Picture Zack Snyder sitting in some nondescript office, pounding away on his computer’s keyboard, working on the screenplay for his first original idea-based film, Sucker Punch. With a huge grin across his face, he’s practically abusing the keypad, typing at a frantic pace in order to jot down every crazy new idea that pops into his head. And through the whole process, there’s a simple thought at the back of his mind: “Dudes are going to love this!”

This isn’t Inception, though, so there’s no way of knowing exactly what went on inside Snyder’s mind while constructing this no-holds-barred excursion into unfiltered self-indulgence, but that’s probably damn close to being spot-on. There’s really no rudimentary way to explain the plot of Sucker Punch, but here goes nothing: Baby Doll (Emily Browning) gets tossed into an all-girl insane asylum by her evil stepfather, and right before she’s about to get lobotomized, her mind kicks into warped speed and remixes her entire week’s stay inside the loony bin as the wildest video game hodgepodge imaginable. That’s the best you’re going to get, because Sucker Punch isn’t about actual storytelling; it’s an excuse for Snyder to fire any and everything at the screen just because he can. Hardly anything in Sucker Punch makes sense, especially when placed inside the larger context Snyder and co-writer Steve Shibaya so desperately tried to mold.

sucker-punch-air-gunsBut then a strange thing happens during the movie’s final section—Snyder suddenly tries to connect some kind of salvation message and deeply emotional payoff to over 90 minutes’ worth of soulless adrenaline. And therein lies the blame of Sucker Punch’s negative aftertaste. By ending the film on such a dour and heady note, Snyder asks the viewer to think about what they just saw as they exit the theater, which is aloof self-sabotage. Hole-ridden and unnecessarily emotive, the film's ending needs the fire-breathing dragon to swoop in and gobble up every single character on screen. At least that'd remind viewers of Sucker Punch’s shallow yet shamelessly badass moments, and there are plenty of those on hand.  

The action is carried out by Baby Doll and her four new mental patient gal-pals: Sweet Pea (Abbie Cornish, whose hotness virtually leaps off the screen), the quintet’s de-facto leader; Rocket (Jena Malone), Sweet Pea’s rebellious younger sister; Amber (Jamie Chung), a wide-eyed dreamer with mad fighter pilot skills; and Blondie (Vanessa Hudgens), a spunky and petite double-crosser. Together they employ heavy firearms, swords, and gravity-defying acrobatic maneuvers to tear through armies of gas-mask-wearing Nazi zombies, Lord Of The Rings-style mutant warriors in armor, faceless robots packing handguns, and gigantic Samurai monsters with red eyes and Gatling guns.

Realizing that it’d be completely idiotic to just have beautiful ladies just stumble upon the random assortment of baddies one gang after another, Snyder frames the movie’s four main action sequences with a confusing entry point. Baby Doll and company hatch an elaborate scheme to break out of the asylum; in true role-playing video game fashion, they must steal four different objects from within the building. In order to do so, Baby Doll has to distract their enemies with seductive dances, only the audience never sees her gyrate; whenever she’s about to bust moves, Snyder’s camera closes in on her face and relocates to a hyper-stylized fantasy world, and in come the undead Krauts and Godzilla-like Samurais.

And, yes, it’s as convoluted in the movie as it sounds here. Perhaps even more so. In his previous films (Dawn Of The Dead, 300, and Watchmen), Snyder caught much flack for his overuse of slow-motion during action scenes; well, the haters are really going to flip their lids over Sucker Punch. The film’s Baby Doll-centric prologue is delivered entirely dialogue-free and in constant slo-mo, which possibly is Snyder’s way of saying, “Kiss my ass, slo-mo naysayers” without having to open his mouth.

In the case of Sucker Punch, though, the slowed down effects actually suit the material; if not for the rampant slowness, the loud and overstuffed action scenes would be incoherent at best. “Restraint” clearly isn’t a word in Snyder’s dictionary—he goes for sheer overkill here, drawing a dividing line between folks able to sit back and enjoy mindless rides and uptight purists who demand a little subtext in their battle setpieces. Those who fall into the latter category should skip Sucker Punch and find the nearest arthouse cinema.

sucker-punch-dragonIf some crafty editor were to take scissors to Sucker Punch’s spools of film reel and cut off the last 15 minutes, Snyder’s pic would be the ultimate shut-up-and-watch-in-awe movie. But he clearly tried to assemble a legitimate narrative amidst all of the film’s bullet spray and mountains of fire. By doing so, he leaves viewers no choice but to examine the incoherent jumble of a script, inviting a staggering amount of contradictions, muddled twists, unexplained occurrences, and a protagonist role-reversal that undermines the entire movie and careens into pointlessness. That being the case, Sucker Punch is ultimately sucked dry of its brainless allure and genuinely exciting spectacle.

The larger story at play is so botched that it’s easy to just laugh it off and recommend the movie for its eye-sexing merits. All five stars—especially Browning, Malone, and Cornish—look exceptionally hot while playing their mostly thankless roles with admirable poise and believable physicality (not in that, misogynists), and the special effects sure do look mighty cool. But one gets the feeling that Snyder wanted to achieve something more. He should’ve just trusted the flying dragons and WWII ghouls to do all of the work.