REVIEW: Sucker Punch

Reviewer:  Pierre Badiola
Rated: 12 (UK)
Release Date: 1 April 2011 (UK)
DirectorZack Snyder
CastEmily BrowningAbbie CornishJena MaloneCarla GuginoOscar Isaac

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Zack Snyder’s follow up to 2010’s mythic 3D spectacle Legend of the Guardians: The Owls of Ga’Hoole is an oppressively dull melting pot of low-brow, adolescent, videogame kitsch, and furthers Snyder’s reputation as a director primarily preoccupied with visual wizardry and little else.

After witnessing the abuse of her sister at the hands of their brutish father, an underage ingénue known only as Baby Doll (Emily Browning) accidentally commits a crime that leaves her sentenced to a draconian mental institution for girls. In the opening prologue, colour-sapped and soundtracked with post-grunge MTV-rock in much the same manner as an Evanescence music video, Snyder affirms the heavily mannered visual style which he cultivated in Watchmen and 300; every frame as if a comic-book panel played in slow motion. Whereas the ideas and narrative language in 300 and Watchmen were actually conceived in comic-books, Sucker Punch (the first original material written by Snyder together with co-writer Steve Shibuya) feels exactly the same, if not more tuned to that rabid Comic-Con/fanboy/geek mentality.

Inside the institution, things don’t fare much better for Baby Doll as after a five day stint we witness a suspenseful lobotomy scene that ends just before nail is about to hit brain. Suddenly we are transported to an alternate reality world, where the institution is now a high-class brothel hosted by a Polish dance-instructor (Carla Gugino) and owned by a sleazy, mustachioed South American (Oscar Isaac). Inmates of the institution are now high-priced escorts, and new arrival Baby Doll is quickly sussed out as the most prized. If this format sounds familiar it should; the idea of fantasy-as-escape from impending doom has been done twice in the past couple of years no less with both Shutter Island and Inception, but this layered-dream construction takes as much from Brazil, Wizard of Oz and even Gothika too.

Baby Doll, played by an often bored and lost looking Browning, soon realises her sensual dances contain some kind of power that paralyses all the men watching her — a fact that leads her to concoct a cryptic escape plan — but while dancing she enters a second realm of fantasy. During these sequences Snyder subjects us to the film’s most audacious and incoherent moments, as Baby Doll’s mental escape within an escape apparently involves fighting in a scantily-clad female superhero group against hordes of nameless, shape-shifting soldiers.

These over-stuffed and thrill-less action sequences purport to have a purpose. A wise sage played by Scott Glenn acts as a Spirit Guide who at the start of each “dance” rules an item they need to attain, much like a videogame fetchquest. But unlike a videogame, Snyder fails to provide us with any rules or boundaries, and the action proceeds aimlessly without them. These short bursts of special effects, gunplay and fistfights are analogous to the fights in Scott Pilgrim vs. The World, in that they openly embrace the format of episodic ‘levels’ that advance in difficulty and obstacle. But when the characters of Sucker Punch pull out guns, fighter jets and giant bipedal robots at the drop of a hat, and the increasingly absurd carnage surrounding them overbears, there is little humanly recognisable left to care about.

That’s not to say the overarching videogame motif is entirely without credit. The notion that Baby Doll is driven to virtual worlds in order to escape her oppressors and become an idealised oppressor herself is a start, and videogames are the quintessential 21st century model of this. Yet it’s implementation here lends more to visual indulgence than meaningful allegory.

One has to wonder if Baby Doll’s departures into vapid fantasy are representative of Snyder’s own filmmaking ethos.

I haven’t even touched on the complete lack of chemistry between the Sucker Punchers, the dubious claims of feminism, the laughably over-serious voiceover or the dated heavy-rock soundtrack comprised of sub-par covers (including a hard rock version of The Beatles’ Tomorrow Never Knows, for those of you who even thought of giving this film a chance). But I think that’s altogether indicative of the film’s wealth of bad ideas wrapped in a needlessly complicated package.

MOVIE RATING: 1/5

Cross posted to Cinehouse

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