Film Review: ‘Sucker Punch’


Zack Snyder is not a director who does things by halves. One needs look no further than his previous three offerings, 300 (2006), Watchmen (2009) and Legend of the Guardians: The Owls of Ga’Hoole (2010) to see the kind of visual ambition he brings to each and every one of his films. Even if the end results aren’t always wholly successful, the epic nature and scope of each project is usually enough to ensure that it is not totally without merit.

With his latest production, the action-fantasy monster that is Sucker Punch (2011) Snyder manages to demonstrate both his undoubted strengths as a visual artist, as well as his obvious shortcomings as a profoundly flawed storyteller.

Sucker Punch tells the story of Baby Doll (Emily Browning) a young girl confined to a mental asylum by her stepfather, as she plots with four other girls to escape, in order to avoid being subjected to an impending lobotomy procedure. As the plot unfolds, the lines between reality and fantasy become increasingly unclear, as the girls’ struggle to overthrow the asylum’s tyrannical regime becomes more and more perilous.

Both Sucker Punch’s successes and failings arise from Snyder’s muddled and imbalanced directorial sensibilities. In spite of a potentially interesting story, Snyder opts for aesthetic flamboyancy and flashy CGI effects as a means to draw the audience into Baby Doll’s world. While these visual elements are no doubt vital to proceedings, one can’t help feeling that the film would benefit immeasurably with a little more character development and insight into Baby Doll’s past.

As opposed to taking a more realistic, gritty view of our protagonist’s clearly unhinged psychological state, Snyder depicts her emotional turmoil via a series of metaphorical, fantasy battle sequences. To begin with, these action scenes work very well; illustrating each particular struggle in a fashion that is both expertly slick and evidently self-conscious of its over-the-top nature.

To further compound the disappointing lack of audience engagement, the performances, or lack thereof, are wooden at best. In fairness, this is not entirely the fault of the cast, as the material they have to work with has quite clearly taken a back seat to the number one priority of visual spectacle. This is particularly frustrating, as, with a predominantly female cast, there was a real opportunity to break with convention and combine a typically male-dominated genre with some seriously tough, female characters.

Instead, what we end up with, is merely a group of women jumping around wearing as little as possible within the parameters of a 12a rating. Whilst this will no doubt appeal to a certain type of audience, it certainly goes some way to denting the film’s already flailing credibility. What could have been a portrayal of strong female leads in a similar vein to Quentin Tarantino’s Kill Bill (2003) ends up producing an effect more akin to Lara Croft: Tomb Raider (2001).

In essence, Sucker Punch is a film which, potentially, could have been a truly memorable piece of work. With all the right ingredients in place, there is no reason why it couldn’t have achieved the same kind of success generated by Sin City (2005); a film possessing an obvious concern with action and stylisation, yet never succumbing to the ominous style-over-substance tag that so frequently befalls big budget, special effects laden movies. Sadly, in the case of Sucker Punch, such a tag is more than justified. Had just a little more guidance, discipline and narrative development been applied, one can only wonder what might have been.

Daniel Gumble