Snyder’s “Sucker Punch” is a mindless visual marvel

By Ian Opolski

MCT
MCT

It’s a hard life out there for ladies in action films. In such a male-dominated genre, it is rare that a woman ever really gets to take charge and just kill things. This dynamic is reversed in “Sucker Punch.,” where five girls grab machine guns and induce a full-scale slaughter.

The film, whose characters seem like a direct response to the simpering, man-crazy heroines of romantic comedies, is a cross between the fantastically nonsensical plotline of “Alice in Wonderland” and the gory female combat story of “Kill Bill.”

“Sucker Punch” follows 20-year-old Baby Doll (Emily Browning), who has been locked away in an insane asylum by her greedy stepfather. Forced into erotic dancing by the hospital’s staff and threatened with a lobotomy within five days, Baby Doll begins to retreat into an alternate fantasy world where she can take control over her own life. While in this alternate reality, she forms a plan to escape the asylum. She and her four friends must gather five items which will allow them to bypass the hospital staff and run to freedom, but they have to do it before Baby Doll’s five days run out.

nThe film is the latest from writer and director Zack Snyder, who also directed “300” and “Watchmen.” “Sucker Punch” has the same astonishing visuals as Snyder’s previous films, easily the movie’s biggest selling point. However, once the action is established, the film’s storyline becomes a formula: Baby Doll needs an item, she retreats into her fantasy world, she obtains the item and then returns to reality.

The repetition actually serves the film very well, because it allows for increasingly more complicated and awe-inspiring combat scenes. Baby Doll fights, at turns, ghostly samurai, zombie Nazis and a dragon. None of it makes much literal sense, and at times it is difficult even to imagine that these combat scenes are supposed to be a metaphorical reflection of the real world. But none of that really matters. The glossy look of “Sucker Punch” is so visually entertaining that the audience will be willing to overlook flaws in the narrative.

Equally engaging is the film’s soundtrack, which plays a crucial role in building tension and heightening the power of the action sequences even further. Impressively, Browning herself contributed two songs to the soundtrack and is featured on a third. Her rendition of “Sweet Dreams (Are Made Of This)” functions nicely in the film’s wordless opening sequence, while “Asleep” is a quiet, lovely contrast to the harder, edgier music featured in the rest of the movie. Other notable tracks include Bjork’s “Army of Me” and a mash-up of Queen’s “We Will Rock You.”

 Because the film’s visual and auditory effects are so dominant, the actors’ performances become almost an afterthought. Though Baby Doll experiences a rollercoaster of emotional and physical turmoil, Browning chooses not to alter her face for the entirety of the film. Instead, she fixes on one expression – a wide-eyed and weepy stare that expresses an emotion somewhere between sadness and constipation.

The performances of Baby Doll’s companions are all equally one-note. Vanessa Hudgens busts out of her “High School Musical” reputation as Blondie, but her character and those of the other girls are not developed enough to make them much more than set pieces.

The small exception is Abbie Cornish, who plays Sweet Pea. Cornish manages to bring extra rawness and vulnerability to her character while still seeming to be the toughest of all five girls. In this regard, Cornish stands out, but only marginally.

The quality of acting is irrelevant, however, because that’s not what the film is concerned with; any five pretty girls could have played these parts. The emphasis is on watching the girls wear skimpy outfits and go on a CGI-fueled killing spree. On that front, “Sucker Punch” absolutely delivers.  

Don’t go into “Sucker Punch” expecting a riveting storyline or Oscar-worthy performances. Instead, go to see a gory feast of CGI, pretty girls and a lot of violence. With that in mind, you will be able to sit back and enjoy.

Ian Opolski can be reached at [email protected]