For months now we’ve been bombarded with trailers for Zack Snyder‘s “Sucker Punch.” These trailers have been elliptical, at least from a story point of view. Visually, they’ve been somewhat staggering – quick fire clips of attractive young girls in costumes that border on high-end fetish gear, battling all sorts of mythological or supernatural elements. They dive in between robots, zip underneath monstrous samurais, and face off against towering, fire-breathing dragons.
But, like, what is it about, exactly?
The new book, “‘Sucker Punch: The Art of the Film” (written by Snyder) certainly won’t illuminate anything. It does, however, collect a whole bunch of ho-hum pre-production art, as well as a gallery of images from the finished film. The main impression you get, after reading the minimal text and glancing at the volume of sketches and photos, is that Snyder was very interested in making a really cool-looking movie. And that’s about it.
In the introduction, Snyder says that he’s been living with the idea for “Sucker Punch” for “almost a decade.” The idea of a group of troubled young girls who slip into a vivid fantasy world to escape the pain of their real life is something that intrigues him. “What begins as a fearful retreat becomes an empowering coping mechanism,” he writes. (The word “empowering” is the closest thing the book comes to broaching the topic of feminism. Apparently, feminism isn’t as zingy or cool enough for Snyder. And subtext isn’t an issue.)
Most of the drawings that accompany the early section of the book, for all his talk of “empowering” and “strong” girls, look like an artist’s rendering of the Suicide Girls website – lots of garter belts and heaving cleavage. The sketches themselves lack substance, seeming more like a rip-off of genius comic book creator Paul Pope, combined with something you’d see on an Ed Hardy T-shirt – lots of inky, tattooish splashes.
As the book moves along and we move out of the purely conceptual (there’s a whole page of proposed logos), you begrudgingly acknowledge that the world that Snyder has crafted is indeed impressive. But that could just be that the combination of actresses he cast (most notably Emily Browning in the role of Babydoll) seem predestined to exist in the kind of heightened, everything-including-the-kitchen-sink world that Snyder has imagined. (Note to Zack: if you really wanted this world to be “empowering,” you wouldn’t have saddled all of the girls with stripper names – in addition to Babydoll, there’s Sweet Pea, Blondie, and Amber. Where’s Crystal or Amethyst when you need her?)
We then get glimpses of the big set pieces, which are all accounted for in the trailers. When we got the book, we worried that reading it might give away the plot specifics but apparently there are no plot specifics and virtually everything has been given away in the myriad of trailers and television spots for the movie. The tagline they’ve been trotting out: “You Will Be Unprepared.” More like “You Will Have Seen Everything By the Time You Get In the Theater.”
Snyder seems to be running through a “cool shit” fantasy film checklist – there are robots, dragons, Nazi-ish creatures, even Orcs (yes, Orcs, like from “Lord of the Rings“). And while the work he has put into these creations is pretty unbelievable (there’s an entire page breakdown of what the symbols mean on one of the girl’s samurai swords), it also seems almost entirely empty. There’s very little discussion about what any of these outlandish things means, exactly, besides what would look the coolest at the time. Maybe an “Art Of” book isn’t the forum for talking about Jungian nightmares or the nature of dreams as it relates to the burgeoning sexuality of teenage girls, but at least some vague hint of subtext would be nice. Instead, we get a nice page of designs for the Orcs and really unimpressive pictures of the real things on set.
Which isn’t to say that “Sucker Punch” won’t be a wild ride, because we haven’t seen it yet. It’s that the “Art Of” book, for its marginal visual splendor (and, really, we should be more impressed by the sky’s-the-limit pre-production artwork), doesn’t convey anything besides an adolescent obsession with cute girls in thigh-high socks killing monsters with machine guns. And while that’s all well and good, rarely do the images pop to the point of wide-eyed wonderment, without accompanying text to suggest it will be something deeper or more fulfilling. We fear the movie will be as flat as the illustrations in the book. [C]