Review: Sucker Punch
PLOT : A young girl (Emily Browning) is institutionalized by her wicked stepfather, and due to undergo a lobotomy in five days at the hands of the “High Roller” (Jon Hamm). In order to escape her fate, she, and her fellow mental patients (Abbie Cornish, Jena Malone, Jamie Chung, & Vanessa Hudgens) plunge into a world of fantasy. They are guided by a mysterious old sage (Scott Glenn) through a series of adventures, where they must obtain five elements needed to obtain their freedom.
REVIEW: If ever there was a film that showed just how misguided it can be to declare a director a genius on the basis of one hit movie, SUCKER PUNCH is that film. The passion project of Zack Snyder, who had Hollywood studios all but declaring him the next Stanley Kubrick after the success of 300, SUCKER PUNCH is an incredible mess that plays more like an adolescent fanboy’s wet dream come to life rather than an actual film.
Before I’m pegged as a Snyder-hater, I should mention that I enjoyed his DAWN OF THE DEAD remake (which was a film that NEVER should have been good, but succeeded well beyond anyone’s expectations), loved 300 and even really enjoyed his take on WATCHMAN. However, he still needs to produce a lot more quality work before he can be called a visionary and SUCKER PUNCH is bad enough that had he not wisely signed on to SUPERMAN prior to this opening, might have derailed his career before it really had the chance to take off.
The film this really reminds me of is Richard Kelly’s SOUTHLAND TALES in that it’s another film that probably made sense to its director, but no one else. In order to cover for a plot that doesn’t make a lick of sense, he gets lots of fancy visual stimuli, a bunch of over the top set pieces, and an excess of music that clumsily tries to hammer home the subtext of each and every scene. For instance, the film starts with a cover of The Eurythmics' "Sweet Dreams" which kicks off the fantasy aspect of the film and, in another scene, while on a quest for magical fire-producing stones (don’t ask), we get another bad cover of Jefferson Airplane’s "White Rabbit." Oh yeah and slow-motion. We get a HELL of a lot of slo-mo.
Of course, people are bound to say SUCKER PUNCH is experimental as a way of justifying the messy narrative, but I don’t buy it. However, I’ve liked other films that had even messier storylines. The reason I hated SUCKER PUNCH so much was that at no point in the film did any of the female characters feel like anything more than Snyder’s manga/animé fetish come to life. We get a never-ending series of ridiculously over the top action scenes which feature our heroines fighting robots, slaying dragons and fighting in WWII trenches, all while decked out in the tightest, sexiest, barely there outfits you can imagine. I shouldn’t complain, as all the actresses are gorgeous, but when you fetishize a character, you stop relating to them on a human level if they’re objectified. This is the same problem you had with films like AEON FLUX, the CHARLIE’S ANGELS franchise, and the Jolie TOMB RAIDER films. Heck, one might even claim 300 did the same thing for men but at least the source material by Frank Miller was strong.
The dialogue and plot doesn’t help, as this plays out like your standard Roger Corman-style “women-in-prison” pic, minus the graphic sex and given a $100 million budget. This is a shame though, as there’s some real talent in the cast. Emily Browning was too much of a blank slate for me to be impressed, while Chung and Hudgens are essentially bit players. However, I was really taken with Abbie Cornish and Jena Malone both of whom are good enough that you really wish the film was a little less ludicrous, and more invested in its characters. They play sisters, with Cornish being the tough older one. The fact that Cornish is a shade older than the other actresses helps give her a bit of authority, but Cornish really deserves a better vehicle for her talents than this. As for Malone, wow, she’s really grown into a beautiful woman (reminding me a bit like a young Meg Ryan), and whatever warmth or humanity the film ever has is solely thanks to her and Cornish.
Sadly, they’re not nearly enough to make SUCKER PUNCH interesting as anything other than a novelty. SUCKER PUNCH is a cartoon brought to life, with cardboard characters, and wild overacting (with Oscar Isaac and Carla Gugino being the two big culprits). Only Jon Hamm manages to escape with his dignity intact, but that’s mainly due to the fact that he’s hardly in it. I still probably would give SUCKER PUNCH a pass if it was at least interesting visually, but this never looks like anything more than a video game come to life. That said I have no doubt that SUCKER PUNCH will appeal to some, and might pick up a cult following in a few years (similar to something like REPO! THE GENETIC OPERA). If anything, SUCKER PUNCH made me very depressed, as Warner Bros/Legendary Pictures has taken a big risk in producing this film, but I wish they had taken a gamble with something more interesting.