Emily Browning, Vanessa Hudgens, Scott Glenn, Jaime Chung
I fear I have an apology to make. For many moons I have been talking up Zack Snyder’s latest action effort Sucker Punch to anyone who will listen, pointing out the legacy built up 300 and Watchmen before it and the potential of the creative freedom his first original project allowed him. I was genuinely excited, waiting for the release with breathless anticipation as perfectly crafted trailers and supplementary material helped to draw audiences closer to the day of release. Well that day has come.
Sucker Punch is a disappointment, fundamentally and at every possible level. Perhaps it is precisely because I had built it up so much in my mind that it feels like such a chronic let down but even when I can fabricate a sense of objectivity, I’m finding it impossible to think of a single element which is worthy of recommendation, let alone praise.
It all starts with a proscenium arch – a clever enough touch which makes it clear that what we are about to see has no basis in reality – before launching into a distinctly operatic introduction that plays out silently under a cover of Sweet Dreams. Immaculately shot, these moments are the most effective (and comprehensible) you’ll find in the tangled mess of Sucker Punch – setting up the events which lead to the incarceration of Baby Doll (Browning) in Lennox House and her imminent lobotomy.
But it’s not long before confusion rears its ugly head as we’re quite suddenly transported to an alternative reality where the imprisoned girls are used in a fanciful brothel as playthings for wealthy clients. In this sub-reality, the inmates are forced to dance and when Baby Doll takes to the stage, everyone is mesmerised by her movements. Naturally, this is an opportunity for Snyder to dive inside her head, imagining symbolic action scenes to portray her escape from reality. But first, you’ll have to wade through awkward speeches from token wise man Scott Glenn – who always signs off his appearances with some utterly random comment, seemingly just for the heck of it.
Thus, we’re treated to a series of over the top action sequences, against the likes of towering samurai warriors, steam-powered Nazis and even Dragons, which uniformly end with a return to the Brothel world as Baby Doll stands perspiring lightly while her male viewers stand agog. Firstly, and I may just be speaking for myself, but I wouldn’t have minded seeing exactly what incredible dancing feats she performs to enrapture her audience so.
Secondly, and far more importantly, what the hell? Is this really a movie from the director of 300 and Watchmen which is about a scantily-dressed young woman dancing a bit while her equally draftily-clothed companions try to steal a random collection of items from the shell-shocked audience? The awkward plotting in the brothel sub-reality is bad enough, focussed on procuring said items in the most laborious way imaginable, but Sucker Punch even manages to miss the mark with its action sequences.
Given the set up of the film, Snyder could literally have done anything with his action moments and, theoretically at least, there’s nothing wrong with the situations he conjures up; pitching his female avatars into World War 1 trenches, high fantasy battles against orcs and dragons and into a bullet train speeding across an alien landscape. But why should we care? It’s clear from the first encounter that these moments present no danger to the girls, as Baby Doll is hoofed around like a football by gigantic samurai with no effect. Once she’s joined by Amber, Sweet Pea, Rocket and Blondie, the (mostly) stunning quintet rip enemies to shreds with ease – often aided by unfairly futuristic weapons, including going up against afore-mentioned reanimated Nazis with a heavily armed mech.
By the time we head aboard a high tech train replete with shiny mechanised enemies for a lengthy, one shot, CG heavy melee it’s already beyond tiresome. Further, there’s little artistry in what’s happening on screen – this shot in particular displaying nothing more than skilful CG work to link several sequences together and even at that it’s rarely convincing. By the time the film locates an ending within its own convolutions it’s likely you’ll either be bored, dumbfounded, or both.
Sucker Punch is an overcomplicated mess, populated by spectre-thin characters thrown into a plot which manages to be underdeveloped and confusing at the same time. And even when it settles into the rhythm you expect, with fantasy sequences furthering the ‘real world’ plot, there’s no concrete sense of how the two connect.
Opportunities to bring symbolic meaning to the action escapades are openly ignored and there’s no consequences outside of these moments – until a late on sideswipe which takes the title of the film too literally. There’s almost no point talking about the acting as the dialogue and characterisations are so abysmal there’s nothing for a performer to hold on to. Browning looks well and delivers her few lines with determination while the young cast appear to throw themselves into the action moments, though only the Nazi face-off allows for any takes long enough to see the results of all their training. Scott Glenn is pointless and annoying, Gugino’s accent caused me physical pain, and listen out for an utterly random moment of paddy-whackery from Gerard Plunkett.
This was an important movie for Snyder, marking his move away from R-rated adaptations with his first original script. And this, along with the messy plotting of last year’s Legend of the Guardians does not bode well for his free-wheeling future. There’s no doubt that he’s a talented filmmaker, possessed of a visual verve virtually unmatched in his contemporaries and with careful management his movies can reflect that. But, by the evidence of Sucker Punch, Snyder unchained is nothing less than a liability and the result is almost staggeringly inept.