Like him or not, Zach Snyder is kind of a big deal. The action director has been called a great many things, but I can't imagine too many have accused him of having no style, even if that style is pretty gaudy. With just four movies under his belt, Snyder's name already carries as heavy of connotations as Judd Apatow or Robert Rodriguez. There's no question that the man's career is heavily influenced by the video game age, and as trivial as that might make him sound, it does put him at the forefront of a some pretty big shifts in the filmic scene. Hate on his tendency to put action and aesthetic over story and acting all you want: He might just be onto something that could stick.
The trailers and TV spots for his latest flick, Sucker Punch, did just about everything in their power to make the film look exactly like a, "Zack Snyder Movie." Crazy color pallets, slow-motion action, surreal special effects, smokin' hot ladies, and lots and lots of empty bullet shells. It comes as a surprise then that Sucker Punch actually has a pretty intriguing concept at its center. Spitefully thrown into a mental ward by her vengeful father, Baby Doll (Emily Browning) immediately finds herself in a cut-throat world. Her best hope for survival is befriending her fellow inmates, and doing everything possible to stay on the good side of one particularly sinister warden (Oscar Isaac) who prostitutes the girls for his own fortune. Seeking any sort of solace from the nightmare she now calls life, Baby Doll finds that her vivid imagination is transportive enough to distract from everything around her, not to mention giving her an idea of how she and the girls might just be able to escape. With the help of Rocket (Jena Malone), Sweet Pea (Abbie Cornish), Blondie (Vanessa Hudgens), and Amber (Jamie Chung), Baby Doll sets out to beat the system, and break out of her hellish existence.
Stylistically, this one is already old hat for Snyder. The audio of the first fifteen minutes or so is more filled with song lyrics than it is actual dialogue, and one once again gets the feeling that, just as with 300, the man is playing to his strengths with visuals and montages as a means of distracting from his film's writing. It's a good trick, one that makes the aforementioned stretch of time some of the best stuff in the movie, even as it is powered by a string of putrid cover songs, the most offense among them a cover of The Pixies' Where is My Mind? that I refuse to waste my time looking up the artist behind. Though framed and imagined in the same vein of his other efforts, Sucker Punch makes for Snyder's first real use of the color gray, the rainy-day misery of the ward conveyed in dull, muted tones. Even with bad acting (because did you really expect anyone to give a good performance in this one?), the ward scenes prove effective for their commitment to melodrama and a sort of new-age gothic. It's not the kind of stuff that you can take too seriously, but it's overly dramatic and over-the-top in just the right way.
The film's many actions sequences are also over-the-top, only this time it's in just the wrong way. Appearing more like an excuse than an inspired choice, Baby Doll's imagination is where the film wedges all of its fire-breathing dragons and giant samurai, as she and the gang battle a completely new, unrelated foe each time that she slips into imagination land. It's enough of a stretch to accept that what this super pale, super frail twenty-year-old would have fantasies that involve killing countless things with the help of four other scantly clad ladies, but the sequences simply aren't fun to watch. Their fast-paced sense of wizz-bang action clashes jarringly with the monotone pallet and slow-motion movements of the ward. I found myself squinting through many of these scenes, as though someone had just flipped the lights on after a night of sleep. Even if your eyes can handle these violent change-ups, each of the action set-ups results in more or less the same thing: A mission that has nothing at all to do with anything else in the movie is provided by a ridiculous Scott Glenn, the girls all go out and shoot automatics until your ears hurt, and then something blows up. For a guy who made his name on action, one would have to hope for more.
I would imagine that these sequences, and their commitment to displaying every last nerdy wet-dream that they can think of (babes, robots, flame-throwers...) are what landed this one such a bad grade from most critics, but the honest truth is that I had fun watching Sucker Punch. Sure, the movie is a mess, and spends extended stretches being almost difficult to watch, but the glamorously emo tone strikes me as Twilight gone right, all of the emotional over-indulgances of the film proving more fun than either grating or affecting. The movie actually has some pretty big ideas in its head, and even if the way that it communicates them often sounds like the ramblings of a fifteen-year-old's diary, its both interesting and heartening to see them try to take it in that direction. Similarly inspired but ill-fated is the movie's deplorable view of men, painting each male as demonic in a way that would prove interesting were the entire film not so obviously courting to the same perversions of the characters it decides to chide. Like I said, it's a mess, but it's a mess with style to spare, and with the exception of its action sequences, a mess that's kinda-sorta unique. I might be damning it with faint praise, but it's really as simple as this: I liked Sucker Punch more than it probably deserved to be liked, and I've got a funny feeling that most people who see it will walk out with the same impression.