Tarantino is regularly accused of producing films that are as artistically nutritious as a family size bag of potato chips. I’ve written before about why I violently disagree with such assessments, because that crown belongs firmly upon the head of director Zack Snyder, whose latest film is a PG-13 fetish fantasy flick.
Sucker Punch centers around Baby Doll, whose evil step-father has her committed to a mental institution to steal her dead mother’s money. Ms. Doll befriends her fellow inmates (Blondie, Sweat Pea, Rocket, and Amber) and they try to find a way to escape the tyranny of boss man, Blue Jones.
Sucker Punch marks the first time Zack Snyder is making film that is not either an adaptation or a re-make. Dawn of the Dead, 300, and Watchmen all provided a path for Snyder to follow while sprinkling around copious amounts of sex, violence, and special effect “style” along the way. It comes as little surprise that Snyder has difficulty telling a story of his own, and his struggle is painful to watch. Most of Sucker Punch feels like a music video, backed by butcherings of classic contemporary songs. Nothing is holy to Snyder, who lays waste to The Smiths “Asleep,” The Stooges “Search and Destroy,” Annie Lennox’s “Sweet Dreams,” The Pixies “Where is My Mind?”, among others. As much as Baby Doll uses some of these tunes to escape, Snyder cuddles close to these classics in hopes that they will provide the emotional punch he’s ill-equipped to craft on his own.
In this film Snyder continues his tradition of throwing the whole filmmaking tool kit at his projects: CGI, epic battles, slow-mo, guns, girls… where’s the kitchen sink!? The problem is, it’s not enough to just throw stuff at the audience–you have to invest in telling your story. Nothing in Sucker Punch achieves the impact of the hallway shoot-0ut scene from Hard Boiled, because you can’t buy the truly awesome – it requires intelligence and a spot of cleverness.
Which leads to the heart of Sucker Punch, a film that gives exploitation new meaning. Snyder mines history, anime, steam punk, and fantasy in order to enthrall you with his mash-up of nerd cultures; he creates a clothing drought for all his female characters so you’re gawking at their near nudity, not the words coming from their uncanny looking mouths; and as stated, he exploits the feelings you hold for certain songs, in an attempt to use those emotions for his own purposes.
We are never in Baby Doll’s fantasy – we’re in Zack Snyder’s. It makes no sense to have a female character go into her fantasy world and discover herself portrayed by the sexual fantasies of a teenage boy. Baby Doll’s Sailor Moon school girl outfit is tossed in with lingerie’d gals toting machine guns in World War I, dragons, samurai sword battles… If you won’t pin it to Snyder’s personal fantasies, it’s obviously a representation of the fantasies he believes his audience holds. It comes across as ironic, and quite meta, that the women are trying to escape from the exploitative power of Blue Jones, yet they can’t escape from Zack Snyder’s power as a director backed by a major studio.
Even if you’re not wanting to get into the politics of female representation in cinema, the ludicrousness of the film is cemented by its lack of self-awareness or acknowledgment. Despite the bat-shit insanity of what’s playing out on screen, there’s not one laugh to be had throughout the whole picture. It’s playing itself so seriously you can’t help but pick it apart since it’s unwilling to do the work for you. Icing the cake is the film’s abrupt grasp for the brass ring of drama in the final act, which makes you wonder if some of the film reels of another movie found their way onto the projectionist’s splicing table. This is not a film about story, acting, or character development. It’s about the piñata of stuff, which makes for a good Youtube demo reel, but not a great film.
I have seen all of Snyder’s films, and Sucker Punch continues his reputation as a director who may be able to present a story (not tell one, mind you), but who forgets that a story is a beast that requires a heart. And there’s no room left for providing heart when your approach to filmmaking is based on the facile titillation of teenage boys.