Zack Snyder has become a name associated with spectacular action, and his attachment to the next ‘Superman’ project has caused geeks everywhere to salivate. However, some have questioned his talent because of his tendency to rework other people’s creations. It may be unfair to say that he has piggybacked his way to success on the works of Frank Miller (‘300’) and Alan Moore (‘Watchmen’), but Snyder hasn’t exactly tried to disprove this. Until now.
In ‘Sucker Punch’, a girl nicknamed Baby Doll (Emily Browning) is institutionalised by her evil stepfather, and signed up for lobotomy. She has five days before the doctor arrives, and plots an escape with the help of other inmates (Abbie Cornish, Jena Malone, Vanessa Hudgens, Jamie Chung). Conveniently, she creates fantasies, and fantasies within fantasies, that run parallel to each stage of her prison break.
None of this has much to do with the title, which serves more as a theme than anything else. “Sucker punch” is a fighting term used to describe an unexpected blow, a surprise attack. The idea is that the movie will be a surprise for the audience who, according to the tagline, “will be unprepared”. If that tagline refers to the sensory treat on offer, it’s spot on.
Baby Doll’s fantasies transport her to snowy Feudal Japan, post-apocalyptic WWI trenches and fiery Medieval castles. There are giant Samurai demons, dragons, robots, orks and Steampunk German soldier zombies. The women, dressed in sexy outfits (naturally), kick ass using all sorts of swords, guns, aircrafts and even a Manga-inspired flying mech-suit. All of this is wonderfully choreographed and presented with a gorgeous overabundance of slow-motion.
Previously limited by his fidelity to source material, Snyder was able to splash his crazy imagination all over the blank canvas offered by ‘Sucker Punch’. The result is nothing short of a neatly-presented eye-candy buffet. Putting aside the crazy content of the fantasy sequences, it is worth noting how refreshing it is to have action directed with panache and clarity of vision, without the plague of quick-cut editing and shaky-cam. ‘Sucker Punch’ reaffirms Snyder’s reputation as a talented and visionary action director.
Unfortunately, it also confirms suspicions about his narrative weakness. Wanting to prove himself by including the concept of a world within a world (à la ‘Inception’), Snyder bit off more than he could chew, struggling to coordinate the different layers of fantasy. It is clumsy, embarrassing, and lacks nuance. Worst of all, skipping from one fantasy to another, the characters cannot develop and viewers never get attached.
The story is a mess – it is obvious that Snyder thought of really cool scenes first, and then tried to fill the gaps. That would be completely fine if Snyder was honest about making a mindless popcorn movie, because then viewers would know what to expect. However, he insists that ‘Sucker Punch’ “empowers women”, which makes the movie sound less shallow than it actually is. His assertion ignores the high heels, miniskirts and push-up bras, not to mention the fact that the inmates are all incredibly attractive and impeccably made-up.
For any hot-blooded male, ‘Sucker Punch’ is certainly very entertaining, but do not expect the values of honour and brotherhood of ‘300’, or the social commentary of ‘Watchmen’. It is less a film than a fetishistic blend of video-games and soft-porn – a compilation of a teenage male’s wildest, geekiest daydreams. For those who go in expecting otherwise, therein lies the sucker punch.