In his short career, Zack Snyder has developed an infamous reputation for trademark over-the-top action sequences and gratuitous use of slow-motion shots in films like the gory 300 and the critically successful Watchmen. These epic films have thrust Zack Snyder onto cinema’s directorial A-list, not only with their visually stunning scenes but also with compelling characters and plot arches. Yet, with his newest film Sucker Punch, Snyder’s writing falls short and we are left with the shell of the fantastic action film it should have been.
Sucker Punch, described by Snyder as “Alice in Wonderland with machine guns,” tells the story of the deceptively innocent Baby Doll as she is institutionalized in an insane asylum by her evil stepfather. In order to cope with her tragic situation, Baby Doll retreats to an illusory world in which she is the new dancer at a brothel. During one of her dance lessons, she creates an additional fantasy world in which she visualizes her metaphorical escape from the asylum. While she accomplishes various action-packed missions in this delusion, she is actually dancing and mesmerizing the spectators in the first delusion, and literally carrying out her visualized deeds in the “real world.”
Confused yet? Don’t worry, so was I. In a nutshell, Sucker Punch is stylistically another testament to the visually rich movies of Snyder’s repertoire, but it relies heavily on a convoluted and hardly original plot structure supported by an entirely ineffective ensemble. The genre of movies that question reality, such as Inception, Shutter Island, and Fight Club, are at the height of their popularity these days, and it seems that Sucker Punch is Snyder’s attempt to capitalize on this thematic trend. But where Inception and Fight Club succeed, Sucker Punch fails. The script is simply not strong enough to support the complexity of a character existing in three levels of reality, or any sort of complexity for that matter. Instead of drawing the viewer into an intricate world of cerebral intrigue, Sucker Punch leaves its viewers confused and struggling to suspend belief long enough to at least enjoy the visual merits of the film.
Clearly it’s unreasonable to expect films generally enjoyed for their visual elements to live up to the same expectations as heavier, more thematically focused films. It was hard to ignore Transformers 2’s predictable plot, subpar acting, and cheap jokes. But let’s be honest, the millions of us that went to see Transformers 2 and will likely go see Michael Bay’s next installment of the franchise aren’t looking for intriguing character development and plot dynamics. We fill the bank accounts of filmmakers like Bay simply because it’s really fun to watch Optimus Prime skydive onto a Japanese highway and battle a multi-story Decepticon to the death while leaving a path of destruction to rival that of Godzilla. Films like Watchmen and 300 put Snyder into the category of filmmakers whose work is simply fun to watch (like Bay). One would expect Sucker Punch to follow this precedent, but we’re left unable to appreciate the scantily clad twenty something women kicking steam-punk Nazi ass because we’re too preoccupied trying to figure out why these institutionalized delinquents are kicking steam-punk Nazi ass in the first place.
Sucker Punch is Snyder’s endeavor to leave his unique footprint on the exponentially increasing popularity of psychological action thrillers. However, Snyder’s affinity for visual aesthetics is simply not enough to pull Sucker Punch’s mediocre screenwriting up to a level required for its sort of plot structure to work. Throw on a bunch of shameless eroticism, Carla Gugino’s hideous attempt at a Polish accent, and a thoroughly confusing concluding dance number and you’ve got one of the most over-hyped and underwhelming films of the year.