Director: Zack Snyder
Cast: Emily Browning, Abbie Cornish, Jena Malone, Carla Gugino
Duration: 1 hour 49 minutes
From the testosterone addled-mind of Zack Snyder (300, Watchmen) comes Sucker Punch, a tightrope walk between female empowerment, existential melodrama and gratuitous male fantasy fulfilment. However, skip searching for meaning in the madness, and you’ll find an absurd, beautiful and often thrilling slice of action fantasy escapism.
Emily Browning plays Baby Doll, a young girl who, after a series of unfortunate events, winds up institutionalised by her mean old uncle. Fear not, however, as our heroine quickly escapes… into a fantasy world of her own creation. Sadly, in this reality she fills the role of an erotic dancer in a burlesque whore house – not much of a step up from the asylum, so. Not to worry, as she simply descends another layer deeper into her fractured psyche, where she is now a hyper-sexualised Japanese anime-style ass-kicker. In fact, the entire film is so sexually charged it feels necessary to take a moment to clarify the young star is indeed a whole, legal, 20 years of age.
Sucker Punch’s rather complicated structure could be easily compared to last year’s Inception. Unlike Inception however, the structure isn’t utilized here to serve an intricate plot. Instead it acts as an economic framework for Snyder to showcase a host of fantastically disjointed elements. Want to see a grimy asylum act as the backdrop for melancholy drama, punctuated with a liberal dose of slow motion musical montages? Well that’s what the first layer is for! How about a team of beautiful but oppressed young erotic dancers plotting against their sleazy boss in a jazzy 1920’s sex club? The second layer services that need. But surely you couldn’t also slip in a few bombastic battles against robots, monsters, and clockwork zombie Nazis? Well actually that’s exactly what the third layer manages to do.
As the film descends through these layers, it’s hard not to marvel at how audaciously Sucker Punch casually immerses the audience in new and essentially irrelevant environments. But in truth, it’s this disinterest in cohesion that proves to be one of the film’s greatest visual assets, as every second of the movie is quite simply gorgeous. Snyder has a tremendous sense of style, and the cinematography to back it up. Even the most cynical of viewers may become giddy upon exposure to some of the more ludicrously slick action set pieces.
Sadly the film can only sustain its own frantic momentum for so long and begins to grate past the halfway mark. The structure is actually very formulaic once you realise what the hell is happening, and the over-the-top action scenes become quite exhausting. The characters simply aren’t worth caring for and none of their stories have a satisfying pay off. This plays like a two hour trailer rather than an actual movie, a collection of grandiose action scenes cut to an electrifying soundtrack with a token amount of drama just to keep things tied together. Still, it manages to feel both fresh and adventurous, at least for the first hour. For those who look sceptically towards a summer loaded with remakes, adaptations and sequels, Sucker Punch offers something new.