Not to put too fine a point on this, but Zack Snyder needs to forever erase the notion that he can tell a story if he wants to keep his career going. SUCKERPUNCH is an abominable mess that not even the immensity of the IMAX screen could help rectify. I was definitely the fool here because despite the MULTIPLE warnings from my friends who saw this film before me, I, like a fucking Lemming, continued my ignorant course over the dangerous cliff by purchasing a ticket (and an IMAX ticket at that, which was like 5 dollars more) to see SUCKERPUNCH. When Zach Snyder made 300 and WATCHMEN, many film geeks, including myself, criticized the director for always relying on other source material to make a film rather than make something based off of an original screenplay. Well, I take that back (at least in terms of Snyder writing his own stories). I’m reluctant to yet call SUCKERPUNCH the worst film of 2011 because I know there are some other promising contenders for that honor coming up real soon (e.g. TRANSFORMERS 3, PIRATES 4, RISE OF THE APES, and CONAN THE BARBARIAN), but this film has a very good shot of being the worst of the year.

So what is SUCKERPUNCH all about? That is a very good question to which I have no answer and I don’t believe anyone else will have one either. The best that I can do is provide you with my interpretation of what I think is the film’s narrative. SUCKPUNCH is set in the 1960s (which other than a few pieces of furniture and old cars, you would never know its set in the 1960s unless you read that somewhere) where a young woman nicknamed “Babydoll” (Emily Browning) has just lost her mother and is institutionalized by her evil father apparently for the death of her younger sister. The mental hospital is run by an orderly named Blue Jones (Oscar Isaac), who treats the asylum as his little brothel where other good looking young women serve the needs of a running clientele that is making Blue a pretty rich guy. The other girls are Amber (Jamie Chung), Blondie (Vanessa Hudgens), Rocket (Jena Malone), and her older sister, Sweet Pea (Abbie Cornish). The girls are trained to dance by the asylum’s psychiatrist, Dr. Vera Gorski (Carla Gugino). When Dr. Gorski forces Babydoll to dance for the first time, Babydoll suddenly finds herself in a fantastical adventure set in feudal Japan where she comes face to face with giant samurai warriors. There, she meets the Wise Man (Scott Glenn, who is eerily beginning to look like David Carradine), who tells her that in order to escape the asylum, she will need to retrieve a map, a knife, a key, and a fifth, mystery item. Babydoll convinces the other dancers to join her in finding these items and through subsequent fantasy adventures, Babydoll and the other dancers retrieve the other items for their escape.

I’ve left out other aspects of the story, but the gist of the story is what I’ve provided above. Even without the other narrative elements that I’ve left out of my description, SUCKERPUNCH is a giant mess of a story. Snyder, who wrote this film, is clearly far more concerned with the style of the movie than with its substance. The story takes a backseat to the visual display Snyder sets upon the viewer. I was left both confused and frustrated with trying to figure out what the plot of the movie was and I can assure that that wasn’t due to any lack of intelligence on my part. Snyder is not only unable to clearly tell the story he’s written, but the story he has written isn’t even worth being told. So many parts of the film go totally unexplained. For example, there are no hints (visually or through exposition) to indicate that the brothel/dancer vision that Babydoll finds herself in is merely something she has imagined. We don’t know how or why when she dances, she is taken to some video game steampunk adventure where Scott Glenn gives her a mission to complete. Furthermore, it doesn’t make any sense why Babydoll needs to go on these fantastical adventures in order to retrieve items that exist in the real world. In addition, most of the items she is instructed to find are not necessary for her escape. I can go on and on about how little sense the story makes.

I quickly got the sense that Snyder was not in the least bit concerned about whether his story made any logical sense. I think the director felt that so long as he could impress his audience with an endless barrage of eye candy and his signature slow-motion action choreography, SUCKERPUNCH would work in the end. Unfortunately, it doesn’t. Ironically, I thought the subplot involving the finding of the necessary escape items in the “real” world of the asylum was more engaging than the fantasy action sequences. The action sequences were surprisingly boring and I found myself checking the time CONSTANTLY and pondering whether I should take a snack break. I was surprised that Snyder did such a poor job staging his action scenes given how well he pulled off 300 and WATCHMEN. Here, I felt like I was literally watching a video game level without any sense of high stakes or danger faced by the characters.

Zach Snyder is clearly all about giving his audience pretty visuals to look at. All of his movies focus primarily on their visual style, which should remind you of another famous commercial-turned-feature film director: Michael Bay. Up until now, Snyder’s lack of writing talent has gone largely unnoticed because he’s been fortunate to have been allowed to rely on strong source material for his stories (300, WATCHMEN). When matched with a good story, Snyder can and does in fact craft a visually striking film that nicely complements the narrative. WATCHMEN is the best example of a happy marriage between good story (Alan Moore’s landmark comic book that continues to be regarded today as the best comic book ever) and visual look. Currently, Snyder is scheduled to direct the latest reboot of the SUPERMAN franchise for Warner Bros. Despite how disasterous SUCKERPUNCH has been, I am confident that if Jonathan Nolan can deliver a strong script for SUPERMAN, Snyder can fill in the rest and come out with a great SUPERMAN movie. I’ll say this again: Snyder should never be allowed to tell a story.

However, all is not lost with SUCKERPUNCH. For one, it is one hell of a good looking and stylish film. From the very first frame where we see the Warner Bros logo behind a giant theater curtain (cribbed from MOULIN ROUGE) to the cool visualization of the titles being spelled out in rain against a car window to the breath-taking visuals of the different fantasy landscapes, SUCKERPUNCH is a visual eyefuck. Snyder’s visual style (including what I saw him do with WATCHMEN) is why I continue to hold out hope for his version of SUPERMAN. Secondly, the film contains a great performance from Oscar Isaac as the evil head orderly of the asylum. Isaac was in last year’s underrated ROBIN HOOD as King Richard and he was just as wonderful in that film as he is here. The actor’s blend of sarcasm and threat makes for a captivating villain who reminded me a lot of Alan Rickman. Its unfortunate for the actor that he’s now been in two high profile giant flops, but hopefully his talents will soon be recognized and appreciated by audiences and critics.

I haven’t said anything about the girls who comprise the main cast of this film and for good reason. I don’t blame the acting abilities of the actresses so much as I do the horrible dialogue and underdeveloped characters they were given to play. Actually, despite the poor material she was given, I thought Abbie Cornish in particular was pretty good in being able to get rid of her modern girlie dialect and adapt to a more classic time period dialect. As for the rest of the actresses, I appreciate the whole girl power thing Zack Snyder was going for, but it just didn’t work. The characters are flat and one-dimensional and you can’t distinguish one from the other. If you’re going to have a team of action heroes, it would be nice to differentiate them from one another by giving them personalities and different abilities. Instead, they all pretty much do the same thing (except one is a pilot so) and walk through their missions looking bitchy and hot.

SUCKERPUNCH may end up finishing Snyder’s career for the time being. The film was reportedly very expensive to make and based on the film’s first two box office weekends, it doesn’t look very promising for the movie. Maybe someday SUCKERPUNCH will find a second life among cult film enthusiasts in the same way that SHOWGIRLS was rediscovered. However, I don’t think you can pay me enough to have to sit through another two hours of watching this dreck.

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