Here at Hope Lies at 24 Frames Per Second we are not the biggest fans of Zack Snyder. So, it was with great surprise that we actually enjoyed his latest work, the universally derided Sucker Punch.
It’s very easy to be cynical and dismissive of something this overtly ridiculous in concept as Sucker Punch, a film which, following the death of her mother, sees a young girl sent to an asylum for the mentally insane by her abusive stepfather. As she awaits her lobotomy, funded on the quiet by her father, and organised by the equally abusive Blue Jones, the guy in charge of the asylum, the girl plots her escape alongside several other inmates. The majority of the film takes place inside of the imagination of the girl, with each further “level” for want of a better term, taking place within the imagination of the imagination. That description probably overcomplicates things actually, just think of it like Inception for Dummies and you’ve got it. Each level has its own identity, and with it must the girl complete a task, in a manner reflecting video game strategies.
The names of the characters are theoretically ridiculous (a term that will be used a lot over the next couple of hundred words). The character that was merely described as “The Girl” in the above summary (in an attempt to not overly confuse matters – great work) formally goes by the title of Baby Doll, and others have names like Sweet Pea, Blondie and Rocket. I say theoretically ridiculous, but in the reality of the world such unusual handles make perfect sense. Video game and superhero culture is filled to the brink with assumed identities and invented monikers, so with that in mind the likes of “The High Roller” and “The Wise Man” don’t sound especially unusual.
Within Sucker Punch Snyder has placed a somewhat successful commentary on the notion of film as therapy, a concept heavily associated with the sort of cinema that some would say stands at polar opposites to Snyder’s own brand of heavy metal action film. One of the doctors at the centre of the film uses the theatre as a way of channeling the problems of the patients in the asylum, which can be read as a critique, or as a satirical swipe at art cinema. It’s “somewhat successful” in the respect that, while not necessarily agreeable a point, it is portrayed rather effectively. Although, by deconstructing the notion of the art movie, Snyder in turn falls into the trap of using his medium for theraputic reasons, contradicting his ultimate point…
The film comments on it’s own ridiculousness when one character partially breaks the fourth wall declaring that performance “should be more than just titillation”. Clearly a direct answer to his critics, Snyder understands how his work is viewed from the outside. The overly absurd nature of the work will divide audiences. By the time a character known as “The Mayor” makes his entrance to a rap hybrid of Queen’s “We Will Rock You” you will either be rolling with the show or have completely given up. If you’re in the latter camp then missing out on a post-Glee inspired cast led rendition of Roxy Music’s “Love Is The Drug” is your punishment for not buying in to Snyder’s (dare I say it) vision.
A Zack Snyder film wouldn’t be “A Zack Snyder Film” without a couple of incredibly poorly judged musical cues. A cast sung take on “Where Is My Mind” recalls Coldplay by way of the most languishing emo. Its unusual that Snyder chose to use a song so well versed cinematically, and suffers from the same problem of many of the musical cues in Watchmen, in that it’s lazy, and distracting. Saying that, the appearance of Bjork’s “Army Of One” during one particular sequence, in which the sound of gunfire and explosion play in unison with the song, works really well. Thematically the use of “Army Of One” ties in nicely with the ultimate point of the movie. An amazing sound design accompanies the film, amazing that is, when it isn’t being hidden by heavy metal. A satisfyingly loud experience, Sucker Punch isn’t the sort of film that one ought to go within two hundred feet of with a migraine.
The art design of the film really comes into its own in the second imagination world, which channels World War 2 aesthetics, trading human being for mechanical zombies, in the shape of masses of steam-powered clockwork Nazi’s. Mechas, airships and blimps fill the scene, and its genuinely a sight to behold. Prior to this section of the film Snyder lapses into Terry Gilliam/Tim Burton territory, so the shift is welcome. Speaking of Terry Gilliam, and it’s a funny coincidence that Snyder has crossed paths with Gilliam creatively in the past with Watchmen, but Sucker Punch recalls Brazil on more than one occasion, not least in its ultimate deviation. With that in mind, its pretty much a given that any film concerned with the imagination is going to recall Gilliam and that particular film at some point or another. Likewise with the manner in which films concerned with the imagination are often likened as a tome on the cinematic medium.
The film does have its problems. The script isn’t the greatest, but it never distracts, and while most gaps in logic can be explained by the nature of the narrative, the relentless fighting does become somewhat tiresome by the fourth or fifth sequence. One thing that seems to have been attacked en-masse by almost every reviewer under the sun is the video game-like structure of the film, which sees our protagonist head out on a journey to collect five items, including that most typical of video game iconography, the key. Said critics didn’t seem to have too much of an issue with Edgar Wright’s Scott Pilgrim Vs. The World, which used a similar type of structure.
As the film closes with a surprisingly chilling and emotionally effective outcome (that doesn’t make a huge amount of sense), Sucker Punch will have long since split its audience. A moderate success from our point of view, which is a major compliment all things considered.