My main man Robert “Moviebob” Chipman once said:
“Near-universal truth of modern moviemaking: The absolute worst filmmakers are guys who never aged past 22 (see: Bret Ratner.) The BEST are the guys who never made it past 15. Snyder is the second type.”
And that, in three sentences, basically sums up all you really need to know about Zack Snyder. Love em’ or hate em’ his last two films, 300 and Watchmen, are some of the most visually striking, heart pounding, in-your-face action films that, dare I say, will probably be some of the most memorable of this generation. Not quite as iconic as say The Dark Knight or Avatar (I’m talking about James Cameron’s this time), but pretty darn close. Now, we have reached another March, and yet again, Mr. Snyder has taken the helm this Spring Break with another piece of his own flavor of cine’madness. This is Sucker Punch.
All it really takes is one quick look to notice that Sucker Punch has a whole lot of new to bring to the table than we’ve seen in previous Snyder films. Wait, you know what, I take that back. This is different from almost ANYTHING we’ve seen in a long time. It’s not a sequel, a reboot, or an adaptation of any book, comic, TV series, or video game to speak of. Nor is it a war movie, a cop movie, a mob movie, or any other tired premise. And it’s definitely not based on a true story (or at least I’m pretty sure it isn’t). This is a movie with all the themes and finesse of any super hero action movie, yet it’s a period piece that takes place in an insanity ward with a staring cast of all young women.
Sucker Punch tells the story of Baby Doll (all the girls have codenames), an orphaned framed for her sister’s death by her evil stepfather (I swear I’m not making this up) and is inducted into the Lennox House for the Mentally Insane. Forced to undergo a lobotomy in five days, Baby Doll finds refuge within the compounds of her imagination where she discovers her chance at freedom. She rallies four other inmates to her cause: Blondie, Amber, Rocket, and Sweet Pea. The five of them make an all-or-nothing stand to take the items they need for their escape, or die trying.
Baby Doll and the other girls’ journey to commandeer each item is played out through her imagination, which is triggered by music and dancing, (hey, it’s more original than an empty cardboard box) and takes shape in vast fantasy/ sci-fi action scenes, including Feudal Japan, Medieval England, and World War II. It’s never truly established how much Baby Doll’s cohorts are aware of these imaginative settings, but while they are happening in her mind, all five of them are fighting everything from the Dragon in Beowulf, the Orcs from The Lord of the Rings, Nazi’s posing as the Hellghast from Killzone, and even iRobots in the future.
So in retrospect, the action scenes in Sucker Punch are like a potluck of all the popular tropes of nerd culture. The set pieces themselves are very rich and detailed and the effects for the majority of the film look outstanding. Emily, Abbie, Jena, Vanessa, and Jamie all perform excellent in both the acting and stunt department. A good chunk of the supporting cast is great too. Ms. Carla Gugino, whom you might recognize as Silk Spectre from Watchmen, shows that she has a surprisingly convincing German (I’m pretty sure it German) accent as Dr. V. Gorski. Oscar Isaac plays the heck out of the slime ball warden, Blue. Scott Glenn is probably as close to perfect as the Wise Man as you could get. The majority of his lines simply involve handing out mission objectives and giving sage advice, yet he’s so smooth with his delivery that nothing he said could go over your head.
“What’s that? Good casting in a Zack Snyder film? Next you’re gonna be telling me all the action scenes play out in a slow-mo, sped-up, repeat cycle.” Yup. Snyder is once again guilty of bringing back his signature style of fight cinematography, which, in all honesty, should probably just be called “Matrix Syndrome” at this point. Now I want to be fair here, I really really liked this style in 300, but not everything that was exciting for me four years ago is going to hold up. Since then, I became very fond of other films that weren’t afraid to show all their action in real time like The Dark Knight and Scott Pilgrim. I guess the main question will be how other audiences feel about this style of action. Does it still deserve its place, or is it a trend that has now reached the end of its rope? I’ll tell you what, I’ll count how many other action titles do it [effectively]coming this summer (and boy do we have a ton) and I’ll let you know.
Unfortunately there are a few other shortcomings I felt this movie has. The film is rated PG13, which on one hand is great because now I don’t have to feel bad about recommending it to my little brother and sister or more highbrow adult neighbors. On the other, Zack himself stated in an interview with G4 that this film was originally intended to be an R film like his previous projects, and once you get a grasp of the story’s premise and themes, that becomes extremely obvious.
Second order of business is the running length. It clocks in at approximately two hours exactly, but it feels a lot shorter. The various worlds that Zack has created seem to be moving by quicker than I can take them all in, but that’s just the action scenes. Remember in Watchmen where we had five central hero/antihero characters, and they were all explored in depth? We got to see their daily lives, those close to them [or lack thereof], and got flashbacks of each of their histories with the Comedian. Yeah, we don’t get that this time. In Sucker Punch, Baby Doll is explored in depth with a backstory, insecurities and such, but the others… well, Rocket takes on the “best friend/risk taker” role and becomes the motivator of the group, while her older sister, Sweet Pea, is the protective stick-in-the-mud character that I like but everyone else won’t. These two at least have some semblance of a history and depth, but Blondie and Amber, I can’t really say anything about them besides what they do in the movie, which would be spoiling it.
I don’t want to downplay the story being told here, because it is not, by any stretch of the word, bad. Despite its hardcore action exterior, the movie is very much plot-driven and has some truly dramatic and emotionally griping moments throughout. Remember the endings of 300 and Watchmen? I won’t spoil it for you, but I will say this; don’t expect Snyder to treat the protagonists any different because they are five young women this time around.
With that, could it have been better? Of course. With a longer runtime, they could have taken their time with each of the worlds they explored and actually made it feel like an actual “journey”, allowing them to build up all five of the women and giving each of them a back-story that made them more well-rounded. With an R rating, they could have pushed the brutality of the situation these women were placed within the asylum much further, and how they were being enslaved, lobotomized, and inevitably conformed into prostitutes. With these changes, the movie could have been damn near perfect.
But, Zack Snyder said himself that he wanted a challenge with this project and to see if it was possible to condense the dark and brutal themes of this story into something that would be more accessible to a broader audience. Seeing as this is his own unique story, and not an adaptation of someone else’s work like his previous two films, I can totally understand where he’s coming from. So for my final census, I am definitely giving Sucker Punch a solid yes. There is a lot to like here. Don’t miss out.
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