Sucker Punch is just not a good film. It is an interesting film, it is an original film, and it is definitely a visually stunning film, but it is also a seizure-inducing mess that laughs at the idea of depth and dares you to find anything more to it. At best it can be described as mindless fun, with a heavy emphasis on mindless. By the end of the movie, most will actually walk out of the theater wondering if they missed something—some key element that was deeply buried in the world of the film. Maybe a hidden metaphor, or some allegory. The answer is no, it is just a superficial and soulless two-hour music video directed by a guy that is almost certainly a victim of ADD.
Sucker Punch is actually a fairly hard film to review, mainly because it isn’t really a film. If you took all the actual plot elements and cut them together, the entire movie would be about 15 minutes long. The visual scenes are fairly impressive to watch, but there is nothing holding them together, and there is never any real sense of danger or accomplishment in their completion. But more on the plot later—don’t worry, that section will be brief.
But still, Snyder has to be applauded on taking the chance and trying something new–even though he fails on most levels. Snyder’s films are just somewhat soulless. There is such an emphasis on the visuals that everything else suffers. There is not a single shot in all of Sucker Punch where multiple things are not going on. Even in the most innocuous of scenes where someone is just talking—not even saying anything important, just talking — the camera will zoom in. It may even then cut to an overhead view looking down, before cutting back to the speaker and panning over them. Just leave the damn camera alone for one single second, Snyder! It is not just distracting, it could almost be described as “twitchy.”
You can’t care about any of the characters because there simply isn’t anything to care about. They are slaves to the action, and most are little more than sexy set pieces. God help me for saying this, and believe me, it hurts to type this, but even Michael Bay does character development better. And it is a problem with all of Snyder’s movies, but none more so than in Sucker Punch. In fact, after watching this movie, it makes all of Snyder’s films look like less of the work of a visionary, and more of the work of a guy that seriously needs to lay off the caffeine.
The plot within the plot within the stupid plot
The idea of Sucker Punch is that it is a world within a world within a world. In that sense, and only that sense, it is similar to Matrix. Baby Doll ( Emily Browning) is the daughter of a wealthy woman who dies, leaving her estate to her two daughters. The stereotypical evil stepfather (Gerard Plunkett) isn’t too keen on this, and while about to rape the younger daughter, Baby Doll tries to shoot him but accidentally kills her sister.
The film is set in the 1950s, and so her stepfather has little trouble in having Baby Doll institutionalized and scheduled for a lobotomy because things like that apparently happened a bunch, even though when the police come there is more than enough evidence to acquit her and send the stepfather to jail, but that is beside the point. It does, however, set a precedence for the entire plot though and you get the idea that the plot is an inconvenience.
Once in the institution, the corrupt orderly Blue (Oscar Isaac) forges the signature of Dr. Gorski (Carla Gugino who is bewilderingly trying to pull off a Russian accent for no real reason), and Baby Doll has five days before the Doctor (John Hamm) arrives to lobotomize her.
Baby Doll meets a handful of other women in the institute, beginning with attractive and friendly Rocket (Jena Malone), who she saves from an attack. Once she has been accepted, the attractive and innocent Baby Doll joins the clique that includes such notable stereotypes as the attractive but stern Sweet Pea (Abbie Cornish), the attractive and ironically named brunette Blondie (Vanessa Hudgens), and the attractive but timid Amber (Jamie Chung). A pattern should be obvious by now.
Rather than accept that she is falsely imprisoned in an institutional hospital, Baby Doll creates a world where she is part of a brothel run by Blue, who takes the role of a pimp, with the partially unwilling help of the now “Madam” Gorski. Baby Doll has a talent for dancing, and she has an appointment with the High Roller (Doctor) in five days. So she hatches a plan to escape, and creates another fantasy world where she and the other girls are basically a group of superheroes tasked with completing four quests given to her by the Wiseman (Scott Glenn), with each quest yielding an item to help with their escape. This fantasy within a fantasy world contains dragons, steampunk German soldiers, robots and demonic samurai, all attempting to stop the girls from completing their goal.
The plot is just something that is there to explain the visuals in the same way that a video game would send you on a quest to achieve the “plans” from the insanely well guarded enemy stronghold, but the film is so busy trying to be “cool”, that it forgets to actually do anything in terms of attaching you to the characters. One minute they are victims, then they are prisoners, then they are superheroes. The opening scene–which should be a heart wrenching scene of loss–is entirely filmed with music blaring and hardly a word of dialog, and from there the tone is set.
Again, the plot is barely worth mentioning, but honestly, that is fine. You are watching a movie about giant samurai with Gatling guns, so the story is not why you are there. The problem though is that without any emotional attachment, you won’t — no, you can’t — form any feelings for the girls, any more than you would become attached to a dancer in a music video.
It also is never really clear why Baby Doll just doesn’t explain what is going on to Doctor Gorski, who is supposed to be sympathetic, nor does it explain why Baby Doll would imagine a brothel instead of a hospital, but those are minor quibbles.
From almost the first second, the camera never stops moving. It swings, it zooms, it pans, it goes slow-mo. It is up, its down, its behind the characters, then it is somewhere else entirely. There is never a scene without multiple things going on, and after a while it is not only annoying, it is hard to follow. It is like watching the world through the eyes of a hyper-active kid. It never stops moving, and after a while it is hard not to feel like Snyder is doing half of the visual tricks that he is doing just because he feels like he can. It doesn’t help the story, and it actually hurts the appeal. It’s tough to relate to a character when the camera is on that character for about two seconds before it begins moving and spinning around them.
