"So what's the BAD news?"Immediately upon the lights coming up in the theater, Watcher X turned me and announced- with a sort of breathless excitement that tells of a long wait: "That. Was. Terrible!" I chuckled but gave no other response. I have a personal rule that I don't discuss movies until I'm out of the building. Usually this rule serves two purposes: The first is to protect me from realizing my mortal fear of spoiling the movie for someone who's heading in to see it. The second, is because I'm always curious about people's gut reactions to films. Excited utterances that can only be witnessed in the minutes directly following a screening. This time, however, I must admit there was more to my silence.
I like to think that by the time the big day came, anyone who was paying attention knew not to expect greatness from Sucker Punch, Zack Snyder's newest, biggest, boldest, and in the end worst film. It had all the warning signs: Trailers that couldn't seem to tell us anything about the story, critic screenings delayed until the very last minute, interviews with cast and crew seemingly defending the project before it even released- the list goes on. But when the rock music started and the credits rolled, I still found myself surprised. Not by it being bad, but why it was bad. I certainly did not foresee this movies biggest flaw being the it's plot had too much going on, and yet there we were.
Played by Emily Browning, Baby Doll is a twenty year-old woman who still wears her hair in pig-tails (that's a main plot point right there,write that down). Her mother, upon her death, leaves all of her assets to Baby Doll and her younger sister- much to the horror of their wicked step-father. In a drunken rage he makes clear his intentions to collect what he feels he's owed from the girls personally, and when Baby Doll fights his advances he turns to her younger sister. Baby Doll comes to defend her and in the ensuing struggle sister is killed, step-father is shot, and Baby Doll is sent on her way to the insane asylum. All of this is told via an opening montage that serves as a perfect example of everything Snyder is known and loved for. His choice of music maybe a bit overt, but still wonderfully wielded as he weaves an incredible amount of information into the few opening minutes of his film.
It's when we arrive at the insane asylum however, that things begin to to take a turn for the worst. We watch as Baby Doll's step-father pays off corrupt orderly to make sure she's lobotomized and there for unable to point the finger at him, within earshot of the her no less. But as horrible as we may feel for her, after two additional realities laid over the original you'll find yourself shifting uncomfortably in your seat and starting to loose sympathy due to sheer distraction. The inherent story Snyder (who also co-wrote with Steve Shibuya) is trying to tell is one of young women wielding the the very thing their captors want to exploit as a weapon to enact their escape. This is a story I find incredibly interesting, and it's potential as a spectacular movie is what made it so hard for me to let this film go on it's merry way to a thumbs down as I left the theater. But this kernel of greatness is buried too far beneath the rubble of this over written, over thought film that it can't be salvaged, let alone appreciated.
This is the essence of Sucker Punch: a handful of ideas that really truly intrigue, hopelessly out numbered by the legions of ideas that don't. They subdue their interesting brethren, drowning them in a quagmire of poorly explored plot points and pushy, faux inspirational monologues. And on top of it all, Snyder serves us his trademark brand of visually arresting action sequences. But, where 300's action is a three course meal served to you in generous but digestible portions, Sucker Punch is John Doe tying your hands and ankles with barbed wire and force feeding you until you vomit, plead for you life, and eventually burst.
The performances are enough to carry the "story", but none among the characters that actually matter bring anything amazing to table. Scott Glenn very quickly goes from forgettable to down right annoying as the shoehorned Wise Man, who not only seems to serve a purpose that could have been realized with infinitely more relevance to the story, but may well have been written completely from fortune cookie quotes. The Wise Man is not the only thing that seems out of place in Baby Doll's fantasy world (within a fantasy world). While a great deal of the imagery is pulled from sources in her true reality, still more seems completely unexplained- which strikes me as just lazy.
There will be a lot of talk about how this is Zack Snyder's first project based off an original script and I'm well aware of the implications. However, let's not forget that this is the same man who ,with 300, made what may very well be the only movie based off a graphic novel to completely outshine it's source material. This is the director who managed to adapt Watchmen and not only avoid massacring it, but hand in a damn good final project. Most impressively, this is the man who, in a world of remakes gone wild and horribly wrong, gave us proof that they aren't always a thing to be feared with Dawn of the Dead.
The only conclusion to draw here is that, like many first time writers, Snyder let his excitement and love for his project override his good sense. Of course, no resume or excuses can rescue Sucker Punch from it's fate as a (well earned) flop- nor should they. But one misfire does not an M. Night make, and you better believe that when Snyder's next original hits theaters I'll be there, waiting to decide my opinion when the light's come up. Potential should not condone failure, but it should earn second chances.
Real Deal Recommends:
The Uninvited: Browning in an under appreciated thriller.
Dawn of the Dead: The very definition of what a remake should be.
Hunt for Red October: Glenn in spectacular Clancy adaptation.