Director Zach Snyder is not known for his tact. From “300” to “Watchmen,” all of his films are a 14-year-old boy’s dream with plenty of slow motion and CGI-slathered violence to rival the twitchiest of video game shooters.
“Sucker Punch” is no exception. Bodies, heads and bullet shells hit the floor with a fury unseen in anything that doesn’t require a controller and broadband connection. But, like a sucker punch, the movie can catch a viewer off guard with its ingenuity. It plays out almost like an experiment and, although it may falter at some points, it can get you right between the eyes.
“Sucker Punch,” tells the story of Baby Doll (Emily Browning), a doe-eyed blonde in a schoolgirl uniform, who is committed to a mental institution by her wicked stepfather after her mother’s death. To escape the horrors of her new surroundings, Baby Doll and fellow inmates flee into their own fantasy realm where they take charge with swords, guns and fists, taking out video game representations of their real life oppressors in the forms of dragons and zombie Nazis.
The movie shifts to different levels of fantasy, almost like a hyperactive anime version of “Inception.” Baby Doll and her comrades concoct a plan to escape their prison and each step takes the form of a separate fantasy CGI-rendered universe, much like the levels of a video game. This constantly shifting structure may turn off a large number of viewers, but if you’re willing to sit back and enjoy the beautifully choreographed fantasy carnage, you’re in for a treat.
“Sucker Punch” has the makings of a future girl-power cult classic. The five female leads hammer out punishment to their foes that rivals the Spartans of “300” and they do it all in fishnets and miniskirts. But oddly enough, especially when considering Snyder and his less-than-stellar track record with objectifying women on screen (the horribly handled attempted rape scene in Watchmen comes to mind), women’s sex appeal in Sucker Punch is never exploited.
The women wear their clingy attire like armor, completely unashamed, and Snyder acts like a gentleman with the camera, never putting in any gratuitous close-ups. They actually own their femininity and sexuality, letting their bullets do the talking and shooting it all back at their male oppressor’s faces.
The plot is never very deep and is loosely held together, but that almost seems like the point. We are completely within Baby Doll’s head in a constantly branching out fantasy. This intentional incoherence can work against the movie, especially in the less-than-stellar final 10 minutes. The blur between fantasy and reality isn’t handled with the same pizzazz or freshness found in other movies like “Scott Pilgrim vs. the World” and the lack of polish is going to pull some viewers out of the otherwise very well put together world.
Dialogue is largely hit-or-miss. It’s obvious that Snyder isn’t Shakespeare, but some of the voiceover monologues sound like they belong on Affliction T-shirts.
The soundtrack runs the gamut from a very well placed use of Bjork’s “Army of Me” to a laughable use of a cover version of Pixie’s “Where is My Mind?” There’s a lot of work to be done but its still a step up from Snyder’s ham-fisted and horribly inappropriate “Watchmen” soundtrack.
All of the female leads seem to have fun with the material, but Emily Browning and Abbie Cornish are the two standouts, bringing a good amount of depth to their comic book heroine roles. Carla Gugino and Oscar Issac shine in supporting roles, but Jon Hamm is criminally under used as Baby Doll’s lobotomy-enthusiast doctor.
“Sucker Punch” is far from perfect, but its ambition is admirable. Even if the plot is never oak solid or there’s an unnecessary action scene or two, its still got a little more bite than most of the action films Hollywood churns out. You’ll be hard pressed to find another movie this year with the same level of unabashed feminine fury.