They say good artists borrow, but great artists steal. I suppose this makes Zack Snyder a great filmmaker. From Dawnof the Dead to Sucker Punch he has stolen from other sources to create his entire body of work (the exception to this statement is that owl movie which I skipped). Sucker Punch follows this hackneyed path Snyder has forged and leads the viewer into a beautifully mono-chromed schizophrenic carnival of pop culture that has been homogenized and repackaged and leaves us all feeling a bit empty by the time the lights come up. Our journey begins in the opening monologue with the explaining away of upcoming events while setting the audience up for a lot of nothing when the main character, Baby Doll, almost apologizes to the audience by stating, “…Don't let appearances fool you…It's every one of us that holds the power over the worlds we create…”
|This is what the first act feels like|
Great. So, I’m in for one of those, “They were asleep the whole time!” movies…
Just to bring you up to speed, Sucker Punch centers on Baby Doll, played by Emily Browning, a young girl forced into a mental hospital after a string of unfortunate violent family mishaps. Baby Doll, which I assume is her Christian name, attempts to save her sister from her sadistic stepfather after he goes mad with rage and tries to keep all of the inheritance money left to the girls by their mother. In doing so, she inadvertently kills her sister (whoops), and is locked away to keep her from spilling the beans (double whoops).
Because of her “violent” nature (remember how she’s not really violent? I do), she’s been prescribed a lobotomy to be administered by Don Draper to insure she won’t be a menace to her evil stepfather and his soon to be evil money. While she awaits her miserable fate, she meets an ensemble cast of other young stunning creatures led by Sweet Pea (Abbie Cornish) that yearn for the same notion of freedom. She also imagines a series of alternate realities to cope with her untoward environment and then pulls a Wizard of Oz, including these divas in her private fantasies. Her main fantasy transforms the hospital into a burlesque nightclub where she performs for men a la Moulin Rouge. It is here, through the implied hypnotic power of dance, that she slays dragons with katana blades (a la Kill Bill meets The Lord of the Rings) and diffuses atomic bombs on runaway high-speed trains (XXX2, Broken Arrow, Time Bomb, Atomic Train).
Scott Glenn appears within these pseudo-worlds to instruct and guide her and her Fox Force Five in their brutal endeavors as they get one step closer to achieving their goal of breathing free through a series of scavenger hunts aimed at gathering the proper tools. At one point, the Clarence Morrow reject even reminds them, "Don't write a check with your mouth you can’t cash with your ass." Um…wait, was that a lame Top Gun reference? Methinks so. Now, there are other characters in this film, but they don’t create enough of an impact on the story for me to mention them here, so I’m moving on. Apologies, Ms. Gugino.
You should know that from the opening shot, everything we see and hear from the soundtrack to the almost neo-classical visuals reinforces this idea of creating a veritable Frankenstein of assorted motifs and overused styles. In fact, after seeing Baby Doll’s first (imaginary) dance, an aging Sweet Pea confronts her. "My dance says something about me. What does yours say?" This is the quintessential question posed not only to Baby Doll, but one I’d pose to Snyder himself. As a viewer, what am I supposed to be feeling when watching this film? It seems devoid of heart. It’s all style and no substance; a walking corpse slapped together in Snyder’s workshop of filthy creation.
Now, to be fair, everything Snyder has directed thus far has come from existing material whether it is a film or a book or a graphic novel (read Man of Steel). So, in a way, he’s been operating within the confines of proverbial handcuffs for years. Then again, hundreds of films have come from pre-existing sources; so operating within the confines established by those before you is no new challenge. But, I digress.
Even the soundtrack of Sucker Punch is peppered with audible abnormalities and clumsy covers of Jefferson Airplane, Eurythmics, Queen, and Pixies which all contribute to a mental disconnect aimed at maintaining a hyper-real glossy auto-tuned experience where you take one thing and polish it up to a high sheen until no one can truly pinpoint its origin.
Snyder seems to be a product of his unoriginal post-modern environment and while I never had any idea (nor cared) which reality of Sucker Punch I was supposed to be grounded in a la Inception, I couldn't help but get sucked into drinking the Kool-Aid as steam-powered zombie Nazis spilled out of WW1 trenches to fight scantily-clad Victoria’s Secret-esque supermodels in Bio-Shock inspired Exoskeletons a la Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow (which just borrowed heavily from this Superman cartoon). Like Sky Captain, the juxtaposition of eras, weapons, and technologies in Sucker Punch create a visually stunning world, but I remained bored all the same so who cares? Actually, Sucker Punch is a bit like watching a movie where a character has a flashback within a flashback (Sorry, Wrong Number, Anguish).
There are some other things I can’t talk about here because it would spoil an already spoiled movie, but they hearken back to “An Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge”, Shutter Island, and the raping of Aristotle’s corpse. I know it seems unusual, but let’s just say that by the closing credits, I felt like I was the one that had a lobotomy. And I assure you this smoke and mirrors routine will occur once the lights go down and we all see Henry Cavill wrestle with Snyder’s vision.
Baby Doll’s end monologue includes the question, "…Who chains us, and who holds the key that can set us free? It’s you…", sounds a lot like Neo’s end monologue at the conclusion of The Matrix where he promises to show us a world without rules or borders or boundaries. “…Where we go from there,” he says, “is a choice I leave to you.”
Well, Zack, my choice is to watch something else.