After filming the polarising 300 and the equally divisive Watchmen, director Zack Snyder gives us Sucker Punch, which on the surface looks like a teenage boy’s wet dream – girls, robots, ninjas, Nazis, explosions, what more could you ask for? Plot? Well, no sir that one does not come as standard.
Committed to a mental asylum after accidentally shooting her sister while trying to defend her from her abusive step-father, Babydoll (Emily Browning) imagines a fantasy world in order to cope. In it, she’s the new girl at a brothel, who, with her fellow girls, must hatch an escape plan before the high-roller/lobotomist comes to town in five days. Here she slips into a fantasy within a fantasy where she battles giant samurais, resurrected clockwork Nazis and fire-breathing dragons.
So far, so promising. Its 10 minute silent opening segment which frames Babydoll’s incarceration is easily the best part of the film (in the same way that the montage opening from Watchmen was clearly the highlight). Sadly it’s all downhill from there, rapidly descending into repetitive, boring action sequences barely linked together by a threadbare plot.
Because there’s no time spent in the real world, we never get to know the characters, let alone develop any kind of feeling for them. Consequently, it’s impossible to be excited when they’re in danger; they’re reduced to scantily clad automatons, figures on the screen cleaving through wave after wave of bad guys. And as they’re fantasies within a fantasy, are they even real anyway? This could be one of the few instances where the videogame adaptation might actually be better than the film.
As expected, Snyder’s aching slow mo is sloshed over everything, but far from eye-popping, it’s laborious viewing, drawing the already mediocre action scenes out further. It’s overlaid with the most excruciating soundtrack ever committed to cinema; it’s almost like competitive desecration -how many songs which mention mental unbalance can be mutilated in 90 minutes? With covers of The Pixies’s Where Is My Mind?, Jefferson Airplane’s White Rabbit and Eurythmics’s Sweet Dreams (“some of them want to abuse you”), Snyder has all the subtlety of a flamethrower. It’s less of a film and more of an extended music video but even Thriller has more plot than Sucker Punch.
There are some who will claim that Sucker Punch waves the flag for female empowerment – after all most of the girls are strong and fighting their way to freedom. But that’s a complete farce as the heavily fetishized outfits are clearly aimed at a male audience. Babydoll is also inexplicably guided by a “wise man” (Scott Glenn) who gives her each mission. He doesn’t appear to be based on any character in the real world, so his appearance must be a purely psychological one – Is Snyder trying to say that the only wisdom in the female mind is the male voice?
All the female characters are two-dimensional cardboard cut-outs but male characters don’t fare any better – they’re all sleazy pseudo-rapists to a man. There’s the cook, a red-faced sweaty spud in white overalls who forces himself on unsuspecting girls, the pencil-moustached pimp/corrupt orderly who likes to snarl “you’re mine”, pin girls up against walls and shoot them in cold blood and the fur-coated, cigar smoking, lip-smackingly lecherous sleazeball mayor. Any peril the girls face in the first level of fantasy is a persistently sexual one.
Sucker Punch fails in almost every area. Action fans will be disappointed by its lukewarm battles– a further detachment is that in order to scrape its 12A certificate, there’s no blood, so enemies are despatched in gouts of steam; those seeking a bit of Friday night titillation will also go away cap-in-hand as there’s no nudity and no sex despite its over-sexualised themes and cinemagoers who actually expect a plot will also go begging as Sucker Punch offers no characters that elicit any emotion at all, positive or negative.
The clue’s in the title. Not even mindlessly entertaining, Sucker Punch by name, Sucker Punch by nature. Turning in stuff like this should result in automatic disqualification.