“Sucker Punch” Knocks Itself Out

Courtesy of Warner Bros.

Dear Zack Snyder,

This past weekend, I saw the release of your latest film “Sucker Punch,” an action-fantasy picture which features a hot ensemble female cast and your first film not based on an already existing work.

It’s not a stretch to say that your film was on the must-see lists of many a moviegoer, especially after the insane buzz it received after you premiered some footage at Comic-Con last year. When you released the trailer, it became the rallying point for fantasy geeks and hormone-raging guys all around. Needless to say, you got people pretty excited.

Now that the film has opened in theaters, you’re probably wondering what the general reception is like. Well Zack, I can tell you that “Sucker Punch” is at best a bold, glorious mess, and I’m certain that I’m not in the slim minority here.

You may ask yourself what exactly went wrong with your latest feature. First, let’s take a look at the film’s synopsis to see if you can discover something that’s unsound.

After her malevolent stepfather kills her sister and pins the crime on her, Baby Doll (Emily Browning) is consigned to an asylum. There, she is to undergo lobotomy in five days time, and she subsequently drops herself into an alternate reality in which the madhouse transforms a high-end brothel, where her fellow inmates Sweet Pea (Abbie Cornish), Rocket (Jena Malone), Amber (Jamie Chung) and Blondie (Vanessa Hudgens) become dancers.

Wishing to escape, Baby Doll enters another level of fantasy when she dances, and there she encounters the Wise Man (Scott Glenn), who offers her a way to escape from the brothel. To do so, she must acquire a number of items, with each found on a certain person in the whorehouse.

With her friends, she plans their breakout. The items can be acquired when the person of interest is distracted by Baby Doll’s dancing. When she dances, they enter a fantastical scenario of their mission and thus fight undead soldiers, dragons and even androids to acquire the item. If they obtain the item in the fantasy world, they have procured it in the brothel. Facing danger at every turn, they embark on their quest for freedom, and they only have a few days before Baby Doll has to service the High Roller (Jon Hamm).

Have you encountered the problem yet? If not, it’s this: the attractive, fantastical video game-inspired worlds are superfluous — there’s no point in having them at all! In other words, since these worlds are essentially imaginary scenarios of the girls’ attempts in acquiring the items in the brothel, they aren’t important. The audience is emotionally invested in and thus more concerned with the girls’ activities in the whorehouse, considering that they appear to take no damage when in the fantasy worlds.

Sure, these scenes are pretty to marvel at — I admit that my jaw dropped and eyes danced in amazement as I took in this visual feast. However, you can’t deny that they ultimately serve no purpose. If anything, they’re nothing more than pretty distractions.

Prior to its release, your fans pronounced “Sucker Punch” as “‘Alice in Wonderland’ with machine guns” — you may have endorsed such a description. While this certainly applies to the fantasy sequences, I noticed that at its very core, the film’s story is fundamentally a prison escape.

To be frank, you should have just forgone the visual flair and centered the film on the girls’ escape plan inside the brothel. Sure, the film wouldn’t be a testament to the grand scale of human imagination like you intended it to be, but imagine what you could have done if you decided to go with the other route. It doesn’t necessarily have to be the modern version of “The Great Escape” — the result could also have been something akin to “One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest.” Now that could have been a great opportunity for you to exit your comfort zone and offer something truly original.

If there’s one thing that you totally dropped the ball on, it’s character development. Honestly, we don’t learn much about the girls’ background and history — particularly Amber and Blondie, for you don’t even provide a reason for them to escape at all. It seems like they’re just going along with the other three just for the hell of it. As for Baby Doll, Sweet Pea and Rocket, you provide just the bare minimum level of development such that we aren’t as emotionally invested in them as we should be. If you don’t give us much of a reason to root for them, then what’s the point of caring about them?

I have a feeling that the only instructions you gave your cast (specifically the girls) were to kick ass and look hot because that’s pretty much all they do. That’s why the most emotional scenes are almost unbearable to watch because their delivery lacks the emotional thump it needs. Just because they cry isn’t going to make us empathize with them.

I beg of you to scale back in your use of slow motion. It looked cool in your remake of “Dawn of the Dead” and “300,” but now it’s starting to look more of an unhealthy obsession rather than a trademark, especially since you used the technique in every single one of your films. In this one, the opening five minutes is in slow motion, and it’s completely unnecessary. Using slow-mo doesn’t automatically heighten emotion and tension, you know.

Finally, you’ve said that you intended “Sucker Punch” to empower women. Look, there’s a difference between female empowerment and girls just kicking ass. The thing is, in every single scenario in the film, both imaginary and real, the women are always under the control of men and are scared of them, and this very state doesn’t change even when the film ends.

As I’ve said before, “Sucker Punch” is your very first screenplay, and it shows. Since your other films were adaptations, you only focused on making them look cool. You used the same approach with this film, and it ultimately implodes due to the story’s weaknesses. I hope you keep this in mind when you make more films in the future.

Best regards,
Jun

Rating: 2/5 Stars