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Sucker Punch (2011)—Zack Snyder’s Biggest Missed Opportunity

Sucker Punch movie poster

How would I describe Zack Snyder? He’s the best example of a polarizing director. Best known for his gorgeous visuals but lackluster storytelling, Snyder has a rather checkered filmography, scoring big with hits such as Man of Steel and his rendition of Justice League while also making stinkers such as Batman v. Superman and to a lesser degree, the controversial Watchmen. While most know his bigger films under the DCEU not many may remember his 2011 venture known as Sucker Punch. The best way to describe it? Well, just keep reading.

Baby Doll (played by Emily Browning) and her sister are left in the care of their abusive stepdad after the death of their mother. After Baby Doll accidentally kills her sister while trying to defend her from their stepdad, he has her committed to a mental asylum to have her lobotomized. While there, her mind drifts off to variety of fantasy worlds, featuring herself and many others, Rocket (played by Jena Malone), Blondie (played by Vanessa Hudgens), Amber (played by Jamie Chung), and Sweet Pea (played by Abbie Cornish) in the mental asylum as dancers in a brothel. Whilst there, she and the others are abused by Blue Jones (played by Oscar Isaac), the owner of the brothel who is the head doctor at the asylum. In order to escape, she maps out a plan to escape by needing four items: a map, a knife, fire, and a key.

Now before I get to the negatives, I should mention some of the positives. And I have to say, this film truly feels like a Shonen anime brought to life. From the action scenes to the costumes to the theme about camaraderie and self-sacrifice. Snyder’s style of filmmaking perfectly lends itself to making action scenes that looked straight out of an anime. This should come as no surprise as Snyder has integrated references from several well-known Shonen anime in his films, even including Man of Steel. And while this makes the film more bearable to watch on a visual spectacle alone, it also is a source of criticism. Mostly considering that Snyder fails to see the shortcomings of anime and its subculture of overtly sexualizing women, as Baby Doll and her allies are all skimpily dressed in schoolgirl outfits while doing acrobatic flips and high kicks, fighting enemies who are much larger and stronger than they are. I’ve seen enough of this crap from Joss Whedon, so why would I need to see more of this from Snyder?  

So as someone who is generally appreciative of Zack Snyder’s filmography and visual creativity, I have to say, I’m rather disappointed. Snyder is known for his creative use of wide and medium shots, breathtaking action set pieces, and usage of slow motion in addition to his re-imaginings of classic scenes from comics. However, Sucker Punch doesn’t put that on full display. We see Baby Doll face off against demonic samurai, steampunk zombie Nazis and a dragon, but one problem still lingers: every world looks exactly the same. Why couldn’t Snyder have made each and every world distinctly different? Why not have one world be hyper realistic and another world completely 2D animated or even blend visual aesthetics such as cyberpunk with Gothic era architecture? The possibilities were endless.

Snyder said that the choice of music was paramount to the production of the film, claiming that it represented different shades of Baby Doll’s personality. And on the surface, it achieves its desired effect. My biggest problem? It sounds very generic. You could easily swap out the music from any source with similar sounding music and the scene would still stay the same. If your film is enriched by music, it needs to be unique to the film you are making. A good example of this would be Mamoru Hosoda’s Belle. Every single song tells a story within the story of the film, filling in the gaps that the script doesn’t explicitly tell you. The music in Sucker Punch? It just feels like filler. Colorful filler, but filler nonetheless. What does listening to an epic rendition of “Sweet Dreams” tell us? Nothing. I can replace it with Hidden Citizens’ rendition of “I Just Died in Your Arms” and the scene would still be the same. Now what does that tell you?

Finally, I’d like to add that Sucker Punch feels too full and empty at the same time. What do I mean? The film tries too hard to sound deep, by having multiple layers of reality. And it feels empty by having every side character (and setting) being defined by only one personality trait. While we all know that Baby Doll’s fantasy worlds are obviously that, fantasy, but the brothel and mental hospital are also layers of the true reality. The only true reality is the chair where Baby Doll’s getting lobotomized. Which means everything we’ve seen is just the delusions of a girl clinging on to consciousness. How does this come together? No idea! But do you know what the most frustrating thing about this movie is? At the very end, it suddenly throws a twist our way: that this wasn’t Baby Doll’s story, rather she was gathering the tools for Sweet Pea’s escape. Why? The entire film is literally told from Baby Doll’s point of view! Hell, I think I know why this movie’s called Sucker Punch. You feel like you want to get sucker punched after wasting two hours of your life watching this crap!

At the end of the day, Sucker Punch has got to be my least favorite of Zack Snyder’s films. Despite it being full of Snyder’s usual filmmaking marks, it fails to keep your attention longer than 15 minutes. Unless you’re an adolescent boy full of raging hormones, there really isn’t any substance that keeps the film going besides pure eye candy. And what happens when you have too much candy? You start getting sick. If Snyder was making a dumb action flick with hot girls and explosions, I’d cut him some slack. However, Snyder tried to act like the film was much more than mind-numbingly dumb action, and to that, I completely disagree. But even at his worst, Snyder does display an imaginative and cinematic vision, which makes it all the more painful when I see it’s muddied by poor writing and storytelling. All-in-all, this film could’ve been so much more, but it just didn’t have enough gas to truly fly. 

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