Zack Snyder has been such a creative hit streak lately that it’s hard to see the one common denominator his films up to Sucker Punch have in common: they’re all adaptations of other work. He has yet to do anything that’s an original piece of work from himself or another screenwriter. Sucker Punch is an original idea from Snyder, as he called it “Alice in Wonderland with guns,” is an incomplete film that skates to mediocrity because of its arresting visuals. But it has an intriguing setup that Snyder doesn’t do much with.
Baby Doll (Emily Browning) is committed to a mental asylum after the death of her mother by her stepfather (Gerald Plunkett). Overseen by Blue (Oscar Isaac) and under the medical care of Dr. Gorski (Carla Gugino), she has five days to escape before a lobotomy. Recruiting fellow inmates Sweet Pea (Abbie Cornish), Rocky (Jena Malone), Blondie (Vanessa Hudgens) and Amber (Jamie Chung) , and advised by a wise sage (Scott Glenn), Baby Doll has less than a week to gather four items that will allow her and the girls to escape. Working together they have to garner the items in short order so they can all get away to freedom.
But this isn’t any ordinary jailbreak; they have to fight dragons and Nazi zombies, amongst others, as the film works on several levels. Baby Doll’s initial coping mechanism (for lack of a better term) of dealing with her newfound reality in an asylum is to insert a new one (them as prostitutes in a brothel) where in five days she’ll be sold to a high roller (Jon Hamm) and in the deeper reality of them in an action setting as warriors led by the wise sage in channeling Patton. Baby Doll accesses this final reality by her dancing in her coping mechanism of a hallucination, disappearing into her mind as a way of dealing with her newfound reality as a dancer.
You can see where Snyder is going with the film, as he’s trying to delve into the mind of someone who is clearly disturbed using the sort of myth-making that is his hallmark as a director. As Baby Doll is dealing with her situation this is her way of handling a psychotic breakdown, presented in the form of pseudo-jailbreak. But it’s incomplete in one sense: there’s no complete character work. He’s crafted a number of characters he can make us care about because of how he shoots a film but he doesn’t do enough character development and exposition to get us emotionally invested.
All of his characters are broken down into one note archetypes and not given much to care about on a certain level. Normally Snyder isn’t noted for his character work but he usually has enough to make us get involved early and stay there. Handling the scripting duties himself has given his film a lighter load, character wise, for him to work with. When given something to adapt he’s strong enough to grasp what he needs to carry the film but doesn’t seem to have that touch with his own material. It takes away from the film’s arresting visuals, which are some of the strongest of his career.
This is a film that has an amazing look and feel to it. Using his usual set of work, from slow-motion to artful uses of hand cameras, Snyder has crafted a film that keeps you interested throughout the subpar story. We may not care about the characters because of how thin they are written but he has such a style and tremendous setups that we care because of how he tells the story. It’s exciting and engrossing as Snyder’s touch at being able to craft a compelling narrative in the visual medium is at its best.
Sucker Punch is a significant step down in quality from Zack Snyder as a writer but not as a story teller.
Director: Zack Snyder Notable Cast: Emily Browning, Abbie Cornish, Jena Malone, Vanessa Hudgens, Jamie Chung, Jon Hamm, Scott Glenn, Carla Gugino, Oscar Isaac Writer(s):Zack Snyder and Steve Shibuya