Sucker Punch is an action film that mostly takes place inside of the imagination of a troubled young lady, Baby Doll (Emily Browning). She not only uses her fantasies to escape reality, but to plan her literal escape from the mental institution in which she has been unjustly placed. There, she meets Sweet Pea (Abbie Cornish), Rocket (Jena Malone), Blondie (Vanessa Hudgens) and Amber (Jamie Chung), all of whom she convinces to help plan her (and their) escape.
That’s about all there is with the story, along with very little character development and some painfully bad dialogue. Sucker Punch is best when it is concentrating on stunning visuals, when the characters aren’t speaking at all and when it relies on the cast’s appeal and Snyder’s ability to come up with endless ways to do an action scene. Unfortunately, Snyder’s attempt to merge a cool popcorn movie with more serious issues and themes is not successful, due to over self-indulgence in “coolness” rather than substance.
That said, Sucker Punch proves that Zack Snyder can be one of the best action directors working today (if not the best). His action sequences are exciting, thrilling and always captivating. He is also one of the few action directors who understands action sequences need pacing – his are intricately choreographed dances or ballets (just very violent ones) executed perfectly to whatever cool bit of music happens to be playing in the background, which is part of what makes them so exciting to watch. (This is a probably a good time for me to mention the killer soundtrack.)
The cast is a good collection of young actresses, who get a few good moments, but they don’t get to do much more than leap around in skimpy outfits and look cool. Veterans like Carla Gugino, Oscar Isaac and Scott Glenn are much needed counterpoints to the young cast.
Gugino is great, as always, as the girls “psychiatrist” in the mental institution. But the real stand out of the film is Oscar Isaac, as the villain who relentlessly torments our heroines. This is a potentially star making performance and adds to his scene stealing turn in last year’s Robin Hood as King John. Sadly, Scott Glenn (who is a favorite of mine) is well cast as (literally) the “wise man” who guides the girls during their quest. But he is saddled with the worst lines of dialogue in the film (which is saying something). He brave does his best to pull off lines like, “If you don’t stand for something, you’ll fall for anything!” Yikes! You can tell by the twinkle in his eye he knows these are crap lines, but it doesn’t make them any less cringe worthy.
This film is at its heart a melodrama and Oscar Isaac goes all out (almost literally) as a mustache twirling villain. The tense scene at the end between him, Gugino and the girls is very dramatic and even frightening. It is the best non-action scene in the film, because it relies on Isaac, Gugino and Cornish’s performances and not cinematic trickery. If the other “serious” scenes in the film had been this good, Sucker Punch would have been what Snyder was trying to achieve – an action movie with more depth and something to say.
The ending, to my surprise, was the strongest and most emotional part of story. But it is marred by final corny line. The pity is it did not need to be said. Snyder just can’t let the story tell itself, the “deeper meaning” is perfectly clear and has been made, but he has to tack on a corny voice over at the end which undercuts whatever message he has already gotten across. Snyder has so much talent, if he could only team up with a great screenwriter and learn when to use some restraint, he could make a really fantastic film. Hopefully Snyder will learn from his mistakes and realize that sometimes a little simplicity can be a good thing.