Sucker Punch (12A/PG-13, 109 mins)
Director: Zack Snyder
★ ☆ ☆ ☆ ☆
Director Zack Snyder has gained himself quite a reputation in the last few as a fine visual stylist, thanks mostly to his work on 300 and Watchmen. Digging deep for faint praise, he once again brings that hyper-stylised sensibility to Sucker Punch to create a gorgeous world of rich pastel and grey, filled with all manner of amazing creatures and effects.
But that’s where the positives must end, because everything else about this nasty little film is tawdry and empty and badly written to the point of disbelief. It’s the ultimate realisation of movie as video game, and there has possibly never been one more beholden to the power of the X-Box. The problem is, most video games these days are better written than this.
Our heroine is Baby Doll (Emily Browning), who accidentally kills her sister and is sent by her evil stepfather to a home for the insane. There she befriends four other girls and they hatch a plan to escape after Baby Doll learns she’s going to be lobotomised.
But here’s the thing: in her mind the asylum is re-imagined as a burlesque club. But within that, she escapes into another world through dance (no, really). Her dancing transfixes those watching and allows Baby Doll to enter a fantasy realm where Scott Glenn turns up to impersonate David Carradine and tell her she must find five objects they need in order to escape.
As she dances, the other girls steal the items, while we see them participating in elaborate action sequences where they fight dragons and giant ninjas and Nazi zombies. If that doesn’t make any sense, well then that’s because it doesn’t make any sense.
It would nice to think Snyder is aiming for Inception-style layers of reality to create an intricate puzzle, but in truth it’s just incomprehensible. It’s a screenwriting cacophony, garbled hooey without anything resembling a cohesive structure, one game level after another, beautifully designed but nonsensical and ultimately lavishly boring.
Don’t look for an explanation of the rules of the fantasy world either, like how the other girls can be in Baby Doll’s mind, or what happens if they get hurt. Not a moment is spent considering character or consequence, each shiny thing existing only to get us onto the next cool and awesome shiny thing.
There’s a bit of Kill Bill, some Sin City, a dash of Total Recall and even Chicago without the songs, all aimed squarely at undiscerning 14 years old boys without any thought for anyone else. It’s grimy and prurient and rather unpleasant, as one pouting thigh-and-midriff-revealing jailbait waif after another gets put on display for our masturbatory delectation.
If there's one thing that can be said in Snyder's defence, it’s that he knows how to coordinate an action sequence. But even these consist mostly of the same tricks we’ve been seeing since directors learned to utilise computer generated props, and if we see one shot of someone somersaulting in slow motion over a flashing sword-blade, we see a hundred.
More to the point though, all the whizzy action scenes in the world count for nothing if they don’t exist in the service of a working narrative, and that is something glaringly absent from Sucker Punch.