Zack Snyder is one of the most infuriating directors working in Hollywood today. His visual style is lavish and dynamic; every frame is meticulously crafted with style and panache. But, beneath the hoods of his glimmering hot rods, sit rusty, sputtering engines that fail to propel the vehicle past the finish line. Such is the case with his latest misstep, Sucker Punch – a movie so colossally inept at basic storytelling, it makes Clash of the Titans look like The King’s Speech.
The opening twenty minutes of the film is literally four or five music videos strung together that attempt to function as a narrative; detailing how our protagonist Baby Doll watches her Mother die, accidentally kills her little sister while trying to protect her from their cruel stepfather, and ends up in a mental hospital facing a lobotomy. The music is insipid and obvious (another “nu-rock” cover of “Sweet Dreams”? Seriously?), and someone should have told Emily Browning that her character had five days before the operation was scheduled to take place, because she looked and acted lobotomized from the first frame of this horribly misguided production.
As the horrors of the grungy Institution envelop her, Baby Doll creates an equally depressing new reality in her mind to escape into — a seedy nightclub/bordello (which is heavily fortified with armed guards and iron fences, for some reason), where she and the other girls are forced to service clients and dance in cabaret numbers in panties and fishnets.
Baby Doll learns that she has five days until “The High Roller” comes to purchase her and doom her to a life of inferred sexual servitude (paralleling her looming lobotomy), so she hatches a plan to escape with the help of four other leotard-clad ladies: Sweet Pea, Rocket, Amber, and Blondie. (all “bad girl” ciphers you’ve seen in endless movies before — the tough, overprotective one, the sassy one, the shy insecure one, etc.)
When Baby Doll shakes what her Momma gave her in her hypnotic, pants-stiffening solo dances (which truly fail to connect with the audience, since Snyder felt it was best to NEVER ACTUALLY SHOW HER DANCING), yet another “reality” unfolds – a fantasy world of unbridled ass-kickery, populated by giant armored samurai, orcs, dragons, steampunk WWI zombies, robotic warriors, and Scott Glenn doing his best Yoda-meets-David Carradine impression.
These worlds become places of female empowerment, where Baby Doll and the others can shed the shackles of their male oglers and oppressors, kick unholy amounts of ass, and learn how to “escape” both physically and meta-physically. These sequences are the only parts of Sucker Punch that have any spark or momentum, but once they come crashing to their blazing ends, any nerd-boners gained during the spectacular stockings-and-swordplay go flaccid upon the return to the disjointed, painfully acted, dull, and mean-spirited developments at the whorehouse. The problem here is that the worlds don’t mesh, and any sense of metaphor is lost in the horrible mishmash between the dizzying, bombastic action scenes, and the bleak tedium of the brothel halls.
Fittingly, one of the final images of the movie is Baby Doll’s beautiful porcelain complexion, staring vacantly at the camera, her spirit extinguished by the lobotomy needle. This serves as a perfect metaphor for just about every movie Zack Snyder has made; gorgeous to behold, but ultimately empty and devoid of life.