Some directors follow the mantra, ‘style over substance’. Others embody it.
In his past features “300”, “Dawn of the Dead”, and his lone masterpiece “Watchmen”, director Zack Snyder has been one of those directors. Few contemporary directors have as keen a visual and directorial sense as he. But exactly how effectively he uses those skills has been subject to much debate. Me? I’ve long been a defender of Snyder, as in many instances he’s married visceral spectacle with compelling, dynamic storytelling. But his latest feature, “Sucker Punch”? An entirely different tune.
With “Sucker Punch”, Snyder essentially tossed in any floating idea he’d had: Nazi zombies? Why not! Giant samurai robots with Gatling guns? Throw that in too! It’s all of these wild, insane ideas, but put together in an entirely lazy, dishonest way.
See, “Sucker Punch” is about a group of girls put in an asylum who fantasize about escaping. So they collectively construct a dream world that they go into, to fight off various enemies that represent the oppressors in their lives. They’re placed in different “levels” where they have to achieve different goals, be it slaying a dragon, or disarming a bomb, or blowing up a blimp.
However, the whole concept falls apart for many reasons. One, approaching the movie on a purely visceral standpoint, it more often than not fails. It’s shot in an engaging way, sure, but without any sort of emotional foundation, it’s hard to feel for any of it. It’s so loud and so pounding that it’s hard to….what’s the word….enjoy?
Secondly, it’s hypocritical in nature. Snyder stated he meant for “Sucker Punch” to be a female empowerment film. But guess what? The female characters aren’t actually solving their problems, they’re side-stepping them by retreating into fantasy. To make matters worse, Snyder dresses them in costumes meant strictly for the prying eyes of, well, grown men. Snyder meant these women to be admired for their bodies, not their bravery or capability.
Third, the entire structure of the film is muddled and difficult. It’s a dream within a dream within a maybe-fantasy-maybe-metaphor, which is as difficult to understand in the film as it was to type. This brings us to the final reason the concept of this film comes along: It’s obviously built to serve the action, not the other way around. It’s just an empty conceit for Snyder to cram in any and every idea that came into his head.
The structure of the movie may be broken, but there are individual traits that are admirable (if not enjoyable). The female cast, consisting of Emily Browning, Abbie Cornish, Jena Malone and Vanessa Hudgens, all punch up the script; giving a believable face so as to disguise the sexist concept. And this being a Zack Snyder film, the visuals are gorgeous, with Snyder’s visual effects team creating many different, distinctive landscapes. To put it bluntly: They made a nice background for me to stare at while everything in the foreground left me cold. D