After a remake and three adaptations (Dawn of the Dead, 300, Watchmen and Legend of the Guardians: The Owls of Ga’Hoole) Sucker Punch represents Zack Snyder’s first movie based on original material, his own original idea. The concept is actually pretty good, a looks like it should have come from a comic book, the execution is erratic and has its problems but is generally okay, it certainly doesn’t deserve the backlash it is getting.
Locked up in a mental institution by her evil stepfather, Baby Doll (Emily Browning) has just five days to escape or face being lobotomized. To cope with the horrors of her situation she retreats into a fantasy world where the asylum is replaced by a mob run burlesque club/brothel. Baby Doll plans her escape recruiting other inmates Sweet Pea (Abbie Cornish), Rocket (Jena Malone), Blondie (Vanessa Hudgens) and Amber (Jamie Chung). In order to achieve her escape she must procure certain items, this forms the bulk of the movie and involves four set pieces where the characters descend into a further level of fantasy guided by a wise man (Scott Glenn).
The biggest problem with the movie is the flimsy plot, but broken up the individual elements actually work really well. The set pieces consist of : a sort of Feudal Japan with giant warriors; an alterative First World War with steampunk zombie Hun; a Lord of the Rings type castle complete with Orcs and dragons; and a futuristic train guarded by shiny robots. Each of these is well orchestrated and choreographed and stunningly designed. It offers nothing that new or original, looking like a combination of Mutant Chronicles, Casshern and Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow. There have been accusations that the real problem of the film is that there is no consequences of the actions in the fantasy therefore there is no real peril or jeopardy (die in Inception and get trapped in Limbo or die in the Matrix and die in the real world too – you get the idea), this is true but it also kind of misses the point, the fantasy world is a representation of what is really happening more like (plot spoiler) Franklyn, therefore if you are getting your ass kicked in the fantasy things aren’t going well for you for you in the real world.
It is hard to fault the design and style of the movie, from the grim bleached opening scenes that pass for reality to the fantasy battlefields via the burlesque reminiscent of Moulin Rouge, the movie is never less than stunning. The absurdity of the contradictions and juxtapositions only serve to enhance the strange beauty of the movie. Whilst visually the movie is as good as any other within the genre it does lack the imagination, originality and perfectly constructed ambiguity of Pan’s Labyrinth. With this in mind it has to fall back on its other strong points, namely action, it more than succeeds on the action front. Where it falls flat is character development. One of the reasons for this become clear later in the movie, but it is a point that seems lost on a lot of viewers and critics alike, this I find surprising as subtlety is one thing that this movie does not contain. That said there is room for more depth of character even within the fantasy and the final outcome, the Sucker Punch of the title.
Had Snyder thought more about the plot to link the four set pieces together in a coherent way the movie good be elevated from not bag to actually quite good. As it stands we have to take the good with the bad and enjoy the movie for what it has to offer accepting the inadequacies of the plot along side the triumphs of the visuals and the concept. And that is my criticism of the movie, it could have been so much more.
Three Stars out of five ★★★★★