Director Zack Snyder already proved he could make movies look dazzling with some of the most ambitious CGI and special effects in some of his earlier movies like Watchmen and 300. But his followup Sucker Punch didn’t quite live up to expectations and quite frankly I didn’t even know about this movie for some time. In fact, my introduction came while watching the preview trailers on some other movie DVD I was watching.The lack of promotion and invisibility, on my radar at least, seemed ominous.
Without a doubt, Sucker Punch lives up to Snyder’s knack for stunning visuals. I would have to categorize it as a sepia toned, steampunk extravaganza, permeated with leather, lace and fishnets. But with all the flash and glitz, does the movie hold up as a whole?
A promising beginning shows a little girl bravely trying to fend of her father from both herself and her little sister after the passing of her mother. Her sister is killed by the father but circumstantial evidence points to herself and she is ceremoniously incarcerated in an all girl mental institution under the psychiatric guidance of Dr. Vera Gorski (Carla Gugino who also played in Silk Spectre in Watchmen).
It’s a this point that the movie begins the first of many transformations to alternate universes and dreamlike backdrops. The girl finds herself in oddly similar place to her actual surroundings, a similar yet different institution, where the characters roles have changed slightly.
The girl, now called Babydoll (Emily Browning), then has a dream in which wise man (Scott Glenn) sets her out a quest in order for her to escape and one for which she will need the help of some of her fellow inmates. Without knowing the exact reasons, she is told to acquire a definitive set of objects that include a map, a knife, fire, a key and yet another unknown mysterious fifth object.
With some reluctance she recruits a quartet of accomplices; Sweetpea (Abbie Cornish), Blondie (Vanessa Hudgens), Amber (Jamie Chung), and Rocket (Jena Malone). Together they manage to get the required implements, but in order to do so they rely on Babydoll putting on performances to distract their guardians.
These performances, which we the movie audience never get to see, put the audience in a trance like state. It’s during these performances where the movie viewers are once again subjected to alternate universes where we find our girls battling evil forces and in which their objective is to acquire virtualized forms the aforementioned objects they are trying to get in the ‘real’ world. These worlds are comprised of gigantic robo demon samurais, Nazis, castles besieged with Lord of the Ring orc facsimiles, and metallic robot infested sky trains and play out like surreal music videos, infused with adapted music from the Eurythmics, Jefferson Airplane, the Beatles and various grunge and hip hop numbers.
The problem with the movie is that it suffers from too many layers and tries to be too clever delivering a muddled narrative instead of just a good story. The heart string pulls all seem contrived and we don’t feel the empathy we should have for the girls, some of which are merely cardboard eye candy instead of fleshed out characters (although the do have the flesh needed for the candy piece).
On the positive side it is a stylistic masterpiece, with enough CGI and special effect to make Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow look like bush league. But as we all know visuals alone cannot make a movie. In this case it’ll feel more like watching a two hour music video than a movie.
Is it good enough? I don’t know. If enhanced visual are not enough to hide the fact you’re watching a sub par movie you may find yourself to the titular sucker. If the visuals are good enough for you, you may want to check the handful of related animation shorts that are extra features on the DVD.