movie review: Sucker Punch

Director Zach Snyder recreated the look and feel of ancient Thermopylae, as pictured by visionary artist/writer Frank Miller, in 300 without ever leaving a soundstage, using the palette of CGI. Then he brought the stylized world of Watchmen to life on screen. Now he has directed and co-written a film that takes place in yet another artificial environment—but these characters are as synthetic as their colorful backdrop. I’ll resist all the puns the title invites and simply say that Sucker Punch is one strange movie.

The central character (Emily Browning, yet another attractive young Aussie playing American) has been wrongly committed to an insane asylum—a highly corrupt one, at that. Stifled at every turn, she bonds with four other youthful inmates (including her sister Abbie Cornish, Jena Malone, Vanessa Hudgens, and Jamie Chung) and plans to break out. In the meantime, she finds release by—

—escaping into her imagination, where she pictures her and her gal pals kicking butt in a series of high-powered action sequences.

These segments are designed and staged like video games. There’s nothing intrinsically wrong with that—after all, the whole movie is ersatz, from the settings to the outsized performances by a variety of bad guys—but because they are so unreal they offer no catharsis for the viewer. (There’s nothing duller, or more uninvolving, than watching someone else play a video game.)

Snyder, who wrote the outlandish screenplay with Steve Shibuya, sees everything in broad, comic-book terms, whether it be villainy or heroism, and this has its limits. He is careful not to exploit his female stars, or push the limits of a PG-13 rating, so the sexuality is deliberately tame, while the violence is staged in cartoonish fashion.

Throughout this sensory assault I kept asking myself the same question: what’s the point? And that’s the problem: I’m not sure there is one. Sucker Punch seems to offer a wish-fulfillment brand of empowerment to abused or troubled adolescent girls. Not being one, I can’t judge its effectiveness. I can only tell you that I derived nothing from the picture…except when my eye was drawn to a collage of old, tattered Warner Bros. movie posters on the wall of the girls’ dressing room. That I was so easily distracted from the drama in the foreground says it all.

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