Sucker Punch – film review

Sexy schoolgirls – hold the sass

Release date: 1 April 2011
12A * 109 minutes
Distributor: Warner Bros
Director: Zack Snyder
Cast: Emily Browning, Abbie Cornish, Jena Malone, Vanessa Hudgens, Jamie Chung, Oscar Isaac

Sometimes it’s hard to be a woman. The girls in Sucker Punch would certainly agree with Tammy Wynette on that one; Zack Snyder really puts them through the wringer in his wildly imaginative fantasy.

A wordless first act sets the stage for the epic flight of fancy that is to follow. It’s ‘50s America and the wilful Baby Doll (Emily Browning) a steely pair of blue eyes swathed in schoolgirl sweetness, has been cast into the Lennox House mental asylum by her abusive stepfather. Broken by life, scheduled for a lobotomy, the grim grey walls of the facility are quickly recast as a Moulin Rouge-esque bordello as Baby Doll’s mind searches for a coping mechanism. Forced to dance for sweaty-palmed punters by the maniacal Blue (a menacing Oscar Isaac), Baby Doll’s shattered psyche whisks her away once more to a world even further removed from her grubby reality. Here, under the guidance of The Wise Man (Scott Glenn) and with the help of her fellow patients – a kind of Spice Girls-with-guns that includes sisters Sweet Pea (Abbie Cornish) and Rocket (Jena Malone) and the impish Blondie (Vanessa Hudgens) – she undertakes a series of fantastical tasks in an attempt to escape before her brains are turned into scrambled eggs.

It’s a densely layered play within a play within yet another play, with a relentless stream of ideas, every one of them gloriously rendered with an attention to detail that’s almost exhausting. Zack Snyder’s head is a wild place where leather-clad ladies fight it out with steampunk German zombies in the trenches of World War I and ‘40s era bombers strafe medieval castles packed with orcs and dragons, and Sucker Punch is a visual extravaganza that showcases his stylised direction and penchant for elaborate setpieces.

Yet for all the eye-candy on show, something is missing. There’s a disappointing lack of sass and a dearth of humour, which would have been refreshing in what is an extremely po-faced film. At times, Sucker Punch feels like little more than a string of unrelated pages from Snyder’s notebook, and while they’re very pretty pages, maybe they shouldn’t have all been in the same film. And the action should be thrilling, but quickly becomes repetitive, with the same poses and slow-mo sequences used again and again. An ambitious yet flawed effort then, but one executed with undoubted style and verve that proves Snyder is more than capable of bringing a bit of girl power to the big screen.

Rob Power