On DVD: Sucker Punch

Festering somewhere in the chaos of “Sucker Punch” is an exotic narrative twisted into an epic adventure waiting to be born. But Zack Snyder has pulled his bun out of the oven way before he’s given it time to rise.

A multi-layered rock fantasy that could find a permanent home on MTV2, Snyder’s premature brainchild is a mind**** of a film; literally every fantasy in his mind and that of creative dorks like him (boys and girls included) popped open like a champagne bottle spewing glorious slow-motion foam everywhere at the hands of one not strong enough to control it. Snyder fills his canvas with everything he or we could possibly imagine, but with nothing except visual motifs to tie it all together.

“Sucker Punch” feels like a personal project Snyder should’ve kept locked up a little (okay, a lot) longer. Sure, after “Dawn of the Dead” and the financial surprise that was “300,” he earned himself a creative license with Hollywood dollars long before the few filmmakers who ever earn that kind of power usually do. Snyder, however, jumped at the chance to work on his own story way too soon. Narratively the film is missing connections between a lot of its dots and the characters, while likable, possess zero back story and consequently have no motivation.

To be as brief as possible, after Snyder’s music video prologue for a remix of Annie Lennox’s “Sweet Dreams” that explains how Baby Doll (Emily Browning) got sent to a mental institution thanks to her nasty stepfather, she discovers the hospital appears to be a front for a burlesque show/brothel run by Dr. Gorski (Carla Gugino) and namely the asylum director, Blue (Oscar Isaac). Girls Sweet Pea (Abbie Cornish), Rocket (Jena Malone), Amber (Jamie Chung) and Blondie (Vanessa Hudgens) are performers, but Baby Doll steals the show as she’s found a way through losing herself in dancing to unlock a dream world that can help her and the others escape. This dream world creates fantastical missions against Nazi zombies, giant Samurai, dragons and more that help them get what they need in reality to make their escape.

At times, I truly believed a book adaptation of this story would be perfect. It would allow the time and opportunity to enter the head of Baby Doll as well as her detained friends and give time for Snyder’s ideas to germinate. As odd as this sounds, Snyder would’ve done amazing work with this film had he adapted it from a well-crafted novel that already made sense and didn’t leave its audience with fingernails upon scalp. His execution rates better than almost any director with action, but his talent is just that so far: execution (and I don’t mean that with morbid sarcasm).

The one cooked-through element of “Sucker Punch” is what you’d expect from Snyder: the action. The visuals are jaw-dropping. The only thing missing would be a little gravity or even the slightest bit of logic justifying the bizarre scenes for each dream world escapade. These fight scenes draw inspiration from any movie you could imagine, with one involving a castle, dragons and goblins that strongly echoes “Lord of the Rings.” The hazy yellow world Snyder has created simply stuns and his style and perspective choices during fight scenes remain impeccable. You can’t deny the man his incredible gift in this regard. He also knows how to support his visuals with music. It will be awhile before soundtracked films overtake or at least match composed films in this genre, but Snyder will be viewed as the godfather when it happens.

It’s tough to make it through a chaotic and abstract film that doesn’t appropriately lay its foundation, so the rip-roaring visuals help. Some moments in the plot are in fact a bit more jarring than expected and elicit more of a reaction than I’d like to give the film credit for, but these talented young actresses help in spite of the hollow cores of the characters they’ve been handed.

Where foundation and execution flip-flop for “Sucker Punch” comes from the creative seed. In that regard, there’s a foundation for an film that could be revelatory, but Snyder’s focus on the stylishness of the delivery slices it up into vague and incoherent chunks. It can safely be deemed a story championing self-empowerment, but we never feel that because of the seemingly random and abstract ways he dresses it. Honestly, if Christopher Nolan had this in his brain and could’ve scripted it, you’d be looking at a hailed cinematic achievement. Snyder just got ahead of himself. Some people will recognize the potential had Snyder waited and really tailored the story perfectly, but most will see the randomness and lack of control.

2.5/5 Stars

Sucker Punch
Directed by Zack Snyder
Written by Zack Snyder and Steve Shibuya
Starring: Emily Browning, Abbie Cornish, Jena Malone, Oscar Isaac


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