Sucker Punch (or... Girl, Interception'd)
29 March 2011
On paper at least, Sucker Punch is one of those films that must have had studio executives simultaneously salivating into their schedules and checking their cheque-books for the extent of their overdrafts...
"Essentially this is World of Warcraft for the Pussycat Dolls generation..."
In a hard-rock, dialogue-free Brothers Grimm-meets Tim Burton opening, we learn that ‘Baby Doll’ (Emily Browning) and her unnamed younger sister are left to cope with the vicious, bloated monster of a stepfather after their mother dies. In an attempt to protect her sibling, BabyDoll’s efforts end in tragedy and she is carted off to the local asylum-on-the-hill - a place where health and safety wouldn’t tread if their life depended on it. A bribe to a sadistic guard ensures that she will never tell the truth about what happened on that fateful night and she is scheduled for a lobotomy in five days time. Surrounded by other lost souls, Baby Doll retreats into a fantasy world populated by her fellow ‘prisoners’ and together they plan the ultimate escape from captivity… a spiritual and physical journey that will take in a range of tests and quests. And a ton of rock music..If there is a film out there that has visuals and sound turned up even higher than this clear ‘eleven’, then the likelihood is that the likes of Zack Snyder and Michael Bay have already put a bounty on its head or ear-marked it for a jolly good kicking...
Sucker Punch is not remotely about the subtle. Here every concept and metaphor is writ and pixellated large, every beat of the soundtrack designed to get blood from your eardrums, every in-your-face genre ticked off in rapid sequence like a demonic demographic-bean-counter. The result though striking, vivid and colourful is also, frankly, a mess: a stream of consciousness that is a cross between a gothic go-go night and a VFX showreel - it’s not that there isn’t anything to enjoy on a basic level, but so little is left to the imagination that there’s no real reason to employ even the slightest amount of brainpower for the full two hours - and so you end up never really caring about the outcome. Every fifteen minutes we rise to a new level of gameplay and all that’s missing is a score in the corner.
All that aside, there’s something to be said for the sheer wildness of that wild ride, something that was noticeably AWOL from the antiseptic and far-too-restrained Inception (which was less like a dreamscape and more akin to a clinical psychiatrist’s couch). It would take a hardened soul not to be impressed on some basic level by giant AK-47-touting golden samurai, going one-on-one with a warrior dressed as a super-schoolgirl, a zombiefied World War I battlescape, a broken plateau full of wanabee Orcs and an electronic arena that would probably humble Tron - all fighting for space and airtime. And the ambition itself IS admirable - with the central protagonist’s mind inhinged, director Zack Snyder lets his own imagination run riot - even when there are many moments when it could have done with a few restraints itself. If the ‘real’ world depicted had been more mundane, the contrast would have been more effective, but with every element and moment so utterly stylised from start to finish, the CGI replaces any real texture... or depth.
Though not quite full-on misogynistic, this equally isn’t anywhere the female empowerment movie that it might want to tout itself. Yes, it’s great that the heroes are all girls (read: grrrrrls!) coming together to fight a common cause, but it’s equally clear that to do this they must consistently dress as steam punk strippers, be named like bedazzled burlesque dancers (Baby Doll, Rocket, Sweet-Pea, Blondie and Amber…. ) and endure the salacious attentions of the warden, a sadistic step-father and be tutored by a Scott Glenn’s wisened, weathered and cliché-spouting spiritual guide (“ ...if you don‘t stand for something, you‘ll fall for anything! ” he extols, possibly noting the box-office receipts) or Carla Gugino, utterly wasted in a pseudo-psychiatrist role. For a film so full of imagination in its background, the foreground stereotypes are disappointingly formulaic.
Essentially this is World of Warcraft for the Pussycat Dolls generation, making Sucker Punch the ideal movie for a home cinema crowd: the perfect frosted topping for a beer and pizza night in - if your equipment can handle it. It says nothing about the human condition but perhaps a ton about what Warner Bros (who did very little publicity for the release) thinks will motivate the young male audience‘s own state of mind. Middling box-office receipts for its opening weekend in the US suggest even they could be more fickle…