I’ve always found Zack Snyder a sort of conundrum of a filmmaker. At his worst, he’s like a rich man’s Michael Bay – perhaps the best fit out there for making the overblown, stupid films that Hollywood loves to produce; but at his best, he can come close to transcending from the mindless glut of his violent action films and create truly exciting cinema.
So the prospect of Snyder’s Sucker Punch, his first film that’s based on an original idea of his own, definitely had me interested. Would we finally get inside of his head to find a pure nugget of super-violent brilliance? My hopes were only raised when I heard the plot for the movie – five doll-faced 20-something women have to escape an insane asylum by make-believing the most absurd cinematic scenarios imaginable.
It was clear: Sucker Punch would be either a grand reimagining of the exploitation genre with a tentpole budget, or the worst headache ever.
I expected one or another, but what was delivered was something in between. It’s a mixed film, but at least now we know what it’d look like if World War I was fought in a desicrated Paris with steam-powered Mecha going up against an army of Darth Vaders that are lead by a Zombie.
If that last sentence grabbed your attention, then I can guarantee that you’ll like at least four scenes in Sucker Punch. They take place when the main character is pretending that she’s playing one of four pointlessly badass video game-inspired scenes, this while she’s dancing to hypnotize one of several bad guys in the real world of an upper-class brothel, all of which is actually a daydream of the main character who’s in a crazy-person home because she was framed for the murder of her own sister. Yes, there really is all that complication in the plot.
It’s clear that Snyder’s trying to go for some kind Mindfuck here, what with the question of insanity almost as many story layers as Inception. But a Mindfuck isn’t any good if it doesn’t engage the minds in the audience. There’s a complicated story in Sucker Punch, but I really don’t care about figuring it out.
What do I care about? The video game scenes. Hand it to to the film that it never apologizes or even tries to explain their unnecessary cutscenes where our heroines fight robots, thirteen-foot Samurai and anything else a ten-year-old might want to dress up as for Halloween. And while they don’t all work, they’re gloriously over-the-top enough that I don’t want to stop watching, one or two are definitely solid action film material.
This is Snyder doing what he does best, it’s what I was hoping the entire film would be like.
But it’s just a fraction. The rest of the story – the heart of it – is like a bad softcore porn parody of One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest. It’s trying to be sexy, but it’s never exciting. It’s trying to be endearing, but it’s never sincere. The main characters are cardboard-thin; only older, emoting actors bring any life to the performances. The only thing you can latch onto are the action sequences, and even then nary an audience will care if the good guys succeed.
It’s clear that the actual story of the film functions purely as a way to get from Action Set Piece A to Action Set Piece B. Sucker Punch is sort of admirable for only caring about these over-stylized sequences, it’s just too bad that can’t be all there is to it.