Sucker Punch (2011)
Sucker Punch (2011)

Genre: Fantasy Running Time: 1 hr. 49 min.

Release Date: March 25th, 2011 MPAA Rating: PG-13

Director: Zack Snyder Actors: Emily Browning, Abbie Cornish, Jena Malone, Vanessa Hudgens, Jamie Chung, Carla Gugino, Jon Hamm, Scott Glenn

 


 

T

he story embedded within “Sucker Punch” has its clever moments, particularly as the fantasy-within-a-fantasy set-up allows for plenty of creativity. But that extra layer of escapism sends the theatrics and the cohesiveness off on a tangent of no return. Director Zack Snyder has always excelled from a visual standpoint and here his eye for unique creatures, costumes, and vistas makes “Sucker Punch” an expectedly visceral treat – at least until the cartoony action of little girls fighting giant samurai demons bursts the bubble of believability.

The film begins with a string of non-stop slow-motion sequences that results in a surprisingly polished introduction to young Babydoll’s (Emily Browning) predicament. When her mother dies and leaves her estate to her two daughters rather than their scheming stepfather, Babydoll’s attempt to save her younger sister from the abusive man ends in tragedy. Sent to the grimy grey Lennox House for mentally insane girls, Babydoll has a mere five days before she is scheduled to be lobotomized thanks to the underhanded dealings of her stepfather and a crooked orderly.

Unable to cope with the tortuous horrors of reality, she soon substitutes her true surroundings with that of a nightclub run by Blue Jones (Oscar Isaac) and Madame Gorski (Carla Gugino). Here, the girls lead only slightly more dignified lives, offering their dancing talents to the “prestigious” guests of the establishment. Knowing her time is running short, Babydoll formulates a plan to flee her prison with the aid of fellow dancers Sweet Pea (Abbie Cornish), Rocket (Jena Malone), Blondie (Vanessa Hudgens), and Amber (Jamie Chung). Retreating further into her mind to acquire the items necessary for escape, Babydoll and her gang of resolute heroines must wage a desperate war for liberation against gargantuan samurai, mechanized soldiers, massive dragons, and ultimately their real-life captors.

With “300” and “Watchmen,” Snyder has proven his propensity for knowing what is “cool.” But here he seems to have let adolescent fantasies and video game spectacle conquer the plot. While the abundance of slow-motion moments may add to the extravaganza, the confusing clash of time periods, genres, and pop culture concoctions combine with the over-the-top action sequences to betray a general silliness in the whole fantasy world.

In order to acquire a map, Babydoll and her cohorts must bulldoze their way through WWII trenches filled with steam-powered Nazi zombies while fighter planes and dirigibles swarm the skies above. At their disposal are machine guns, grenades, swords, axes and, of course, martial arts combat. And that’s just the first mission. Overboard is an understatement; when later skirmishes find the camera rotating around the action more times than eyes can roll at the excessive melee maneuverings (and there’s a lot of eye-rolling silliness), it’s evident that someone has an overactive imagination. If Dorothy and Alice woke up in Wonderland, which actually turned out to be the Matrix, there probably wouldn’t be as many nonsensical medleys of mayhem as found in “Sucker Punch.”

There’s also something unfortunate about the color palette, which is so muted and desaturated as to feel virtually black-and-white at times. It’s a holdover from “300,” which obviously helps to segue into shots that are heavily edited with computer graphics, but the look is instantly derivative and unoriginal, particularly when attached to this director. And even the more vibrant shots possess a distinct fuzziness.

“You’re suddenly not aware of what we do here?” But perhaps most incongruous of all is the PG-13 rating, which feels incompatible with practically every aspect of the storyline (the use of the word “heck” tends to exemplify that). The required editing and pussyfooting around mature topics and actions is highly problematic, frequently resembling clumsy Production Code circumventions, as if a softcore picture trimmed down for family-friendly television viewing. The soundtrack is similarly off-putting – a booming, strip club compilation, seemingly designed solely to get the slender stars to gyrate (although none of them actually dance, instead content striking repetitive post-jumping and diving and lunging poses, all of which are the same). And those are just minor pieces of an overall demented “Wizard of Oz”-type, “Inception”-level brain-twister that continually begs the question: What on earth is happening?

The major pitfall behind Babydoll’s escape from her already skewed perception of reality hammers home that point with its lack of cohesiveness with the rest of her surroundings. Why would a young girl’s escapist fantasy involve schoolgirl outfits, steampunk undead, and fire-breathing dragons? “Sucker Punch” may claim to be Babydoll’s dream world, but it’s clearly Zack Snyder’s fantasy.

– The Massie Twins

  • 5/10