There’s a moment about half way through ‘Sucker Punch’ when a character yells ‘I want this bullshit to stop!’, sentiments I could only endorse as I sat there muttering to myself ‘You’re not the only one mate’. By that point I was an hour in and my desperation for it to all be over was compounded by the awful realisation that I still had another 60 minutes to sit through. The tag line for this film states that ‘You will be unprepared’ and I have to confess that I was but only for how bad it turned out to be. ‘Sucker Punch’ is without a doubt one of the worst films I’ve sat through in over a decade, as well as being one that bored and depressed me more than anything I’ve seen since Joel Schumacher’s ‘Batman & Robin’.
The film tells the story of Baby Doll (Emily Browning), a young girl who is institutionalised at an insane asylum following the accidental shooting of her sister who she was trying to protect from their stepfather’s sexual abuse. When she arrives, her stepfather bribes one of the orderlies to ensure that she is lobotomised and therefore keep the truth about her sister’s death hidden. From this point on she withdraws into a fantasy world in which she undertakes a number of trials that, if successfully completed, will assist her in escaping from the mental asylum before the brain doctor arrives. So along with some fellow inmates (Sweet Pea, Rocket, Blondie and Amber) she finds herself battling fire-breathing dragons, killer androids and much more besides, in order to retrieve the items they’ll all need to escape the mental asylum in reality. These fantasies take place within another fantasy (a bordello) where Baby Doll and the girls are burlesque dancers come prostitutes. Here they do a lot of standing around and gentle stretches while pouting in their hosiery and high heels (this may not sound like much of a criticism, I’ll grant you).
Unfortunately, this fantasy within a fantasy premise is all a bit of a mess and I found myself struggling to understand why two were necessary when one would have done. In the end I could only imagine that the bordello fantasy was included to provide an excuse for the plethora of ear-splitting rock and pop classics that litter the soundtrack. It’s all rather convoluted and overly contrived, with very little structure and a set of narrative rules that seem to be made up as it goes along.
For a film that is selling itself on the promise of the spectacle that it offers up, I found ‘Sucker Punch’ to be incredibly dull. At first I couldn’t figure out just what it was about the action that left me so utterly cold but then I realised it was because absolutely nothing is at stake. As these are Baby Doll’s fantasies then each adventure is guaranteed to yield success for her and her compadres, the outcome never being in doubt. It’s only when the fantasy falters that there is any danger for the characters, so consequently there’s no tension, no thrills, and all I was left with was an empty spectacle that was as involving as watching a video game being played by somebody else.
Also, each scenario is mind numbingly predictable and seems to play out in exactly the same way, regardless of the situation: The girls march determinedly into the fray in one of those ‘5 women walking forward sexily ‘ formations that you may recognise from a Girls Aloud or Pussycat Dolls video. Then they encounter the enemy, fire their guns and twirl their swords, often in verrrrrrrrrry sloooooooooww motion, before finishing with a variety of acrobatics and landing in that Spiderman pose. You know the one; left knee bent forward, right leg stretched back, left arm out for balance and right hand on the ground in front, fingers splayed. Now raise the head slowly and moodily…and relax.
The slow motion utilized in this film is done with all the ill deserved confidence of someone showing you things you’re supposed to be impressed by. But for me, action sequences usually play out at their brutal, visceral best when events are depicted in real time; the speed of punches, kicks, sword slices and gun-fire thereby heightening the adrenaline and excitement, not lessening it. As far as I can tell there was only one major reason for all the slow motion footage in this film (Quick, wake up! Crotch shots! Tits! Arses!) and I’m sure half an hour would have been shaved off the running time if the film had run at normal speed throughout. After all, once you’ve seen one machine gun bullet casing falling slowly to the ground, you really have seen them all.
I’ve enjoyed Zach Snyder’s output so far and rated Watchmen and 300 higher than most, and I also think he’s produced moments of brilliance in some of his work to date. But this film made me suspect that what he really needs in order to back up his undoubted visual flair is a story that originates from somebody who knows how to construct one and actors who can make the material work, no mater how outlandish the premise. In this case he had neither. The leads look great but few of them convince, delivering their lines in a manner that comes across as awkward and self-conscious. Even Scott Glen as a Wise Man/Mentor to the girls seems to be coasting on auto-pilot. Things did look up towards the end when Jon Hamm (Madmen’s Don Draper) turned up but by then it was too little too late.
A movie with all the ingredients of ‘Sucker Punch’ should never be tiresome but that’s exactly what it is. Before seeing it, the prospect of some tooled up, ass kicking, girl-gang mayhem being dished out to a mixture of gigantic stone samurai, goblins and clockwork Nazis is one that I wouldn’t have believed I could find dull but dull it was. After a quarter of its running time I’d gotten the gist of it and as it rinsed and repeated for the rest of its duration it offered no surprises and nothing to care about. There are one or two cover versions on its thundering soundtrack that got my pulse racing for a second or two and I’ll concede that it looks good. But what’s the use of something looking good if it doesn’t take you anywhere?
I can’t find much to recommend it, so if you want to see a movie with ballsy, beautiful women wreaking havoc on a male world that seeks to control them, all the while having tremendous fun into the bargain, then go and rent yourself ‘Faster Pussycat! Kill! Kill!’ instead.