Sucker Punch, the latest offering from groundbreaking director Zack Snyder, is a high octane action fantasy showpiece set partly in a mental asylum and partly in the mindscape of incarcerated heroine, Baby Doll (a porcelain-perfect Emily Browning). After a violent confrontation with her evil stepfather, Baby Doll is sectioned and handed over to the nightmarish Lennox House mental asylum run by corrupt Blue (Oscar Isaac) and overseen by Dr. Vera Gorski (Carla Gugino) . There, Babydoll meets fellow inmates Sweet Pea (Abbie Cornish), Rocket (Jena Malone), Blondie (Vanessa Hudgens) and Amber (Jamie Chung) and plans to escape in order to avoid being lobotomised.
Hyper stylised, achingly cool and undoubtedly slick, Sucker Punch is, unfortunately, a confused and heartless mess. Full of under developed concepts and one dimensional characters, Snyder’s follow up to 300 and Watchmen is disappointing at best. Steeped in his trademark slow motion, gritty de-saturation and hyper stylised set pieces, Snyder has produced a visually stunning but soulless computer game cut scene or extra long music video. These same tricks and artful flourishes in 300 or Watchmen were effective as they complemented the meaty subject matter and decisive storylines. Sucker Punch, lacking a solid plot, simply drowns in them.
Snyder has proved himself as master of the adaptation with 300, Watchmen and even Legend of the Guardians all based on existing graphic novels or stories with strong visual hooks. Sucker Punch is Snyder’s first foray into creating an original screenplay and it seems clear that showcasing his flair for making pure eye candy took precedence over developing characters or adding depth to the rather shallow premise.
The opening scene, however, makes for a promising and engrossing start as it thrusts the audience straight into the action. Set to a haunting cover version of Eurythmics Sweet Dreams (Browning herself provides the vocals, as with several tracks throughout the film) the first five minutes are probably the most fully realised part of Snyder’s vision. After this point, apart from a handful of effective action sequences and intriguing bad guys (steam punk soldiers and giant samurai robots to name but two), it falls flat and never really regains momentum.
The most interesting and exciting aspect of the unashamedly barmy plot is the multi layered, Alice in Wonderland style landscape in which the film plays out. The action takes place over three ‘levels’. The first is the real world set inside the asylum (of which we actually see very little). The second is a sleazy bordello where Baby Doll and her fellow inmates take the form of ‘dancers’ and the third is a post apocalyptic war zone populated by dragons, steam powered zombie soldiers and other such fantasy creatures where anything is possible. This seemingly entertaining idea is spoiled by a clunky and repetitive plot device which becomes predictable and uninspiring very quickly. Teamed with a dour and rather depressing tone, Sucker Punch fails to deliver on the quirky, sexy and dynamic promise of the marketing machine.
Undeniably though, Sucker Punch is still a sensory delight. The soundtrack (packed with accomplished remixed cover versions including The Pixies ‘Where is my mind’ and The Smiths ‘Asleep’) is spot on and inspires goosebumps when teamed with Snyder’s super cool visuals. You don’t need a lobotomy to enjoy Sucker Punch, but it would certainly help in that respect.
Although beautiful to watch, Browning is expressionless throughout and struggles to do anything vaguely interesting with the non-existent script. With the exception of Sweet Pea and Rocket (played with some conviction at least by Cornish and Malone), the other girls are resigned to looking pretty and firing guns on cue. Gugino, a Watchmen alumni, gives Sucker Punch some integrity but is woefully underused (as is High Roller, Jon Hamm, who manages to squeeze out more charisma in a few minutes of screen time than all of the cast put together over the entire 110 minute run time).
Arguably, Sucker Punch is a visual and audible treat. If you can ignore the distinct lack of a coherent story or satisfactory ending (and the nagging feeling that it would have made a better graphic novel), just sit back and enjoy the assault on your senses.