This Monday sees the release of Zack Synder’s self-proclained Alice in Wonderland with machine guns on DVD and Blu Ray. I saw it a good month ago, but thought I’d might just as well leave it till the week of its DVD release for my review. I have been a big fan of Synder ever since his stylish remake of Dawn of the Dead, followed by his incredibly faithful and rather stunning comic-book adaptations of 300 and Watchmen. Sucker Punch marks the first time that Synder has worked from his own script and ideas. It’s fair to say that this film is chock-a-block of ideas, and while it does deliever on its promise of Alice with machine guns, it does so in a rather muddled, confused, and by the end of it, rather pointless fashion, constructing what can only be described as a feature-length video game/music video of a film.

The main flaws with the movie lie within its story, which is a shame because the film seemed to have massive potential within its concept, landing it a place on my list of most anticipated movies of 2011. It follows Emily Browning’s Babydoll, who is imprisoned in a Mental Asylum by her evil Step-dad, who aims to have her lobotomized by the end of the week in order to attain the fortune of her recently deceased mother. Whilst in the asylum, Babydoll begins to envision a way in which to escape by delving into her own mind, first imagining the Asylum as a Moulin Rouge style brothel and then imagining a fantasy realm within that imaginary construct that helps unlock what she needs to escape. With the help of fellow Asylum patients/brothel members/ scantily clad, zombie-nazi, dragon fighting, robot-busting friends Sweet Pea (Abbie Cornish), Rocket (Jena Malone), Blondie (Vanessa Hudgens) and Amber (Jamie Chung), Babydoll finds the means to escape through her mind. But will it be too late?

Somehow, I think my plot description has made it sound much deeper then it actually is. The problem being that not a lot seems to make sense. We are introduced to the character of Babydoll through a music montage to a rather nifty cover of Sweet Dreams, but where it may sound nice, you feel as connected to Babydoll as you would to any 2-dimensional character in a run of the mill music video. Whilst within the Asylum, it looks as though the movie may venture into some very interesting and dark places, but it makes the rather bizarre move of moving into an imaginative world of a brothel. This move really perplexed me from this point, as the move to a brothel seemed to come out of nowhere and was rather uninspired. It does turn out to contain the crux of the story, as the asylum only acts as a bookend for the movie, which begs the question as to why the movie just didn’t have her trapped in the brothel and have her delve into her mind to find the means of escape from there. It tries to go for Inception levels of complexity, but it doesn’t have the story or the capabilities to pull that off.

Now we get to the action set-pieces of the movie, the more insane and elaborate parts of the movie which Babydoll enters whenever she performs a dance routine. There is no denying that these scenes; (starting with a Japanese battle with Samurai robots, moving to Nazi zombies, fighting dragons in bomber planes and a robot bust up), are highly imaginative, pulse-pounding, visually striking and in its own way rather cool. And the girls all look pretty hot in their respective get-ups. But the resulting impression of these scenes is, what the hell is the point? Yes, they’re stylish, and yes it’s fun to watch, but that is all it’s done for. The mind-bending elements of Inception were all about cause and consequence, here Synder is just having a wet dream on screen, seemingly throwing whatever mad idea he had on to his canvas, presenting a female empowerment movie that seems to be directed towards an audience of teenaged boys. Like me then. But, being the slight film snob *ahem* I mean critic, that I am, I am a believer in action serving a story. I do think films which just have action set pieces for fun and not a else do have their place, but not when they take themselves too seriously like this. It is a shame, because there is some great evidence of Synder’s unique visual flair.

Thankfully the cast are on their game, even if their characters aren’t fleshed out to their full potential. Browning has a very unique look to her, very innocent, naive, yet also managing to convey the tough spirit you need to have to support Babydoll throughout the movie. It’s just a shame that her character is used more as an action-figure rather than a deep soul trying to find herself and her freedom. Much can be said for the rest of the characters, they seem like characters who could have a lot of depth if the script would only go that bit further. Carla Gugino impresses as the Hen Mother to the girls in the brothel and Oscar Isaacs is just the right amount of campy hammy evil as Blue Jones, the man in charge of the brothel and a guard at the asylum.  

I am sure Warner Bros. selected Synder for their upcoming Man of Steel on the strength of his earlier comic-book adaptations, as on evidence of this, he doesn’t seem to be quite as good when working from his own material. He still shows much of the same strengths in terms of creating a visually stunning world, and one that does keep the eyes entertained for the running time. It’s just annoying how empty the resulting feeling is with this movie. It could, and should, have been better. There is great potential wasted in the story, particularly with fleshing out the characters. Some kick-ass action sequences, an excellent soundtrack (featuring haunting covers of The Pixies Where is my Mind? and The Smiths’ Asleep, do go someway to creating an atmosphere, but can’t save the story from collapsing under heavy weight of it’s own numerous ideas. Better step up for Superman, Synder.

2/5– A movie with great potential which loses itself with a script packed with too many ideas and not enough heart. The resulting product is a visual stunning, yet disappointingly empty shell of a movie.