Director Zach Snyder is certainly the master when it comes to big, bombastic films utilizing a lot of special effects. His previous films have all shown his ability to convey a story steeped in huge, otherworldly elements…but he might have crafted his first movie mistake. It’s not that Sucker Punch is a bad movie, it’s actually got a good story, and it’s just that what Snyder is known for tends to bloat his film as it seems to have bloated his ego. In service of the special effects and what can be done in film nowadays the story and characters suffer, taking a harsh backseat that they never really recover from. Sandwich all that with an ending that beats a message into your head with a lead pipe and it seems Sucker Punch doesn’t truly live up to the hype, but it comes close.
After the death of her mother and accidental death of her sister Babydoll (Emily Browning) is sent to a mental institution by her abusive stepfather. Once there she’s meant to undergo a lobotomy in five days to prevent her from spilling the beans on her stepfather’s actions. In a desperate bid to escape Babydoll creates a fantasy world where the hospital is a brothel and she’s set to have her virginity taken by a “high roller.” With the help of a few fellow inmates Babydoll goes on a fantasy quest to get a slew of items to escape the brothel and the hospital.
Sucker Punch is really three movies in one and two of them are really good. The main introduction to Babydoll is expertly told with Browning herself singing a lullaby version of “Sweet Dreams (Are Made of This)” as we learn the story of how she was brought to the mental institution. Even her fantasy world about the hospital being a whorehouse is well done as everything is stepped in lush colors and there’s an emphasis on the girls trying to gather items around the place to escape. When the film focuses on these two storylines, the second more so than the first, it’s a rollicking ride that keeps you engaged. As much as the special effects end up hindering the film overall, there’s no denying their Zach Snyder quality. The different worlds of Babydoll’s second fantasy world, where all the action is, is just exquisite to look at from a recreation of WWII to a medieval castle housing a dragon. It’s easy to see why this movie took so long to hit theaters because the detail placed into the film is breathtaking. It’s also nice to see an all-female cast in a film like this, essentially making this seem like 300 for females. None of the girls are wilting flowers, but strong women who desperately want freedom! Kudos to Snyder on that front!
The main selling point of the film is the lovely ladies on the posters; for the most part they play their roles well. The standouts are Browning, Abbie Cornish as Sweet Pea and Jena Malone as Rocket. Cornish is fantastic as the strong-willed Sweet Pea who desperately wants to protect her sister, at times Sweet Pea is meant to be a representation of what Babydoll wishes she was like. Cornish has vulnerability and attitude to spare and is on equal footing with Browning. Our heroine Babydoll though is the star and Browning shows she’s got more than beauty, although she looks gorgeous in this film. Babydoll doesn’t have a lot of dialogue but Browning conveys so much innocence and sweetness in her role that it’s surprising to see how much anger and fight she has in her fantasy scenes. Browning is meant to play two roles, that of the virgin and the fighter and she excels in both. Malone’s Rocket is the girl who wishes she was tough but is hindered by her own fears. Again, not a whole lot of characterization but it’s solid. The true scene stealer is Oscar Isaac as Blue, the evil ringmaster of the “club” and the main orderly of the hospital. Isaac is pure terror in this film, easily slipping between smarmy pimp and chilling dictator. His scenes with the girls will leave you trembling but you can see there’s more to him beneath the surface, especially at the film’s conclusion. Scott Glen and Carla Gugino are also great in their roles of the Wise Man and Madame Gorski respectively.
Unfortunately, the style of the film brings about its downfall. The need for four big action sequences makes the story rush by to get to them making you feel like there’s a lot happening that you’re not seeing. When Babydoll enters the second fantasy world we never see how the group is succeeding in the first fantasy world, only that things are good or bad. The fact that there needs to be two competing fantasy worlds is the most ridiculous as there had to be a way to combine both worlds in some way, this is an alternate universe after all so why not find a way to make both worlds inhabit the same space? We never truly learn about any of the other characters and just as you settle into the world of the brothel you’re pulled back into another fantasy “mission” that has so much movement to it that you’re dizzy. On that the note the mission on the train will make you sick as even when the camera isn’t filled with action it’s simulating a bumping train and moving up and down…trust me the effect will make you sick and it’s pointless. The other two ladies, Jamie Chung and Vanessa Hudgens, are weak because they don’t have any story, literally you don’t figure out why their at the hospital. The fact that they are so easily disposed of towards the end makes it seem like they were included because they were hot and made a five person group. The ending is also incredibly divisive; you’ll either love it or hate it. Personally, I thought it made everything leading up to the end seem pointless. The heroine of the film drastically changes for the last five minutes and it’s filled with some ridiculous, philosophical narration to make you feel this movie had meaning. It’s a ham-handed message that never comes across in preceding scenes and considering the films demographic they won’t care.
Sucker Punch has just as much working for it as against it. The hospital and brothel scenes are fantastic and the acting is well-rounded but the mission element is over-the-top and distracting. The acting and story really suffers, at times being ignored completely, to have Snyder play “Look what I can do!” It’s a definite rental on DVD but it’s a shame that it wasn’t up to past works by the director. Maybe he should stick to working with some type of source material.