By Malice Intended of Planet Ill
After an attempt to rescue her younger sister from the clutches of their pedophiliac father ends tragically, Baby Doll (Emily Browning) finds herself institutionalized. As if her fate weren’t grim enough, she has been scheduled for a lobotomy set to take place mere days after her arrival. To cope, she immerses herself in her own violent wonderland. She imagines the institution as burlesque show/brothel and the inmates of the asylum as performers and prostitutes.
These fantasies provide her with a bit of much needed escapism that allows her to navigate her way through her hellish predicament. She finds kindred spirits in Amber (Jamie Chung), Blondie (Vanessa Hudgens), Rocket (Jena Malone) and Sweet Pea (Abbie Cornish). Together, embark on a journey that they hope will end in their physical emancipation from the tyrannical Blue Jones (Oscar Issac).
Sucker Punch is the latest visual tour-de-force from director Zack Snyder. This time, instead of adapting an acclaimed graphic novel or remaking a horror classic, he crafts an “original” story meant to display his talents as a visual stylist. Sucker Punch shows Snyder at his most imaginative and unrestrained. A more balanced filmmaker might have benefited from such accommodations. In this case, it only makes Zack Snyder’s lack of storytelling discipline even more apparent.
As expected, the visuals take precedence over everything else. Admittedly, they are a wonder unto themselves. Australian visual effects company Animal House has constructed an amazing fantasy world on a relatively modest budget ($82 million). It’s a fan boy’s dream come true, incorporating elements from a number of well known mythologies. The action set pieces are done as stand alone vignettes, mimicking the effect of video game cut scenes. Those familiar with that aesthetic will be highly impressed.
The action is nowhere near as innovative as the visuals, but it’s not completely inept. At times it’s a bit too frenetic to easily follow. There is often a lot going on in the frame, to the point where even slow motion and pauses can’t render the activity onscreen understandable. The approach works in small doses, but becomes overwhelming when allowed to carry on for extended periods of time.
The musical accompaniment is all over the place. The soundtrack is populated by modern remakes of pop music standards, almost none of which are as good as the originals. Instead of accentuating the visuals, they are sometimes at odds with them. The song choices are obvious, and their implementation is heavy handed. This is perhaps the most distracting element of the film.
The story is merely a clothesline upon which Snyder strings together a series of elaborate set pieces. The plot is severely underdeveloped and the “girl power” theme feels quite bogus in light of how the film shamelessly objectifies the female protagonists. Such pretense has always been apparent in Snyder’s approach, though never more obvious than it is here.
The principals do what they can with the material, but their efforts are mostly in vein. The bond between the girls is perhaps the only element of the film that feels truly genuine from a character standpoint. None of the actresses deliver a standout performance, but collectively they are able to generate palpable levels of sympathy. Oscar Issac commits to the role of Blue Jones in a way that the material hardly warrants. He gives the film an honest to God villain.
Sucker Punch doesn’t have enough dramatic weight to be an across the board hit and isn’t enough of an admirable failure to amass a cult following. It’s a pretty, elaborate confection that’s impossible to connect with on an emotional level. Repeat viewings will likely only reveal more structural flaws. It’s time for Zack Snyder to reacquaint himself with the basics of characterization and storytelling. Concepts and visuals can only get one so far. Eventually, ideas have to be fleshed out and refined if they are meant to connect with the masses effectively. 2.5 out of 5