Film Review – Sucker Punch

Sucker Punch UK 1 sheet

When Babydoll (Emily Browning) is institutionalised by her stepfather, who also arranges to have her lobotomised, she reacts by discovering a multi-layered fantasy world, which empowers her to work with the other inmates to escape.

Zack Snyder’s fifth movie starts off incredibly promisingly. A slightly cryptic voiceover, then a beautiful, wordless set-up of the scenario that leads to her eventually ending up at the Lennox House for the Mentally Insane (as opposed to the Physically Insane? Did you perhaps mean Criminally? Like Arkham?). We see a deal done between her stepfather and Blue, one of the orderlies, another montage and then…

And then it all gets a bit weird, as all of a sudden we’re in a club, recapping Babydoll’s arrival at the asylum, only now she’s a dancer/prostitute in a brothel, waiting for the High Roller to come for her. When she’s asked to dance by Madame Gorski (already seen as a psychiatrist in the asylum) this opens the door to an even more bizarre fantasy world, where a Wise Man (Scott Glenn) tells her what she will need to escape.

The film then takes place within the brothel world and the extreme fantasy world that Glenn inhabits, with only minor references to the asylum taking place. Babydoll persuades the other inmates, SweetPea (Abbie Cornish), Rocket (Jena Malone), Amber (Jamie Chung) and Blondie (Vanesse Hudgens) to help her acquire the things she needs.

Every time Babydoll dances, she opens up the fantasy world that Glenn inhabits, where an extraordinary sitaution takes place to acquire a mundane item (the search for a lighter in one world, becomes a dragon hunt in another). All of the inmates take part in this fantasy search, but none of them ever discuss it in the brothel world. And if that isn’t a shared fantasy, it makes the brothel fantasy similarly problematic. Are the other inmates aware of this? If so, then the plot makes some sense, if not, then it really doesn’t. Babydoll distracts people with her dancing (which we never actually see), does that happen in the asylum or not?

The film has no internal logic and seems to work on the assumption that we’re happy to accept whatever lunacy is on the screen. This is a pity because the fantasy quest sequences are superb, with amazing visuals and some fantastic action. It does feel a bit second hand mind you, samurai battles, clockwork Nazis, Orcs, faceless shiny robots. A very modern set of adventures, for a character who lives in the 1950s. (I’m making an assumption here, based on clothing, cars etc. The fact that Babydoll dances to tracks like Search and Destroy and Army of Me is a little disconcerting, but Moulin Rouge took songs out of timelines so that’s fair game).

The girls are all completely bad-ass in the fantasy world, wielding weapons with aplomb, mastering hand to hand combat and generally kicking arse. But because of the paucity of the writing these feel more like videogame vignettes more than anything else. To be fair most of the videogames I play make a damn site more sense than Sucker Punch, which seems to treat its audience in an insanely cavalier fashion.

I genuinely can’t tell if this is Snyder’s epic tale of sisterhood, emancipation and sacrifice or if it’s the barest framework on which to hang cute girls and CGI explosions. We’re told that the psychiatrist encourages the girls to act out their issues, if the scenes set within the brothel are that, then why is Gorski so marginalised? Yes, she is the girls’ choreographer, but she is also seen as just as much one of Blue’s possesions as the girls themselves.

As per Watchmen, Snyder’s cast seem to turn in Brechtian performances that never truly connect with the audience, although Abbie Cornish and Jena Malone are by far the most engaging. Browning’s Babydoll seems more of a cypher, but perhaps that’s the point.

Whatever Snyder is trying to do here, it just doesn’t hold together in a coherent fashion. If Babydoll’s dancing empowers her to slay dragons and defeat clockwork Nazis, then does that happen for the other girls too? Does it matter if it doesn’t?

It’s just all so disjointed and frankly infuriating. I really want to like this movie but it’s a mess. It’s very pretty, has a fantastic soundtrack, superb costumes and visuals. There are flashes of brilliance and amazingly, flashes of restraint, but then there is also incredibly dumb dialogue and a concept that overreaches and falls short. The final message of the movie had me damn near throwing something at the screen, not because it was necessarily poor but just it ends on a hackneyed and trite note.

I came out of the cinema hugely disappointed, but there is something about this damn movie that on reflection makes me want to watch it again. Like Source Code, maybe you just need to throw caution and logic to the wind and tag along for the ride.

Sucker Punch opens in the UK on April 1st

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~ by moviegrrlreviews on March 29, 2011.

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