Disturbing theme gives Zack Snyder film a deserving ‘Sucker Punch’

March 31st, 2011

What Zack Snyder’s “Sucker Punch” wants to be is an action-packed, Americanized version of Guillermo del Toro’s “Pan’s Labyrinth,” the 2006 foreign fantasy film which garnered universal raves due to its bold imagination and daring storytelling.

What this new film ends up being is a disturbingly bleak, albeit visually spectacular, character study. The unbridled entertainment the movie ads promote is undermined by the uncomfortable and depressing darkness.

These characters live in a personal hell we find ourselves trapped in for two draining hours.

Our gloomy story starts with a girl we know only as Baby Doll (Emily Browning) – a short-skirted pigtailed blonde who seems to have jumped right out of an adult film – being sent to an insane asylum.

The reason? While trying to stop her sexually abusive father from abusing her younger sister, Baby Doll accidentally murders her sister.

In the asylum, Baby Doll withdraws into her mind and lives out a majority of the movie in a dream-imitating-life reality of a burlesque brothel. In charge of the brothel are Mr. Blue (Oscar Isaac) and Madam Gorski (Carla Gugino). To survive, Babydoll learns to dance exotically for clients.

Her dancing secret is to delve even deeper in her mind into a world she can control.

We never see any of Baby Doll’s spirited stripteases, as we are immediately transported into Baby Doll’s mind as she has one of her controlled dreams.

These dreams are spiritual challenges given to her by an unnamed mentor (Scott Glenn), and include vivid scenes of killing dragons, aerial battles and fighting the undead.

But Baby Doll dreams of more than just imaginative freedom – she wants the real thing. So she plans to escape.

To do this, her mentor says she must find five items: a map, fire, a knife, a key and a mystery item she’ll recognize when she sees it. Her journey for these items are mirrored in both realities.

Baby Doll’s companions on this quest are Rocket (Jena Malone), Blondie (Vanessa Hudgens), SweetPea (Abbie Cornish) and Amber (Jamie Chung).

A movie made up entirely of money shots, “Sucker Punch” is a big-budget arthouse experiment that attempts to manipulate the depth of its many scenes, cinematic landscape and symbolic imagery. It also proves that being visually ground-breaking doesn’t mean a film is automatically worth seeing.

The plot and dialogue in the non-action scenes flow with useful – yet uninspired – efficiency.

The area I did find inspiring was the eye-popping visual genius. Here, we are watching a director virtually explode in all his glory, creating a chaotic mishmash of ground-breaking new worlds to explore.

These are the kinds of scenes that make me appreciate attending a theatrical release.

The plot itself is very much darker than many other comic interpretations (even Snyder’s “Watchmen” and “300”), even to the point of having obvious moments of incest and attempted rape.

It’s also a twisted fetish film masquerading as mainstream entertainment. A competently and impressively directed fetish film to be sure, but a fetish film nonetheless.

With strong female characters dressed in classic fetish uniforms, it’s difficult to discern whether the film’s theme is misogynistic or feminist.

Now some people will be perfectly content with the dazzling special effects. Others will have passionate hate for the depressing story and sterile characters. I agree with both sides, but I’m leaning more toward what I didn’t like.

The film’s beginning and ending are such cruel examples of gratuitous and hopeless abuse that it seems to be nothing more than tasteless attempts at bondage titillation.

I might have liked this movie more if the ending had made it all worth something.

Hope. Redemption. Peace. It kind of tries, but the ending chooses to be ‘bold,’ which makes this whole experience meaningless.

Apparently, Snyder was so hell-bent on creating a visually original spectacle that he forgot that we also want to be entertained.

Afterward, I couldn’t stop myself from slumping in exhaustion.

Even though I love Snyder’s direction and visuals, “Sucker Punch” shows far too much of a world I’m entirely uninterested in.

Ultimately, I really wish I hadn’t seen it. I’d be much happier.