Zack Snyder is the closest thing we’re likely to find to an answer to the question “what would happen if you gave a 12-year-old kid $100 million and a movie camera?” And that’s not really meant as an insult. Read on and I’ll explain —
First off, let’s state the obvious here —Sucker Punch looks great. It might be the single-most impressive CGI spectacle Hollywood has produced to date. It’s quite the feast for the eyes, as are most of the young starlets who populate the cast. This marks Snyder’s first non-adaptation cinematic work (and he co-wrote the screenplay, as well), but that doesn’t mean it’s anything like being what could even loosely be called “original.” Instead, it rips off anything and everything in sight rather than just sticking with one source. The most obvious influences are Tarantino’s Kill Bill films, but our guy Zack borrows freely from a whole smorgasbord of material that runs the gamut from Moulin Rouge to Argento’s Suspiria to his own previous work (there’s a funeral scene highly reminiscent of Watchmen, for instance). Mostly Sucker Punch is just concerned with looking cool, and it could care less about breaking new ground.
The story, on some level, wants desperately to be a mind-fuck, but it’s not fooling anyone. When our erstwhile heroine Baby Doll (Emily Browning) is committed to a suitably wretched-looking mental institution by her physically-and sexually-abusive stepfather (who wants her late mother’s chunk of the will for himself, naturally), she is immediately plunged into some sort of ill-defined “alternative therapy” program run by mysterious Eastern European matron Dr. Vera Gorski (the always-gorgeous but frankly supremely untalented Carla Gugino) that just doesn’t work out for her and it’s quickly decided she needs a lobotomy. As she’s restrained in the psychosurgical chair and facing the needle and spike, she completely disassociates from the situation and we’re plunged into a dreamworld scenario where she and fellow mental patients Blondie (Vanessa Hudgens), Rocket (Jena Malone), Amber (Jamie Chung) and Sweet Pea (Abbie Cornish) are part of a dance troupe/brothel in some undefined locale at some equally- undefined period in time. Baby Doll’s dancing, though, takes us into a dream-within-a-dream level that triggers her escape into all kinds of hyper-fantastic scenarios that form part of a five-part quest to locate the items she and her fellow detainees will need to make their escape from either the bordello or the bughouse (take your pick). Scott Glenn serves as the David Carradine stand-in who sends them on their quest and pops up in each of the double-imaginary scenarios to share such nuggets of corn-pone wisdom as “never write a check with your mouth you can’t cash with your ass” and “to those who have to struggle for it, life has a flavor that the contented will never know.” These dream-within-a-dream set-ups provide thereal visual “meat” of the film, as the girls are sent on missions ranging from slaying a baby dragon while trying to avoid its mother to confronting zombie Nazis re-animated by the pwoer of steam. Each is a supreme exercise in lush eye-candy excess, and Snyder obviously has a blast topping himself as the film goes along.
The big event all the girls are being prepped for is the appearance at the club of a mysterious figure known only as “The High Roller,” who just happens to look exactly like the guy giving Baby Doll her lobotomy (it’s Jon Hamm of TV’s Mad Men, in case you were wondering), and so we’re heading towards some sort of full-circle resolution whereby the dreamworld of the bordello, the double-dreamworld of the quest, and the real world of the House on the Hill all come together. Will the girls escape? How will they do it? And will all of them make it?
Look, I haven’t had time to dig through all the reviews out there pertaining to this flick yet, but I can just imagine how both traditional and more “revisionist” feminists are going to react to this one. The former camp will decry the flick’s perceived obvious sexism while the latter will “celebrate” its story of female “empowerment.” In truth, both camps are wrong in my view, because I honestly don’t get the feeling that Snyder is trying to make much of any political point here at all. He just wants to make a movie that looks really cool, has some good-looking babes kicking all kinds of ass, and ends on some sort of “you can do it no matter what if you really try” standard-issue self-help-ism.
And that’s why, goofy as it may sound, I can’t help but respect the guy for what he’s done here. First off, he points out, albeit unwittingly, the double-standard that exists in Hollywood — when Tarantino rips off everything in sight, it’s called an “homage,” yet when Snyder does it, then it’s “unoriginal” and “derivative.” And while the pretentious cineastes out there argue over what he’s supposedly trying to say, those of who know the score can kick back and laugh just like Snyder himself is probably doing.
Don’t get me wrong — this is actually one of the most personal multi-million-dollar blockbusters you’re likely to see. It’s just that Snyder’s personal vision doesn’t extend beyond making a movie that looks really fucking awesome. In a way, Sucker Punch reminds me of Jack Kirby’s seminal Fourth World comics opus, minus the social and political commentary that Kirby’s work was infused with (in other words, this ain’t nearly as deep by any stretch) — both are examples of what happens when a grown adult with a pubescent boy’s imagination is given free reign to just tell the kind of story they want, and providing the audience with visual spectacles galore is first on their agenda (I know, I know — Kirby eventually had his nuts cut off by DC as the Fourth World saga unfolded, but that’s another matter for another time). The sheer, unbridled glee Snyder goes about his business here is a joy to behold, and makes for one hell of a good time.
A reviewer on the IMDB recently stated that Sucker Punch is the cinematic equivalent of giving a 12-year-old kid the keys to his dad’s liquor cabinet. I fully agree.The reviewer’s point, though, is that’s why Sucker Punch, well, sucks — and that’s where he and I part company. Rather, I think that’s why it’s so unpretentiously, jubilantly awesome. Hollywood gave Zack Snyder $100 million and he took it and pissed in their face. He may not have a lot to say, but the way in which he says it takes real guts and the whole flick oozes devil-may-care brashness. Snyder just plain doesn’t seem to give a damn about doing anything but making the coolest-looking CGI extravaganza possible, and if that’s not your cup of tea, he’s not shy about telling you to fuck off. That kind of self-assured bravado is something I’ll always respect. What Sucker Punch lacks in brains, it more than makes up for in sheer balls.