We have come to love Zack Snyder’s visual style, attention to detail, and ability to adapt comics to the silver screen. But, we don’t really have a sense of what he can do on his, without someone else’s work to rely on for inspiration. That is, until this March when he unveiled Sucker Punch, a personal project that had been gestating in his mind for years and he finally was given the opportunity to make it a reality.
Some reality. The mind-bending storyline is a visually and aural feast but is somewhat soulless and cold, not just from the over-reliance on CGI for background and texture but for the total lack of attention to characterization. Like the computer backgrounds, everything is on the surface, giving the cast little to work with, turning them into two-dimensional players on his digital chessboard. Most of that explains why the film fizzled both critically and commercially. In case you missed it, the movie is coming to DVD on Tuesday from Warner Home Video and packs a lot of meat into what feels like a snack.
The story, what there is of it, spotlights 20-year-old “Babydoll” (Emily Browning), confined to a mental institution in the 1960s by her abusive step-father (Gerard Plunkett). She’s locked away because she refused to submit to his unwanted sexual advances, although he claims she was responsible for the death of her younger sister. He exacts revenge by paying off the corrupt attendant Blue Jones (Oscar Isaac) to have her lobotomized, allowing him to solely inherit Babydoll’s inheritance.
The remainder of the film watches Babydoll plot an escape, while befriending fellow inmates — Amber (Jamie Chung), Blondie (Vanessa Hudgens), Rocket (Jena Malone), and Rocket’s older sister, Sweet Pea (Abbie Cornish) — who are being taught sexually provocative dances by the lead psychiatrist Dr. Gorski (Carla Gugino). Babydoll convinces them to help her plan their escape and she mesmerizes people with her own dances and each time she and the audience segue into an action-packed dream sequence. We never see Babydoll dance but there’s plenty of compelling visuals to occupy us while the girls steal the tools needed to enact the plan. Her dreams are directed by a Wise Man (Scott Glenn impersonating David Carradine).
And that’s pretty much it. Each sequence is a wild mix of steam punk, science fiction, fantasy, and war motifs as the girls swing swords, fire machine guns and takes on fire-breathing dragons or manipulate huge robots. Obviously, each fantasy matches the real world’s actions but it’s far from subtle.
There’s just not a lot here to keep you interested for nearly two hours. Snyder is a fabulous visualist and knows how to make CGI sing. Everything is in muted tones adding a somber touch to the movie. The familiar songs are all reinterpreted for the film and much credit goes to the soundtrack for keeping us watching.
The key problem is that Snyder sees this as female empowerment but it objectifies the female characters punctuated with rape, violence and degradation without redeemable qualities. None of the men really get their comeuppance as they richly deserve and feminists had a field day with this for good reason. He’s really going to have work on this for his forthcoming Superman feature since Lois Lane is Superman’s heart and soul.
The DVD looks great and comes in a combo pack. There’s the Blu-ray theatrical version plus Snyder’s 18-minute longer Extended Version, which amps the action quotient to earn it an R-rating and the two main sequences – a musical number and more with the wonderful Hamm – make the movie more engaging. The key extra on this disc is Snyder taking full advantage of the Maximum Movie Mode to walk you through everything about the making of the movie, demonstrating what a labor of love this was for him.
Both discs feature four motion comic shorts directed by Ben Hibon that were promotional bits to introduce elements of the film to audiences. Nothing much to say here. There’s also an all-too-brief piece on the film’s music, with composers Tyler Bates and Marius De Vries, which like the movie itself, is all surface and no depth.