Style is something that can catch the eye of a viewer and make them interested in what is being sold. Substance however is what keeps those same people engaged. Thus style without substance is just an empty shell. Director Zack Snyder (“300″, “Watchmen”) has been accused many times, by many different people, of being all style and no substance. I personally never bought into this and have always found something of substance in each of Snyder’s previous films. Now, with his latest film, “Sucker Punch”, Snyder looks to prove his critics wrong and deliver his crowning achievement.
“Sucker Punch” is the tale of Baby Doll (Emily Browning), a 20-year-old orphan who is institutionalized after accidentally killing her little sister while trying to defend her from her creepy and abusive stepfather. Via some shady dealings the stepfather arranges to have Baby Doll lobotomized so that his evil deeds can not be made known and thus Baby Doll’s mind fractures into three realities as she attempts to devise a plan to escape her seemingly tragic fate, enlisting the help of four beautiful fellow inmates (Abbie Cornish, Jena Malone, Vanessa Hudgens, and Jamie Chung).
The three realities are drastically different to each other in both style and characterization. The first and most interesting of these realities is, oddly enough, the real one as it effortlessly evokes a sense of hopelessness via its sterile setting and dulled color palette. The second reality is a colorful brothel where the patients of the asylum are transformed into sex slaves that entertain the rich and famous. The third reality is the one that most people will associate with the film due to the trailers, it is a fantastical world where the patients of the asylum are empowered with big guns (and skimpy outfits) to battle evil monsters that block their escape.
To say anymore about the differing realities or the plot would ruin it for potential viewers and to be honest the film does enough on its own to ruin the filmgoing experience without me lending a hand. The acting is atrocious, the dialog is absurd, and the pacing is sleep inducing. Worst of all though is that the main draw of the film, Snyder’s trademark visuals, lose their appeal around the halfway point as the film rapidly loses its focus and becomes boringly repetitive.
Every film has a set of unique rules that it needs to follow to be successful. These rules help establish the narrative universe. “Sucker Punch” however does not seem to follow a set of rules, instead wandering around aimlessly as if the film itself should be institutionalized. The story is simple enough to follow but the reasons why things happen are never explained.
Blame for the lack of focus in the film can and should be directly leveled at Snyder. “Sucker Punch” is his baby. He wrote it, he directed it. He also did not establish a rule set for his new world instead he just set about playing in it, like a small child would a sandbox. There is no cause, only effect. Things just happen because they want to, because they seem cool and not because there is any nuance behind them.
Still, despite its lack of focus and its display of inept direction, “Sucker Punch” does offers up something that films today rarely do. “Sucker Punch” invites discussion. It invites discussion in the same way that Christopher Nolan’s “Inception” did last summer and people who view it will be largely divided on what a lot of the imagery means to them. Ultimately because of this, “Sucker Punch” unwittingly disproves Snyder’s greatest criticisms against him but in return it raises a whole new score of concerns about his capabilities as a director.
1 out of 5.