Sucker Punch

What it's about:

Baby Doll (yes, "Baby Doll") is a young girl who finds herself in a mental asylum after being framed for killing her younger sister by her abusive stepfather. Retreating into a fantasy world in her head, she imagines a world where she and four other inmates plan to escape the facility. Or maybe they do. It's really kind of hard to tell.

What we thought:

Come the latter months of 2012, the world will be "treated" to the latest cinematic reboot of Superman. A reboot directed by one Zack Snyder. I bring this up because Superman is very easily one of my favourite fictional characters and, after taking in the brain-damaging, mind-numbing experience that is Sucker Punch, I am now officially worried about just what the hell Snyder is going to do to The Man of Steel.

Snyder has long been called a "visionary filmmaker" and I'm sure many will praise at least that aspect of the film because it's all there: the garish costumes, the slow motion, the hyper-real colours, the slow motion, the sets that are almost as gaudy as the costumes, the CGI-stuffed fantasy sequences and, of course, lest we forget, MORE BLOODY MOTION. Oh, how Snyder loves to shoot things in slow motion! Slow motion rain! Slow motion fight scenes! Slow motion in slow motion! It just never ends...

Of course, that's precisely what I felt about the film in general. Sure there is a whole lot of visual razzle dazzle and sexy girls in ridiculous stripper costumes, but that never stops the film from being a dull incoherent mess with laughable dialogue, horrendous storytelling, unexciting action scenes, non-existent characterisation and some truly godawful acting – even by the few actors (John Hamm, Jena Malone) who are usually really good. In particular Baby Doll herself is a totally vapid creation played by an actress (Emily Browning) who always looks like she'd rather be elsewhere. But then, who could blame her? 

As it is, Sucker Punch just looks like a poor rehashing of far better films. It's use of multiple-level dreamscapes obviously invokes Christopher Nolan's excellent Inception, while its placement of fantasy alongside cruel, gritty reality is an equally obvious nod to Guillermo Del Toro's even more excellent Pan's Labyrinth. I'm slightly sickened at the thought of even mentioning those two films in the same sentence as this vacuous nonsense but the comparisons are there and, if nothing else, Inception and Pan's Labyrinth only show just how far off the rails Sucker Punch truly is.

There is none of the elegant dream-logic of Inception's dreams-within-dreams in Sucker Punch's own multi-layered constructions. Each reality seems entirely disconnected from the next and it's never made clear how the actions in one level actually affect any of the others. The videogame-like action scenes are made all the more innocuous by the fact that there appears to be no peril involved in the girls' adventures in these scenes as they act as nothing but a reflection – at best a visual metaphor (Hey! It's like Scott Pilgrim! But with all the good bits taken out!) of what's happening in the levels of reality above it. All the samurai giants, zombie Nazis and fire-breathing dragons in the world can't hide the fact that these sequences feel more like watching someone else playing a cool but harmless video game than an integral part of what's going on in the story.

As for Pan's Labyrinth, well, aside for showing that this sort of story can be told with intelligence and real emotional power, Del Toro beats the stuffing out of Sucker Punch on a purely visual level. Held up against the visual artistry of Del Toro's fantasy visions, Sucker Punch can't help but look incredibly artificial and unimaginative.

The bottom line is this: Zach Synder clearly fancies himself a "geek director" and Sucker Punch – with all its allusions to video games, anime/manga, comics and other genre films – is  his geekiest film yet. As something of a huge geek myself, though, I have to say that his constant allusions to better examples of geek-culture actually does him no favours at all. Until he learns to back up his enthusiastic fanboy obsessions with proper storytelling, he will simply never be much of a filmmaker.

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