So there are many things to look at in Zack Snyder's Sucker Punch. Aside from the spectacular visuals, the gorgeous actresses, this will be Snyder's first attempt at directing something wholly from his own mind. No comic book to adapt, no beloved monster movie to remake, this will be Snyder's first "original" effort. So does it succeed? Kind of, but I'm left wanting more.
While the story is very interesting, it's held down by a mediocre script. Actually, the first 20 minutes have no dialog, so the film becomes a music video for remixed 80s songs involving dreams as Emily Browning emptily sleepwalks through the asylum, occasionally showing some emotion towards the end of this boring prologue. Now I've seen introductions that are silent and carry a lot of emotional weight (see "Up"), but there's really nothing interesting going on here except Snyder's trademark slow-mo, speed-up shtick. The film's actors and actresses do a fine job with what they are given, but the script doesn't give them anything to do. As a matter of fact, Joe Hamm appears towards the end and he seems completed wasted for someone of his acting caliber. All in all, there's not a drop of good character development to be found here and it becomes painfully noticeable as the film goes on. Then again, people are not seeing this film for the plot but to seem some style, and the film can back that up. When Baby Doll's first crazy dream begins, the film does take flight and does not stop for a good while.
When the film goes into dream mode, it becomes something truly special. The first is a fight that involves a young girl armed with a samurai blade and pistol facing off three giant robot samurai. Words could not do justice as to how kick-ass the first sequence was; and it only improves with the film's three other dream sequences. The fight scenes are brutal and are hyper-violent, reminiscent of Snyder's own "300". As far as representing what 13-year-old boys probably dream about, the film succeeds in every regard (and I mean that in the nicest possible way). The audience is transported to WWI trenches overrun by German soldiers brought to life by clockworks and steam; then to a Helm's Deep-esque siege on a castle where a fire-breathing dragon hangs out; and off to a spectacular fight against androids aboard a hijacked train. But the fights become so ridiculously over-the-top that I wondered how the hell did this film wound up with a PG-13 rating and not R (like Snyder himself anticipated). Then I realized there is no blood in any of these dream sequences. Oddly blood is only present in the real world and it's never gratuitous. But bear in mind, that's not a criticism against the film, but it is something for parents to keep in mind if they decide to make a family outing of this. I beg you to not do so.
The reason I say this is because this is NOT a kid's movie. People die violent, unromantic deaths here, and the film gets dark as hell in Act III. But I think it get's TOO dark for an action-adventure movie like this. The whole time we are treated to an over-the-top style that begs for an air of fun, but the fun immediately switches to melodrama when the final dream sequence is complete. Then the not-at-all fun ending comes to put a damper on the whole room. I will give Snyder chops for having the balls to carry out such a bold ending, though I can see why Warner Brothers was grumbling about the film. Simply put, I have a feeling a lot of people will be turned off by the ending.
Which is a shame, because the previous two hours were so damn good. While the film's beginning is slow, when the action hits, it hits hard and keeps going, constantly one-upping itself in terms of what you will see next. Yes, Snyder employs the ol' speed up, slow-mo trick multiple times during the dream sequences, but they are not overdone and allow the audience to make sense of hyper-kinetic chaos going on. And mind you, with these dreams alone, I was ready to recommend anyone to see it. But then the third act hits, and I can't honestly bring myself to give that recommendation as the film's flaws become too apparent. Nonetheless, I was never bored in the film's 109 run time and the visuals are truly striking. It's a wonderful blend of CGI, grit, and dark color palette that gives the film a unique style on its own. At the end of the day, what we have here is a classic case of style over substance. If you love to see cool stuff go up on a big screen, I'll check this out as a matinee. For everyone else, this is a rental at best.