After seeing “300” and “Watchmen,” I found it only natural to count Zack Snyder among the quintessential directors of modern film. His most recent offering, “Sucker Punch,” is Snyder’s first original film, and it is based on a story that the director penned himself. Therefore, I went into the theater hoping that I would witness the most transparent glimpse at Snyder’s directorial and artistic vision to date. “Sucker Punch” was exactly that, and more.
The movie begins as a rapid unraveling of tragic events in the life of the protagonist, Baby Doll (Emily Browning). Her mother dies, and then her stepfather forces himself onto her. After she denies his advances, a struggle begins, and Baby Doll’s sister ends up getting killed. The stepfather pins the murder on her, and she is sent to Lennox House for the Mentally Insane.
The special effects and the entire feel of Snyder’s movies are unique, and his signature style is evident right from the opening scene. He has a way of creating a look and an environment that is unparalleled to any other movie, yet still somehow maintains his own sense of style in a way that few directors have ever achieved.
The Lennox House is where the story truly begins. Baby Doll becomes aware that she will receive a lobotomy in five days, as requested and paid for by her stepfather. In order to deal with the hell that has become her reality, she begins slipping into a series of alternate realities. First of all, she envisions that the mental hospital is just a front for a brothel and gentlemen’s club. She quickly makes friends with some of the other dancers (patients), and then she is asked by the instructor (doctor) to perform.
The transition between these worlds is a dramatic one, but with consideration of Baby Doll’s current state, the complete change in scenery feels somehow seamless. As she begins to dance, she closes her eyes and enters into yet another world – a brutal, dark place containing red-eyed, giant samurai, WWI zombies and futuristic robotic soldiers. The harsh conditions of this place seemed to be grandiose metaphorical reflections of her current situation.
“Sucker Punch” is essentially those three separate worlds wound up into one story. The goal is freedom, and there are five tasks the girls (led by Baby Doll) must perform (such as gaining a map, fire and a knife) before they can gain it. The “missions” are metaphors for what the girls are doing in the other alternate reality, or the brothel. According to the Wise Man (Glenn), if they accomplish these tasks, they will have freedom from their actual reality, or the Lennox House.
I think it makes perfect sense that this movie received such awful reviews from critics. Many film critics show up expecting to see something very particular, and when it doesn’t deliver, they see the film as a failure. Well, when I saw the trailer for “Sucker Punch,” I expected to see a visual onslaught courtesy of one of Hollywood’s best and most artistic directors. Snyder made the film he wanted to make, and while that may drive some critics crazy, I think it’s great. Sure, the story doesn’t have much by way of character development, or impressive, deeply moving dialogue. I don’t think there was any point during this movie where I felt it was trying to be that kind of movie anyway.
Bottom line, this is a story about a group of down-and-out girls who have accepted the fact that as long as they are locked up inside the Lennox House, they are “already dead,” so they might as well try to escape. “Sucker Punch” isn’t trying to change the world, so if you’re expecting that, you might be disappointed. But if you just want to take a ride in Snyder’s world(s) for a little while, you may find it’s worth the price of admission.