Stylish Dancing giant samurai, zombie-machine-Nazi-soldiers, Dragons, & Robots, oh My

by Jeff Beck, Guest Film Critic
Stylish Dancing giant samurai, zombie-machine-Nazi-soldiers, Dragons, & Robots, oh My
At the start of his career, director Zack Snyder appeared to be going further with each film he was making.
First, he gave us a decent remake of the classic zombie film “Dawn of the Dead.”  He then followed this up with an amazing adaptation of Frank Miller’s “300.” This was followed by an excellent adaptation of the so-called “unfilmable” “Watchmen,” perhaps the most famous graphic novel of all time. He then took a brief foray into animation with “Legend of the Guardians: The Owls of Ga’Hoole.” That didn’t turn out so well, but most of these films have something in common: they were fascinating from a visual perspective. Now Snyder returns with his latest visual feast, entitled “Sucker Punch.”

At the start of the film, Baby Doll’s (Emily Browning) mother has just died, leaving her sister and her in the care of their stepfather. That very night, he attempts to take advantage of them, causing Baby Doll to defend herself and her sister with a gun, but this results in the accidental death of the sister. The stepfather decides to have Baby Doll admitted to a mental hospital where she meets Sweet Pea (Abbie Cornish), Rocket (Jena Malone), Blondie (Vanessa Hudgens), and Amber (Jamie Chung), women who are also stuck in the asylum.

Almost immediately upon her arrival, Baby Doll begins to escape into her own fantasies where she meets a wise man (Scott Glenn). She tells him of her desire to escape. He tells her that she will need five items to do so including a map, fire, a knife, and a key, with the fifth item being a mystery. The other women decide to help her in this quest that could get any of them killed at any moment, but most of them decide it’s worth the risk if it means their freedom.

“Sucker Punch” was one of those movies where I walked in with certain expectations, and no, those expectations weren’t of a “soon to be Academy Award-winning masterpiece.” My level of expectations was reasonably set for actions scenes, eye candy, and a little plot to hold the film together. The film ended up accomplishing two of these things. However, it failed at the most important of these criteria: “the little plot to hold the film together.”

The plot to this film is almost non-existent. The entire story is that these girls are trying to get out of this asylum, and the writers were just hoping that that would be enough to tie together all the action sequences that they wanted to throw into the film, but sadly, it doesn’t do the job. Coupled with this is how flat the characters are. If the plot is going to be this scarce, you would think that the writers would at least try to give us characters to care about, but no such luck there either.

Where this film does score major points is in its visuals. It may be lacking in substance, but it was certainly a fascinating film to look at. The action sequences themselves are done rather well for the most part and are quite unique. They are done in such an over-the-top manner that they even manage to get a few laughs. Whether or not this was the intended reaction is unclear, but that’s just how it plays out.

The action sequences are actually the missions that the girls are carrying out in reality, but we only see them played out in fantasy (two levels of fantasy actually). One level of fantasy has Baby Doll imagining that the asylum is a club and the girls are dancers who are trapped there. The second level is them going on dangerous missions under orders from the wise man. It becomes rather humorous to think of how bland the film would have been if they hadn’t substituted the action scenes for the incredibly mundane actions happening in reality (Baby Doll dancing as a distraction while the others steal the different items).

One of the most fascinating parts of the visuals was the several types of enemies that the girls face on their missions. These include giant samurai, zombie-machine-Nazi-soldiers (yeah, you read that right), dragons, and robots. These actions scenes could have been as mundane as the actual happenings in reality, but they are done in very stylish ways, delivering the action and eye candy that most people were expecting from this film.

The other good thing about these scenes is that they are not too long. While some filmmakers try to make their films into one long, bad action sequence (the recent “Battle: Los Angeles” springs to mind), these scenes are maybe about ten minutes apiece. The parts in between these scenes are rather bland (I mentioned before that there’s a near non-existent plot), so you’ll probably find yourself waiting for the next mission during the downtime.

While the visuals are quite impressive and go a long way towards helping the film, it’s just not enough to recommend that you take the time to see “Sucker Punch.” If the writers, Snyder and Steve Shibuya, had taken the time to come up with characters we could care about and a better plot to tie the movie together, this might have been able to reach the level of “300” or “Watchmen,” but sadly, they seemed more concerned with how the film would look rather than trying to polish the elements that would ultimately get the audience engaged in it. 2.5/4 stars.