This may well be the film that goes down in film history as epitomising the very worst trends in popular culture of this era. There is nothing new or unusual about loud, dumb, vacuous films that rely on the veneer of excitement to placate uncritical audiences rather than providing anything of real substance. However, Sucker Punch is so excessively bad in so many ways that it feels like a sort of cultural tipping point for mass-marketed mediocrity has been achieved. Writer/director/producer Zack Snyder, who made the impressive remake of Dawn of the Dead, the graphic novel adaptations 300 and Watchmen and computer animation Legend of the Guardians: The Owls of Ga’Hoole, appears to have simply thrown every randomly ‘cool’ idea he had into this film. The result is almost like a stream of consciousness but not in the surreal tapping-into-the-marvellous-world-of-dreams kind of way, but in the stuck-listening-to-somebody-describe-a-dream kind of way.
Sucker Punch doesn’t even feel like a film. It feels like an extended trailer for a computer game and this is largely due to the absolutely flat and lifeless action sequences that are so crucial to the film’s success (or lack thereof) as an action/fantasy. The increasing reliance on CGIs instead of anything tangible has been an increasing trend over the past two decades but so rarely have CGIs been as vapid as they are in Sucker Punch. There is no tension in the action and being so obviously generated on a computer makes the artifice especially tedious. The actors supposedly underwent substantial training for these scenes but the heavy computerised manipulation of their bodies renders that training almost useless. Admittedly the backgrounds of the four major fantasy sequences that anchor the film look impressive for a couple of seconds but like every other element in this film, the art direction is so conceptually underdeveloped it fails to sustain interest.
It doesn’t help that Snyder’s trademark use of slow motion and dramatic sound effects to accentuate everything comes across as so absurdly pompous and pretentious. If Sucker Punch was truly an inventively deranged and carefree film then it could have been silly fun, but it takes itself seriously and arguing otherwise sounds like Tommy Wiseau’s retrospective claims that The Room was really meant to be a black comedy all along. It’s one thing for a film to have corny dialogue that makes audience members involuntarily laugh but Sucker Punch somehow manages to unintentionally cause sniggers by its music cues and the way it uses costumes. Not that the use of music remains funny for long as the songs are either horrible, used horribly (warning to Björk fans) or are horrible covers of great songs (extra double warning to Pixies fans).
The final example of how Sucker Punch encapsulates the worst aspects of mainstream entertainment is the extent and gusto in which it embraces the porn aesthetic. For a start, this is not a girl-power revenge film but a film about vulnerable women trying to survive and escape from their tormentors. They only get to fight back in their heads and even then that involves a lot of sacrifice and martyrdom. In the real world of the mental asylum the film is set in (and even the fantasy world of the brothel) they are simply victims and remain so. The blasé and flippant depiction of the violence and sexual violence used against the women is an almost titillating detail used to assist the faux gothic visual flourishes. It’s like making a stripper wear a corset and then claiming she’s doing burlesque.
And the degree to which this film visually engages in the pornografication of women, including women made to look very young, is even worse. It would be wonderful to believe that the over-the-top school girl fetish outfits are some kind of heavily ironic statement but the repeated up-skirt shots and scenes revelling in the girls’ suffering makes it as subversive as wearing a t-shirt saying ‘Porn Star’ or having Playboy bunny car seat covers. Besides, even if you do think the combination and endorsement of sexualised and infantile imagery in a PG film is nothing but good ol’ harmless fun for the kids to enjoy, here’s the thing: none of it is remotely sexy. It’s embarrassing and try-hard.
For a film to be this full of over-the-top stylistic devices and an almost random assortment of fanboy-baiting ingredients (steampunk WWI German soldiers! a really big dragon!) it is truly remarkable that Sucker Punch is such a tedious experience. However, this artless and soulless film is one of the most depressing things made in the past decade.