Sucker Punch: A Review

Sucker Punch – Dir: Zack Snyder; *ing: Emily Browning, Abbie Cornish, Jena Malone, Vanessa Hudgens, Jamie Chung, Scott Glenn

We’ve entered into an intriguing new era in cinema; where once movies were influenced by movements in art and literature, today their inspiration comes from the world of comic books and video games. The results of direct adaptations vary, from the wildly inventive (Scott Pilgrim Vs. the Rest of the World) to the startlingly inept (Max Payne, Doom, The Spirit and two dozen other pea-brained projects that should’ve been condemned to the chair). Writer-director Zack Snyder by now has considerable experience with the genre, having written and helmed the likes of Watchmen, 300, and the under-production new Superman movie, Man of Steel. Sucker Punch is his first original screenplay but still feels distinctly like a medium-to-medium transfer, its episodic structure and fight sequences straight out of role-playing/strategy games, and its darkly stylised imagery coming off the pages of a Gaiman-ish piece of graphic literature. Its kinetic, audacious visual style also owes something to the likes of Moulin Rouge though, with frenzied combat replacing the dance moves.

Snyder’s heroine Baby Doll (Browning) sets up the fairly thin premise in which, institutionalized by her abusive stepfather and facing lobotomy, she retreats into an alternate reality where she and the other inmates – Sweet Pea (Cornish), Rocket (Malone), Blondie (Hudgens), and Amber (Chung) – are the key players in a plot to break out of the bordello that has replaced the asylum. When Baby Doll dances, she is transported into fantasy worlds where a mysterious Wise Man (Glenn) sets her and her companions on a series of quests that will lead to their escape. But these dreamscapes are not a safe place for young girls, inhabited as they are by blood-thirsty creatures, from gun-wielding samurais, to zombie-fied Nazis, to fire-breathing dragons. Each of her ultra-violent reveries plays out like a game level, which can only be exited once the objective has been achieved.

The problems with Sucker Punch are almost immediately obvious right from its wordless opening credits sequence which sets the ‘style beats substance to bloody, whimpering pulp’ tone that becomes more and more heightened as the film progresses. Snyder’s camera whips and swoops in every direction, his scissors slice and dice with fury, and the soundtrack pounds out the quasi-goth tunes like Shakespeare’s suggestion to ‘play on’ was an on-pain-of-death command. But do all the orgiastic flying bullets, blades and babes signify anything more than nothing? It’s hard to tell with this ocular-aural hammering that one is experiencing. The film is a treasure trove of eye-popping action money-shots, sure, but one has a sneaking suspicion that Snyder abracadabra-ed those up first and then inserted bits of narrative in between, rather than the other way around, and it shows. Coherence as a virtue is sorely lacking here. Also, with its dream-within-a-dream design, it’s more than likely that you’ll lose track of what point the urgency of the story stemmed from in the first place.

Still, the film is enjoyable at a very basic level for the very same reasons stated above, if you take it strictly at face value. Snyder is without a doubt a filmmaker with an eye and ear for awe-inspiring action; it’s just a shame that he didn’t pause to work on his storytelling skills.

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