Sucker Punch has problems, yes. Usually, though, you can squint just right, only watch the parts of the movie that the trailer sold you on, and you’re good. Not this time. Which, this is a hyperkinetic, Scott Pilgrim-kind of fantasy fight movie involving steam-powered zombies, with some pretty cool updates of standard songs going on in the background (and foreground), such that the whole thing feels like an Evanescence video, I guess. Any one of which should be enough to allow the movie to limp along. And, Zack Snyder — while I loved the 300 and Watchmen graphic novels, I also really dug his adaptations. Which doesn’t get my any points, I know, but still: they were big and loud and crazy and hyper-real, like the edges were all too sharp, and they knew better than to stray just too far from the comics. Complete fun.
But, now, Sucker Punch. Which, as near as I can tell, is Snyder trying to match his distinct visual style with a Pan’s Labyrinth kind of fairy tale, with a David Lynch kind of narrative nesting and character hand-offs (as in: she becomes her, and now we’ve got a new main character). Which, again, should be a peanut butter and chocolate kind of meet-up. However, Sucker Punch never seems to have any kind of clear sense of what’s at stake, and the fantasy fight scenes, while about as cool as a fight scene can possible be — very Transformers — they come off feeling like visual (and musical) indulgences, just little sandboxes off to the side of the story where Snyder can play.
And, if I can spoil things a bit, here, the central conceit of the movie seems to be that when Babydoll dances (that is, in this prison of a bordello/asylum/fashion abbatoir, where all the girls have to dance for their dinner, as it were), time stops, and her dancing’s great enough that the only way to even come close to rendering is by sidestepping over to these fantastical fight scenes. Okay, I can buy that, if I squint just a whole, whole lot. However, the promise implicit in a dynamic like that, it’s that there’s going to be a (Lynchian, yes) turnaround eventually — ideally, right about the climax of the movie — where, instead of defaulting to some steampunk-upped WWII with Scott Glenn barking orders he’s almost having to smile about, we’re going to become the ‘men’ in the movie, and watch Babydoll dance, and finally get a sense or at least suspicion of why the only way to really render something that fantastic is to go to WWII. In Black Swan, I mean, we get to see Natalie Portman doing all that ballet stuff. Here, though, all we ever get’s a snowflake or two drifting past Babydool’s fake lashes, and then we’re fighting giant stone samurai all of the sudden.
So, yes, if you take all the story aspirations out of Sucker Punch — and we never know why it’s called that — and leave us instead just with these miniskirted, sword and machine-gun wielding prep school girls engaged in impossible fight after impossible fight (on other planets, other times), then this can be kind of fun. The problem, though, is that Sucker Punch doesn’t know its own limitations, and, in trying to be the kind of ‘deep’ that Matrix, say, pulled off, it ends up just showing its own shallowness.