In many ways, Sucker Punch is typical Zack Snyder. There’s the video game and graphic novel visuals, stylized action, equal parts awesome and awful cast, and even identical soundtrack picks. (It’s okay, Zack. “Search and Destroy” is admittedly pretty awesome.) But in many ways, it’s also not. Sucker Punch marks the first original story for Snyder, as well as the first female-centric movie for the bawdy boys club director. Though his latest venture has a few hiccups, it seems Snyder took notes from the fascinating failure that was Watchmen and rebounded with a spectacle that’s entertaining and entrancing.
Sucker Punch opens with what feels—and looks—like a nightmare. After losing their mother, Baby Doll (Emily Browning) is left with their evil stepfather, who’s not too happy about being cut out of the will. He wastes no time placing Baby Doll in a mental institution, after framing her for the death of her younger sister. Once there, Baby Doll has five days to escape before the doctor arrives to lobotomize her. She hatches a plan with the help of fellow inmates Sweet Pea (Abbie Cornish), Rocket (Jena Malone), Amber (Jamie Chung), and Blondie (Vanessa Hudgens) to break free.
But it’s not that simple. It wouldn’t be too much of a stretch to consider this movie Inception’s more raucous, flashy cousin. For the gang isn’t confined to a dreary mental institution. Their story is mirrored in an alternate reality, where they swap patient uniforms for fishnets as prostitutes of an oppressive brothel. The five-day deadline remains intact, only the doctor is instead “High Roller,” some sort of pimp who has bought Baby Doll’s virginity.
Hold on, there’s more.
In order to retrieve the five items needed to escape, Baby Doll and her comrades must slip into video game-esque levels, including World War II trenches and a runaway train.
Sounds like a lot, and at times, it is. Mostly when the action sequences come into play. They may look cool as hell, but there’s little substance to them and they tend to bog down the story. Still, the links between the different levels are pretty awesome. A lobotomy fake-out in the beginning transitions to a bizarre vaudeville version on the brothel stage. When retrieving a lighter emblazoned with a dragon design, the girls must actually battle a dragon in the alternate action world. And when Baby Doll is kicking ass in the missions, she’s actually performing an apparently sensational strip tease for brothel clients.
Where Watchmen royally screwed up in the soundtrack department, Sucker Punch actually excels through a series of unique covers. (Several of them feature Emily Browning herself.) The majority involve chick lead singers taking on well-known songs by male-dominated bands, from The Beatles to The Smiths. A very downbeat, depressing version of “Where Is My Mind” over the early mental institution scenes and a haunting take on “Sweet Dreams” over the opening stand out especially. Making most of the soundtrack voices female, like the main characters’, really makes it their movie, and was a smart move on Snyder’s part. It shows he’s come a long way from his “Hallelujah” sex scenes.
Despite what the title might suggest, Sucker Punch doesn’t exactly deliver a kick to your senses. It’s more of a shove, or maybe a slap. Even so, it marks an interesting point in the Zack Snyder trajectory. Hopefully he has more of this yet in store.