You know that friend you have who’s an absolute moron? You know. We all have one of those friends. The friend that is so stupid that they try to pick a fight with every person they meet smarter than they are. We also call them bullies or just plain jerks. They will spend so much of their time claiming to be smarter than everyone around them that eventually, they’re just sorta pitiable. There was a girl I knew named Clarissa like that. She used to say “I’m smarter than you!” all the time. She’d never do anything to prove it, except drink a lot, snort a lot of coke and flake out on her responsibilities, leaving our production short a cast member. That’s the kind of person Clarissa was. And that’s the kind of movie Sucker Punch is. It’s trying so desperately to tell you how smart it is that it forgets to just shut up for two minutes. It grabs every cliché in the book and cobbles them together as though they’re a totally original idea and expects you to be impressed. Sorry, Zack Snyder–I’ve seen Primer. You really can’t confuse me after Primer and six seasons of Lost. Just ask Christopher Nolan how easy it was to follow Inception.
And yet, Sucker Punch is also another kind of movie. It’s also my favourite kind of movie: the movie that is so unbelievably and ludicrously dumb that I can’t help but be charmed by its sheer stupidity. We all know those movies–stuff like Drive Angry or Black Dynamite or Airplane!. These movies are often comedies because dramas as ridiculous as these would be repellent. Yet, occasionally, it can work. When you have the right combination of elements–a fun, simple screenplay; a willing and attractive cast; enough money blown on special effects to severely lessen the devastation caused by the tsunami in Japan–you can have a movie that is so amazingly, paste-eatingly stupid that it wraps its way around to smart again. The kind of smart you get when you know your limitations and play to your strengths, instead of desperately insisting that you can do everything.
Sucker Punch is nominally Zack Snyder’s first movie to not be an adaptation of anything else. Even then, the logline for the pitch to the studio was “Alice in Wonderland with machine guns”. And let me tell you, Zack–if that had been what your movie was, I think I’d’ve liked it. Instead, a girl I have to refer to as Baby Doll (Emily Browning) tries to shoot her stepfather for murdering her sister and gets sent to a mental institution. Her stepfather pays an orderly to do something to her that will send her to “paradise”–heavily implied to be a lobotomy, as what else could keep a girl from spilling about the attempted rape? She’s about to have her brain tapped out of her skull when she wakes up and instead of being in a mental institution, they’re all in a burlesque club posing as a brothel. Sweet Pea (Abbie Cornish) says that she’s not gonna show the new girl around and that her equally hot sister Rocket (Jena Malone) should do it.
And this is where you realize what Sucker Punch should be all about: scantily clad women in a sexually exploitable situation fighting back against male aggressors. Pretty cool, right? I mean, I don’t think burlesque hookers normally wear that much eye makeup off the clock, but okay. I’ll roll with it. It’s revealed that Baby Doll can hypnotize men into a trance while she’s dancing (long, stupid story) and she finds that when she dances, she’s in a fantasy world under her control. Okay, that’s pretty cool, and it shows us what Sucker Punch should be all about: scantily clad women firing guns at things that are about to explode. I’m not going to pretend to be a sophisticate here–I would love that movie. I would love it to death. In fact, I thought that was going to be what this movie was. Instead… well, it’s about half that.
The other half is Zack Snyder begging for my attention and telling me, over and over again, about how smart he is. Well, I have news for you, Zack Snyder. The title of your movie is twist ending, the tagline is “you won’t be able to call the twist”. And if you demonstrate that kind of ingenious subtlety in the titling and promotion of your film–when you’re giving away the game before anyone can even read the screenplay–just imagine how subtle your movie is going to be. Here’s a hint: it isn’t. It’s not subtle. It’s not subtle at all. You spend half of your movie trying to tell me that you’re smarter than I am. That would be great if you were smarter than I am, Zack Snyder. But I think it’s actually kind of frightening that you don’t think your audience will know what a metaphor is. Who are you aiming for with this movie? Cos I can say now, it isn’t the kind of people who like the legitimately intelligent movies you’re aping–like The Matrix or Memento or Fight Club or Seven. Those people have grown older in the last ten years, Mr. Snyder, and they want a movie that doesn’t apologize for being what it is.
And that’s what your movie does, Zack Snyder. You wrote the screenplay, so despite never putting “a Film by Zack Snyder” in your credits, I think you can safely be blamed for this one. I don’t think Oscar Isaacs performance as the evil orderly (great villain, sadly underused) is at fault for your movie’s severe underestimation of your audience. And don’t try to tell me now that your movie is just meant to be escapist fun. If it were meant to be escapist, action-based fun, don’t you think there would be more action? Or less literal escapism in the plot and more legitimate escapism for the audience? Why would you craft a movie with this ending–you know what I mean, Snyder–just to defend it by saying “It’s not supposed to be intelligent!”
Even if it isn’t supposed to be intelligent, Zack Snyder, it’s certainly trying to be. And what it comes out as is an uncomfortable blend of a quarter of a four-star action movie–cos let’s face it, you do that well–and three quarters of a no-star movie from a man who judges his audience to be about as smart as pond scum. I mean,–crap, Zack! Between your movie and Battle Los Angeles, I may never pay for a movie ticket again. ONE AND A HALF STARS