Warning: This review of Sucker Punch is almost as long as Sucker Punch

Monday March 28th 2011


It’s not often you see a film that makes you think, ‘I wish I was watching Yogi Bear again,’ but when bro-with-a-budget Zack Snyder’s around, the chances are always a little higher. After Watchmen, which I’m almost certain was ‘quite good’, there were hopes that he’d matured into a director capable of more than fanboy pandering and macho posturing. Instead, it appears he’s regressed into a twelve year old boy discovering masturbation for the first time. And this twelve year old boy has $82 million and Emily Browning in a schoolgirl costume.

Browning plays a young girl who accidentally shoots her sister while she’s being molested by their stepfather. It’s a subtle, understated scene, shot like a KoЯn video and tastefully soundtracked by a ‘Sweet Dreams (Are Made of This)’ cover – YEAH, I BET SOME OF THEM WANT TO BE ABUSED, THE LITTLE WHORES!!!!! She’s then taken to a mental institution where Evil Man No. 1 pays Evil Man No. 2 to get Evil Man No. 3 to give her a lobotomy. At this point, Snyder goes all Chris Nolan on our ass and we enter ‘the dream world’.

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Browning (now known as Baby Doll because she looks about fourteen but still pretty fuckable – AM I RIGHT, FELLAS?) understandably chooses a 1950s mob-run brothel as her happy place, rather than say, somewhere where she isn’t constantly under threat of rape and murder, and we’re immediately bombarded with AND YOU WERE THERE! moments as Evil Men from the real world reappear as different Evil Men in the dream world.

Before long, everything turns into a video game, with objects to be collected, missions to be completed and tedious cutscenes to be endured. Except in this case, the entire movie is one hideously protracted cutscene with no reward beyond the thrill of realising that life can only get better from this point forward.

We’ve met our five heroes, comprised of three familiar archetypes and two spares – a bit like Girls Aloud. Cunningly, Snyder decides the only way that they can succeed in their mission to escape the brothel (itself an abstract metaphor for escaping the lobotomy – or something) is to perform sexualised dances for grossly overweight men, distracting them for long enough to steal the required key, knife, Princess Peach, whatever.

Of course, it might seem almost misogynistic to have scene after scene in which beautiful women degrade themselves in front of Keith from The Office‘s less attractive cousins, so instead we enter a second dream world where each task is portrayed as an epic battle against demonic soldiers, massive dragons and other lazy shorthands. These sequences are incredibly monotonous, and with literally nothing at stake in each one, you almost long for the slightly-real danger of the brothel level.

Still, it gives the womenfolk a chance to ‘kick some ass’ and that way Snyder doesn’t have to bother giving them actual characters. This age-old confusion as to what exactly the ‘strong’ in Strong Female Character™ means is powerfully evident in Sucker Punch, a film so cynically misogynistic that even notorious boys’ club Slash Film had to draft in a woman to get all feminist on this bitch.

More troublingly, this parade of abuse and misery has been passed at 12A (and PG-13 in the States) thanks to some of the most flagrant certificate-chasing yet captured on celluloid. The film was blatantly written as an R and later adapted to court the teen market, but if anything, softening the content makes it far more offensive. Rape is no longer rape, it’s a sort of nondescript activity where a man hunches over a woman. Mass murder isn’t so bad either when the baddies spill steam rather than blood. Even shooting two women in the back of the head doesn’t qualify as anything more than ‘moderate violence’ because, you know, you don’t actually see anything.

News of the World critic and sole defender of the film Robbie Collin has been selling it on Twitter as ‘300 meets Burlesque’, and he’s right that on paper, the premise certainly has a bit of a ‘camp classic’ vibe to it. But in practice, Sucker Punch is a life-drainingly solemn piece of filmmaking that makes The Dark Knight look like a knockabout buddy comedy by comparison. Even the action sequences, which by all accounts should be the film’s saving grace, are artless, repetitive non-events that play out beneath a bland quasi-steampunk wash of muddy brown.

In short, if you’re the kind of person who has the capacity to dislike something, chances are you’ll be exercising that particular skill with regards to Sucker Punch.