. 120 mins. PG-13. Directed by Zack Snyder. Written by Zack Snyder & Steve Shibuya.
With originality in such short supply in Hollywood these days, it pains me to have to knock Sucker Punch around the ring. On paper, this is exactly the sort of movie the studios should be bankrolling. Original concept - check. Passion project by a talented director - check. Unique vision - check. In other words, Sucker Punch promised to be a breath of fresh air in an otherwise unremarkable movie year (all eyes on you now, Super 8). But it fell down on that promise. Hard. All the cool effects, visual fireworks, high concept storytelling, innovative music, and rockin' babes in the world can't disguise the very simple fact that Sucker Punch is aggressively stupid and, if not boring, then largely uninvolving.
This is co-writer/director Zack Snyder's first original work. After faring well with remakes (Dawn of the Dead - still his best film) and graphic novel adaptations (300, Watchmen), to varying and increasingly lesser degrees, Snyder used his newfound clout at Warner Bros. to create this gothic burlesque-type freak show. One wonders what the studio heads were thinking when they handed the keys to Superman over to him. Clearly, they hadn't seen all of Sucker Punch yet - he must have tricked them with a demo reel.
Snyder is in real danger of falling victim to the M. Night Shyamalan curse. With each film, Snyder becomes more mechanical, relying too much on fast-then-slooooow action sequences and visual POP!, than actual storytelling. And story is where Sucker Punch, visually spectacular as it is, isn't up to snuff.
Emily Browning (Lemony Snicket's A Series of Unfortunate Events) plays Babydoll, a psychologically damaged young girl sent to a mental hospital by her evil stepfather. There, on the eve of a lobotomy, she retreats into an imaginary world where the hospital is really a dance studio/brothel for the girls. So, right there - two different levels of reality. But then, when she dances in the second level, Babydoll retreats even further into a fantastical action environment - a third level - where she and her fellow inmates/friends must collect five different items (map, fire, knife, key, and the last is unrevealed) - while fighting off dragons, orcs, giant robots, and more. Make sense? If visions of Inception come spring to mind, don't let 'em. Snyder's got nothing on Nolan.
My biggest issue with the story is the fact that the movie shows us that Babydoll is being lobotomized at the very beginning. We know that everything that follows is imaginary, so when the girls are placed in precarious action situations that threaten their life, the viewer doesn't care because none of it is real. There are no stakes here. No emotional weight to any of it. The action scenes, though impressive to look at, are long and empty - fruitless exercises into video gameplay, but instead of you getting to play, you have to sit there and watch Snyder play. And he sucks at this game. It's like watching my younger brother play Starfox all over again.
The actors are all forgettable. Emily Browning sings nicely, but she doesn't have much going on behind the eyes. The best role in the movie goes to Abbie Cornish (as the tough, fearless leader - Sweet Pea), but she fails to make the most of it. The other actresses (Jena Malone, Vanessa Hudgens, Jamie Chung) barely even register. They can't sell the material because this is material that can't be sold.
The best thing about Sucker Punch is the music, an event soundtrack of sorts made up of cool, moody covers of "Sweet Dreams", "White Rabbit", and "Where Is My Mind." Word has it that early on in the creative process, Snyder intended this to be a musical. I can definitely see that - many sequences in the film are set only to music, with the lyrics serving to tell the story. That would have been great to see, but it still wouldn't change the underlying story, which is inherently problematic.
At this point, I can only hope Snyder learns a thing or two before diving into Superman. He's certainly shown a fine eye for casting that film, and I look forward to others from him. And though I'm contemplating buying the soundtrack for Sucker Punch, I have no desire to see the movie again. If this is what passes for unfettered originality these days, give me Transformers 3. Boy, am I going to regret that last sentence.