This has always been an issue with Snyder’s work, and it is left totally unchecked by either the studios or common sense. Imagine Michael Bay making a movie filled with nothing but explosions, non-stop from the opening scene to the credits. It would be a movie about an explosion finding love with another explosion while fighting off evil explosions.
With Dawn of the Dead, the studio watched Snyder closely on his first outing, then with 300, the visuals were always meant to be part of the storytelling process, so Snyder’s style worked perfectly. When it came to Watchmen though, the story was originally meant to be more important than the look, but Snyder was so into the visuals that the story was just not compelling. It lacked depth, and many would say it missed the point of the original material, and lacked what many would call soul. If you need proof of that, ask around for people who saw the movie but never read the original comics. See how many of them actually remember the story. Probably not many. Considering that the story is what has kept the source material going strong for years, the film missed the point. To take a note from Sucker Punch, it was as if Snyder lobotomized Watchmen. Still, there was plenty to like from that movie, and it was never bad. It just wasn’t all that good either.
Everything that did not work with Watchmen is what is the base for Sucker Punch. The soundtrack is also an issue, and Snyder just has a terrible ear for music. To call it heavy handed is an understatement, but no one will ever accuse Snyder of being subtle. It plays a big part in the film, and it is almost always poorly chosen. It was weird in Watchmen, and it is worse in Sucker Punch.
But people will go to see Sucker Punch for the massive fights, and they do look great. Sucker Punch is very much like a video game in many ways, but like with a video game, you will never feel any real sense of fear for the characters. It is a fantasy world within a fantasy world, where the girls are superhuman. They are always in control and never really challenged until late in the film, so the episodes are always entirely visual without any stakes. The music is also omnipresent and always based on popular hits which makes it seem “cool” and never like a movie, so each fight is visually appealing and totally devoid of any depth.
But be warned — this film is not easy to follow visually. In fact, a girl at the advanced screening I attended had a seizure. Seriously. She was alright, but it was almost certainly an epileptic reaction brought on by the movie. Remember that episode of The Simpsons where they go to Japan and watch a cartoon called “Battling Seizure Robots”? Yeah, Sucker Punch is a lot like that.
Granted, epilepsy is a terrible affliction that can happen almost randomly at times, but the cut scenes in the fights can hurt the best of eyeballs.
At least Snyder seems happy
This movie is a mess on many levels, and you have to lay the blame almost entirely at Snyder’s feet. The cast do a solid job, and they are all doing exactly what Snyder wants of them. Baby Doll is the toughest of all the roles though, and Browning comes across exactly as Snyder wants. That isn’t really a good thing because she is a fairly dull character when she is not punching dragons and judo chopping zombies, but Browning comes across as likeable almost despite Snyder.
To give you an idea, due to the quick cuts and blaring music in the start of the film that introduces Baby Doll and her situation, you may actually wonder if she is mute. It isn’t until about 20 minutes in that she even speaks, and then it is just a few words. Until about the half way point of the movie, she probably only says 20 words, which is a hard task for an actress to base a character on. Now, keep in mind that the entire film is a fantasy from Baby Doll’s point of view, and yet she is the dullest character in the film. Again though, Browning is as good as she can be, and her career should be fine. Snyder’s however…
It is just odd choice after odd choice. Gugino sports a Russian accent that borders on ridiculous, while characters like the cook have absolutely no depth. The orderlies in the hospital are also just there, and by the end it is obvious that they understand that Blue is doing some seriously evil stuff, and they kinda protest, but are otherwise just so detached that you will forget that they are even in the movie.
Of all the characters, the only one with any real depth at all is Rocket (Malone). Her sister Sweet Pea is also a vital character, but is never really given a chance to grow which makes her fate utterly terrible. In fact, the climax of the film is totally devoid of any real emotion at all because the characters are never really given any reason to root for them.
The film is a music video crossed with a video game, but then at the end, Snyder almost arrogantly assumes that you will care about the characters so much that it switches back to reality to close out the plot on a dramatic note. By that point, most audiences simply won’t care.
Despite the fact that most people at the advanced screening left this film quietly and without so much as a single cheer, and despite the fact that the damn movie literally sent a seemingly healthy girl into a seizure, and even considering the fact that the movie itself is fairly slim on emotion to the point that it could be called vapid, there will be a group that loves this film. It will almost certainly develop a cult following, and many will claims its virtues while anointing Snyder as a genius.
They are wrong.
There is a bit of enjoyment to be had from Sucker Punch in a mindless entertainment sort of way, and Snyder really is to be commended for attempting to do something totally original. But the first person that claims that this movie is art, should be quarantined immediately as a danger to society.
Sucker Punch is at best — at very very best — supremely flawed. You almost literally have to detach your brain to enjoy this movie. There are some fine qualities to it: The fights are cool to look at, the acting is top notch and the originality is hard to deny. But Sucker Punch is simply a juvenile film that lacks even the tiniest bit of depth, and the emotional climax at the end, which is meant to convey something profound, is laughable to the point that you seriously have to question what goes on in Snyder’s head.
This movie is Snyder’s passion project — he produced it, directed it, and co-wrote the screenplay from his original idea. It is the film he has been dreaming of making for years, and he has brought his A-game. That is unfortunate. There is a very real possibility that Snyder could have just ended his career with Sucker Punch, and you can bet that the producers of the upcoming Superman: Man of Steel, which Snyder is now set to direct, are now very nervous.
Again though, Snyder tried. He did something new and original, and for that he should be commended. He is a visual maestro. It is just a shame that those visuals come at the cost of everything else.