently ranked #266/1309 on my Flickchart.