Sucker Punch bears the unmistakable mark of hyper-auteur Zack Snyder, but it could just as easily have been willed into existence by the collective geekocracy. It’s as if the filmmakers took a poll at Comic-Con of all the elements attendees seek in a movie—starlets in skimpy outfits adept at hand-to-hand combat; Nazi robot monsters; elaborate fantasy worlds; a wise mentor figure who adopts many forms; cabaret-style covers of New Wave hits; and why not throw in Don Draper while you’re at it?—then combined them all in the ultimate fanboy mash-up. Snyder has described it as “Alice In Wonderland with machine guns,” but it’s more like The Pussycat Dolls Present Steampunk Kill Bill, only more assaultive and pandering than that description suggests.
Emily Browning leads a cast of young actresses as a hard-luck orphan in some alternate universe 1950s where life would have to improve immeasurably just to qualify as Dickensian. A gauntlet of formative traumas lands Browning in a gothic mental hospital and then in a nightmarish cabaret/brothel. She regularly escapes the drudgery by entering into an elaborate fantasy world where she and her fellow kept/abused women do battle with Nazi mechanical men, dragons, and various other beasties with the sagacious counsel of shape-shifting mentor Scott Glenn.
CGI has made it so easy to create fantastical worlds out of computers and imagination that a film can offer a never-ending parade of eye-popping images and larger-than-life setpieces and still feel dull. Sucker Punch offers the same combination of overpowering style and nonexistent substance as Snyder’s earlier 300, along with a depressingly black-and-white worldview that splits humanity into vessels of pure good and exemplars of unspeakable evil. Only this time, Snyder is pandering to the Barely Legal demographic rather than trafficking in over-the-top homoeroticism. Browning has wildly expressive eyes and body language, but she turns wooden when delivering Snyder and Steve Shibuya’s alternately purple and stilted banter. Like the film, she seems to regard plot and dialogue as necessary evils. With its quests to retrieve magical totems, clearly demarcated levels, and non-stop action, Snyder’s clattering concoction sometimes feels less like a movie than an extended, elaborate trailer for its redundant videogame adaptation.