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Sucker Punch movie review

Ward Pettibone | Tuesday, May 3, 2011

“Sucker Punch,” Zack Snyder’s latest green-screen extravaganza and his first attempt at original material, should have been enjoyable. It has everything that should make a movie appealing to a college-age male. Yet, amazingly, the combination of explosive action, loud music, attractive actresses and colorful graphics completely fails to entertain. Instead, it is a two-hour exercise in tedium and redundancy.


A young woman (Emily Browning), nicknamed “Baby Doll,” is sent to a mental institution after her mother’s death. She retreats into a fantasy world — a brothel, of all places — in the days preceding her lobotomy. In this alternate reality, she plans her escape. This plan involves dancing, which somehow sends her and four companions into yet another alternate reality (several of them, actually), where they battle clockwork Nazi zombies, giant demon samurai and other such enemies. This will facilitate their escape from the brothel, and, in turn, from the institution. It’s as if Snyder retrofitted “Inception” into a comic book he was planning and decided it would be fun to make a movie out of it instead.


There are five items the girls must recover if they are to escape, and each item is accompanied by a dance (which we see as a battle in a cathedral, on a train, in trenches, etc.). This quickly becomes repetitive and the interludes, which mainly consist of the girls discussing the urgency of their situation, do little to recapture our interest. Other characters from the “real world” institution are present, with some changes, in the brothel-world: a psychologist becomes a dance instructor, an orderly becomes a pimp, a lobotomist becomes a client. The parallels are hardly subtle, but then, no one expected them to be.


Baby Doll’s plan follows its course rather predictably, with predictable setbacks and predictable turning points. All of this happens without actually allowing a story to develop. Likewise, despite the valiant efforts of a few of the actors, the characters remain resolutely flat.


Snyder’s previous films include “300” and “Watchmen.” Both were based on graphic novels, and the material was well served by Snyder’s distinctive visual style. “Sucker Punch” reveals that, left to his own devices, he doesn’t have much else to offer.


The film plays like a video game, with about as much plot development as Pac-Man. Snyder does his best to deliver twists, but they are awkward and forced. The action sequences are impeccably choreographed but remain disengaging. The dialogue is consistently banal and occasionally cringe-worthy, and character development is nonexistent. Normally, some of these faults could be forgiven. There are plenty of films that are absorbing without being intelligent or even well-crafted — unfortunately “Sucker Punch” is none of these.


The only thing that saves this movie is its visual style. True, it is over-saturated, over-lit and over-stylized in general, but in comparing shot and plot, the camerawork is the lesser of two evils and at times is quite inventive. The soundtrack is serviceable, though most of it is obscured by the mayhem it accompanies. Perhaps the best way to enjoy Sucker Punch is to turn off the sound, watch the pretty pictures and not bother trying to figure out what is going on.


Plot and camerawork aside, Sucker Punch’s fatal flaw is its unabashed sexism. Snyder has called it an embodiment of feminism. Take a look at the costumes and then say that with a straight face.


A lot can be done with two hours and $82 million. Sadly, “Sucker Punch” does very little. It could have been inventive, exciting, memorable — after all, the tagline is “You will be unprepared.” Well, allow me to prepare you: the film’s most astounding accomplishment is that it has all the makings of a summer blockbuster and still manages to put viewers to sleep.