In Batman and Robin, the disastrous film that almost killed Batman, a lot of people criticized director Joel Schumacher's fetishization of the bat icons over basic storytelling elements such as character or dialogue. In particular, people pointed to the "bat nipples" on the costume as representative of everything that was wrong with Schumacher's vision. Sucker Punch, the latest film from Watchmen and 300 director Zack Snyder, is all bat nipples.
Institutionalized by her abusive stepfather, Baby Doll (Emily Browning, Lemony Snicket's A Series of Unfortunate Events) discovers the only way she can fight back against the evil orderlies is to escape into a fantasy world inside her mind. She's joined in this endeavor by Sweet Pea (Abbie Cornish, Limitless), her sister Rocket (Jena Malone, Donnie Darko), Blondie (Vanessa Hudgens, High School Musical), and Amber (Jamie Chung, Sorority Row). They're guided in their fantasies by The Wise Man (Scott Glenn, The Silence of the Lambs) , whose dialogue appears to have been written by Steve Jobs (all of his speeches end with "One more thing..."). The girls have to hurry if they wish to escape a traveling doctor coming to perform a lobotomy on Baby Doll.
Sucker Punch did not look like a good movie. The ads were loud, brash, and obnoxious. Word from test screenings was also not positive. But director Snyder swore that the finished product would be something we've never seen before, a whole new vision for a new decade. What Snyder neglected to mention is that this "new vision" is actually nothing but images purloined from the last 25 years of pop culture. Almost every scene features elements taken whole cloth from other movies, TV shows, anime series, or video games. Of course, artists take ideas from other artists all the time. Some directors make their whole careers off of recombining old elements into new stories; just look at Tarantino for proof. But what Tarantino does, and Snyder noticeably does not, is to take those old elements and reconfigure them, creating relationships where none existed before. In that way, they make a film that feels new and fresh, even if you can name every reference. Sucker Punch simply lifts things from other, better artistic works, and it does it so earnestly that you get the sense that Snyder thinks he himself is being original.
This alone would not ruin the movie, but Snyder isn't done. His treatment of the women in the film is downright despicable. Now, I'm just about the last person to call something sexist, and quite often argue against such claims, but damn it, Sucker Punch is downright sexist. Snyder's treatment of his female characters is salacious and creepy, like he's making the movie just to put these girls in skimpy clothes and then have them molested or raped. The film opens with an attempted rape of a young girl, and the sense of sexual predation never fades. Someone suggested to me that the movie is akin to fan service in anime, but those are cartoons, and generally are just shown fleetingly (and often with a great deal of humor) in any given episode of an anime series. At least fellow action buff Michael Bay pulls no punches and uses women in his films as the sex objects he perceives them to be. By pretending this is a story of female empowerment, Snyder's fetishization of the girls crosses the line into truly offensive territory. I mean, hell, the main character is named Baby Doll, and the other main character Sweet Pea. Tell me you can't see Snyder drooling over the actresses as he directs them.
Sucker Punch doesn't even satisfy on the level of basic filmmaking. The dialogue is trite and often I slapped my forehead in disgust. The acting is perfunctory and one note. Scott Glenn is particularly bad, phoning in his performance so completely that I'm amazed my cell company didn't charge me for going over on my minutes. And the real crime is that the action is simply boring. I hate to use a cliche, but more than any other movie, this felt like watching a video game, even more than movies actually based on video games. I'm positive I've played some of the sequences in the film at home on my TV, and those were much more fun. Watching these girls slicing and dicing their way through a series of visually frenetic but pointless tableaus is tiring, and, when combined with Snyder's creepy eye, uncomfortable.
More than anything, I simply didn't care about anyone. No matter how much Snyder might try to cram things into the frame, it wouldn't matter, because at no point did I care about the fate of anyone on screen. Snyder needs a crash course on basic storytelling. Relatable characters and smart dialogue trump fancy slow-motion shots any day of the week. He should take notes from fellow WB golden child Christopher Nolan, who always puts his characters before anything else. Had Snyder done that, Sucker Punch might have felt like something other than absolute masturbation on every conceivable level. On the other hand, I'm sure this will move plenty of product at Hot Topic.