Movie review – Beautiful package, ugly message

2011-04-22 08:46

Film: Sucker Punch (Nu Metro)
Director: Zack Snyder
Featuring: Emily Browning, Abbie Cornish, Jena Malone, Vanessa Hudgens, Jamie Chung, Carla ­Gugino, Oscar Isaac, Jon Hamm and Scott Glenn
Rating: 6/10

For many, many reasons Sucker Punch should be ­ignored – for one very good one it is impossible to do so. The allure of director ­Zack Snyder’s unique, mesmerising visual style, present in all his films, will draw cinemaphiles to this problematic creation.

While his remake of George A Romero’s 1978 classic Dawn of the Dead heralded Snyder’s arrival as a director to watch, it was the ­monochromatic boy’s own fighting flick 300, based on the graphic novel, that wore what would become his trademark look. His next project, Watchmen, another graphic novel, didn’t wow at the box-office, but it was yet another visually ­interesting film.

With Sucker Punch, which he ­also wrote, he creates a jarring ­fantasy world of opposites – of ­ugliness and beauty, of pain and pleasure, of cruelty and kindness.

It is also clear from this film that Snyder’s literary influences remain in the realm of boys’ fantasy stories. Though he peoples his story with a cast of kick-ass young ­women, they can only win the ­battle if they obey the fight rules as set out by the male characters and, by extension, the male ­puppetmaster, Snyder.

It is this intrinsic chauvinism that makes the film a definition of its title – it delivers an unexpected blow to its female characters’ self-determination.

The young women who populate the cast become caricatures of what men want. Decked out in the stock of a sex store – from suspender belts to midriff-baring sailors’ outfits and a lick of leather for a hint of S&M, there isn’t a real woman alive who’d wear any of this stuff to fight the ultimate battle of life and death. Sporting ponytails and pouts, sucking lollipops suggestively and caressing big guns, Snyder doesn’t miss a ­sexist trick in creating his cast of ­heroines.

The story is the woeful tale of Baby Doll (Emily Browning) who is put into a lunatic asylum by her abusive stepfather.

The lascivious head orderly, Blu (Oscar Isaac), promises to make sure she’s given a lobotomy within the week – so that she can’t remember what abuse she has suffered.

In an ­attempt to survive the institution and make the wait for her operation bearable, Baby Doll retreats ­into a fantasy world. One in which she and her fellow inmates are erotic dancers, stepping in time to the tunes of their male customers. But, crucially, planning an escape too.

Baby Doll is reticent to create her own dance – as is required of her to survive. But once she does, it opens a window onto yet another fantasy world – one in which she and her band of fellow female inmates fight demons of every kind.

Like a video game, each battle is more difficult than the one before.

First Baby Doll takes on a trio of gargantuan samurai fighters, next up is a foray back to the trenches of World War One with some ­comicbook-esque modifications, and then there’s the dragon’s lair. You get the picture.

Like Lara Croft and her ilk, Baby Doll must move through the levels of her mad game to escape her fate?– or survive it.

The cast are all interesting young actresses. Most notable is squeaky clean High School Musical megastar Vanessa Hudgens who is clearly ­beyond desperate to besmirch her clean-cut image. She takes a supporting role here as one of the erotic dancers, making all the necessary moves to break out of the Disney movie shackles – she’ll need to follow this up with something with real critical punch to achieve her goal.

Abbie Cornish, currently flavour of the year, is Sweet Pea, Baby Doll’s reluctant co-conspirator; Jena Malone is Rocket, Sweet Pea’s sister; and Carla Gugino rounds out the cast as the young women’s psychiatrist-slash-madame.

Fans of Snyder’s work won’t be able to resist buying a ticket to be sucker punched by this film that delivers too many ugly messages in a dazzlingly beautiful package.

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