After having, in no uncertain terms, the gauntlet thrown down for me, I was very tempters to approach my Sucker Punch review as more of a rebuke. The more I considered the approach through, the more I figured that I would adopt too much of a “methinks he dost protest too much” stance and lose everyone in the shuffle. Instead, I’m going to do my best to judge the film on it’s merits, rather than trying to measure it up against the list of flaws my esteemed colleagues have lined up against it.
Zack Snyder has paid enough dues to have grown past the term newcomer, but it would seem that his style has yet to come into focus. That his work has consisted primarily of either adaptations or reinterpretations of other people’s work might account for this, or perhaps it’s that his films fall into such a diverse assortment of genres. Despite the depth of his body of work though, his films all share some common elements: visceral action scenes, visually striking cinematography, a heavy reliance on CG animation, and strong female characters (even if they might still wind up overshadowed by their male counterparts). In Sucker Punch, Zack seems to have decided to stop choking back on the throttle and let his creative juices do more than flow, they surge. While there might be some who would see this as a kind of 300 for the ladies, or perhaps Kill Bill meets Inception as some have been describing it, I think it can most aptly be described as Zack Snyder’s Heavy Metal, and it is a far more worthy successor to the franchise than the all but obliviated Heavy Metal 2000.
As a fragmented tale, describing what Sucker Punch is about would depend on which part of the film you’re watching at any given moment. Beneath the layers and layers of drug-induced psychosis 20 year old orphan Baby Doll is suffering from, she is attempting to escape the mental hospital her wicked stepfather committed her to. This exodus takes many forms, as Baby Doll engages in mortal combat with iron samurai golems, steam-powered Nazi zombies, and fire breathing dragons, while she and her companions collect the tools to make good their escape.
When 20 year old Baby Doll is committed to a mental hospital by her lecherous stepfather, she has five days to escape, or face the living death of a frontal lobotomy. Before she can even begin to hatch a plan however, the narrative falls under a shroud of psychosis, and the asylum is suddenly transformed into a bordello where the patients are revealed as glamourous dancers under the thumb of the orderly-turned-pimp, Blue. Baby Doll recruits Rocket, Sweat Pea, Blondie & Amber to help with her getaway, which unfold in an deeper hallucination with a far more fantastical backdrop.
It’s a jumbled mess, but none of it’s really happening, so that’s okay.
It’s in this environment that Zack Snyder can really comes into his own and lets his gift for adaptation to give rise to what can only be described as a fanboy’s wet dream. What begins with pigtails and a schoolgirl outfit, leads to a katana and a Colt .45 complete with charm accessories, which in turn leads to a donnybrook with 3 giant samurai golems plucked straight from Sam Lowry’s nightmares. That’s just the opening salvo – further sorties make use of elements of steampunk, Lord of the Rings, World War Z, Final Fantasy and any other pop-culture nugget he’d ever had an inclination to include in a film. It’s an interminable assault of pop-culture references, and it’s a decadent feast for the eyes. What does it have to contribute to the cinema? Perhaps not too much, but it never appeared to me than more of a nod to all the similar films that came before it. It’s a jumbled mess, but none of it’s really happening, so that’s okay. And if this kind of entertainment clearinghouse isn’t Heavy Metal, I don’t know what is. Every plot point is set for maximum titillation and the script is merely tool to help throw more pop-culture up on screen. Why isn’t this a problem? Because Zack never promises anything else – Sucker Punch wasn’t meant to offer truth. In fact, it’s wordless opening mise-en-scene indicates that wherever this story is going, it will take us there through images, not words.
While I hesitate to compare it to Inception, as others have only too readily, it does share one important trait in common in that the scale of Sucker Punch is epic to put it mildly, even though it never actually leaves the confines of a few rooms. Sucker Punch takes the “mountain out of a molehill” approach even farther in that by the time the movie’s wrapped up, you’re never even sure of precisely what’s been going on the whole time beneath this hallucinatory veil of psychosis. After everything you’ve witnessed, you haven’t actually seen what you’ve seen.
If I did have a complaint about the film it would be the birds populating the scenery. Shouldn’t him and his team be a lot better at animating birds by now? Like, especially after the lacklustre, but optically impressive Legend of Guardians. All the crows that set the macabre mood in several scenes appeared stiff and unrealistic, especially when compared to the other creatures rendered in high definition.
So, does it strike out new ground and do something nobody’s ever done before? Nope. Does it do something better than anyone’s done before? I think I made some strong arguments that it puts up a lot more razzle-dazzle than folks are used to seeing on screen – but that might have come off as all sizzle, no steak. Whatever the case, it was wicked fun and provided plenty of opportunity to see sexy people doing sexy things, and what else can you ask for leading up to what promises to be an exciting summer season in cinemas.