Zack Snyder has made a name for himself through visually stunning films, strong characters and larger than life stories. The beyond-epic “300,” beautiful “Watchmen,” soaring “Legend of the Guardians.” His latest, “Sucker Punch,” strives for an unknown in sensory overload, in some ways combining elements of all three into one explosive vision.
“Sucker Punch” stars Baby Doll (Emily Browning), a blonde beauty thrown into a mental institution by her stepfather, who sees a path to her mother’s fortune through her demise. Baby Doll is scheduled for a lobotomy within a week of arriving at the institution, sealing her stepfather’s grip on the fortune. To save herself, she must escape. To do so, she enlists the help of fellow asylum inmates (a who’s who of rising young actresses) and a vivid imagination. Between the two, reality and fantasy blur, as Snyder’s rock-and-roll ride inhabits worlds beyond the constructs of “Inception” and “Alice in Wonderland.” As her psychologist (Carla Gugino) in the asylum assures her, she has all the weapons she needs inside of herself. All she must do is fight.
And she does, in some of the most original battle sequences I’ve ever seen. Spike’s Deadliest Warrior can’t compare to the battle combinations of Zack Snyder. Our heroines are the stuff of fanboy dreams, their schoolgirl outfits accessorized with bits of armor and an arsenal of weapons including but not limited to samurai swords, machine guns, a Native American tomahawk and Revolutionary War pistols – with a giant robot, what looks like a WW II bomber and a futuristic helicopter for air support – battle goblins, knights, a dragon, oriental light-filled samurai giants, robots and World War I steam-powered zombie Germans – yes, you read that correctly – in landscapes that range from a medieval castle to another planet in some technologically-advanced future. Their dilapidated insane asylum looks pretty normal by comparison.
Snyder’s signature style of mixing slow-motion and ultra-fast-paced action is back with a vengeance. One battle in particular, when the girls fight robots on a bullet train, is shot in fluid motion, without cuts that I can remember – just a rhythmic speed-up and slow-down. It’s an incredible scene. In addition, battle sounds are gratingly amplified, bringing the fight that much closer.
For a film so visually stunning and intense, there’s a surprising lack of color, as Snyder again paints from a palette of gray and black hues.
The cast is strong, with great lead and supporting actors and actresses. Baby Doll is just that. Pale-faced with rosy cheeks, dark eyelashes and platinum blonde hair, she’s a porcelain doll, who looks much more fragile than she is. Along with her compatriots, this cast of damsels could have as easily owned a “Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants” remake, though I doubt they would have had as much fun. Oscar Isaac is a strong villain orderly/pimp, depending on which world the scene inhabits.
The script is simple, the premise concise, the dialogue generally solid. But the story itself, while larger than life, is at the same time slight. A mental patient, trying to break out of an asylum, takes her fellow patients on a search for objects to help them escape. That’s pretty much it. The battles are like individual missions in a larger video game, complete with a team leader, Wise Man (Scott Glenn), who briefs the girls before each fight on what object they must find and retrieve.
Sucker Punch does boast a pretty solid soundtrack, with current and classic rock and pop re-orchestrated into epic war ballads that work to fit into the time and place where each battle occurs.
The details of the film are quite incredible. Everything is stylized, from the asylum’s Gothic look, down to the sword that Baby Doll carries, which is inscribed with her story in symbols. It’s not something you can see by watching, but it’s there in the production notes.
And that’s the problem. Snyder and team spent exorbitant amounts of time on details. Which is fantastic. But in the details they lost much of the story they set out to tell. The film is entertaining, and sometimes that’s all you need. But this one, while being an eight or more on different aspects – directing, filming, style, soundtrack, even for the most part acting and writing – adds up to an average whole. It’s goal is to empower audiences – it’s clear from the dialogue at least. But any empowerment was lost amongst the appeal of young, sexy actresses blowing stuff up. It’s not a bad film, but it’s not “300” either.