Wise Man: This is your journey, if you succeed, it will set you free
Beware: Spoilers may follow.
To be frank, Zack Snyder is not a great director. There I said it. Come at me. When it comes to visuals, cinematography, and fight scenes, he’s great but when it comes to orchestrating a clear plot and story he is not the man for the job. And this movie is a prime example of that: A movie well versed in its visuals but making a simple story far more than it needs to.
The story involves a young girl named Babydoll (Emily Browning) who is institutionalized by her abusive stepfather after accidentally killing her sister. She retreats to a fantasy world that mirrors the real world as a coping strategy and determines a plan to escape along with four other women Rocket (Jena Malone), Blondie (Vannesa Hudgens), Amber (Jamie Chung), and Sweet Pea (Abbie Cornish) to escape their terrible fates. As the girls fight through the fantasy world filled with various dangers from samurai to serpents and so forth, they must learn what price they have to pay to stay alive.
From the moment Babydoll gets the lobotomy the movie switches to the fantasy world for a good chunk of the movie up until the end at that point. As I said in the introduction (and other reviews of Zack Snyder movies) Snyder shines when it comes to visuals, cinematography, and action and this movie is no exception to that. The fantasy sequences have some fast-paced action, good looking sets, strong special effects, cool-looking backgrounds and enemies, decent stunt work and choreography done solely by the actresses, and good composition in the shots. The big problem? It has no stakes or tension as none of this is actually happening. Babydoll is at the brothel dancing during these action sequences and while at the brothel is at the asylum. We don’t know to what degree ANY of this translates to the real world. There’s not much reason to care for the characters and the action does nothing to develop the characters. Snyder intentionally made this ambiguous and while I’m not opposed to audience interpretation there are one too many gaps here. It’s not until the end we do find out some things did coincide in the real world but it does little to patch the events up. Some theorize that the other girls are different aspects of Babydoll’s personality which I don’t believe as the girls actually have no personality. Some theorize they don’t exist at all but we do see them briefly in the asylum in a blink-and-you’ll miss it moment.
On top of that the movie was apparently meant to be a feminist movie but it never comes across as that. I wouldn’t go so far as to call it sexist but the female empowerment is little more than good-looking girls kicking ass. As I said before none of the girls are fleshed out and ergo there’s no insight into them. They’re just generic strong, good-looking female action stars here.
Perhaps the biggest joke of this movie lies in its ending. Throughout the movie they’re instructed by a Wise Man (Scott Glen) five items the last one being a mystery. As Babydoll and Sweet Pea (the only two remaining girls at this point thanks to the remaining being killed or in Rocket’s case in the padded room) attempt to flee they’re blocked by men in the courtyard and Babydoll concludes that her sacrifice is the final item to allow Sweet Pea to escape concluding that this was her story. If that’s the case why the heck did we spend this much time on Babydoll? And in context of the dream world I suppose we can feel happy that she did escape. But in regards to the real Sweet Pea who is in fact confirmed to have escaped? We don’t know if she was wrongfully convicted or if she actually is crazy.
So at the end of it all while the movie has fantastic style it has nothing in substance. That style could be in a better movie but this movie just has action with no real danger, bad dialogue, generic characters, and overall ideas that are all over the map. It certainly seems that Zack Snyder thought he made something of importance but he didn’t. Maybe there’s a good movie in here somewhere. But I’m not seeing it.