With each passing year, I am increasingly reminded by Hollywood of the grossly deprived childhood I've had to endure, filled merely with friends and books and good grades and music and movies and most of the comforts that modest money can buy. Where, I ask myself, was the adrenalin-fuelled interlude with videogames?
I recall Digger, which sent shivers of excitement up our innocent spines, on being able to retrieve pots of money buried underneath the pixellated ground — but today's kids would call it a pacifier for three-year-olds. If the world doesn't explode in an apocalyptic inferno, it isn't a videogame anymore. And unused to these tranquil pastimes of butchering people and blowing things up to the accompaniment of deafening rock music, I find myself utterly baffled by entertainments like Zack Snyder's Sucker Punch. If console, to you, means what is done to someone who is grieving, be afraid. Be very afraid.
Snyder, on the other hand, is older than I am, but he's clearly discovered a ripple in the space-time continuum that allowed him to attune his sensibilities to those of game addicts. Talk about ADD — within the first five minutes of his film, we've already witnessed the death of the heroine's mother, the murder of her sister, her ill-treatment at the hands of a stepfather, her escape from a confined chamber and her subsequently issued threats over a point-blank revolver, and her dispatch to a mental asylum. And a lot of this is in slow motion (and I'm not counting the cutaways to the stormy outside, punctuated by thunder and lightning).
The story could be described as Dickens meets Russ Meyer in The Matrix — badly treated unfortunates (Abbie Cornish, Jena Malone, Vanessa Hudgens and Jamie Chung in short skirts and with porn-star names like Sweet Pea and Amber and Blondie) are given a hope of escape when The One (aka Babydoll, played by Emily Browning) arrives, with the ability to enter a trance-like state and soar into alternate realities (involving dragons and samurai monsters and everything else a big CGI budget can buy).
Snyder seizes every inch of screen space and amps it up for dramatic effect. A spinning button that falls from a blouse is captured from an angle that makes it loom as large as a UFO. A low-angle shot of a metronome makes it seem as if we are driving towards Mount Doom with the windshield wipers on. Perhaps these interesting perspectives are compensation for the inevitable one-dimensionality of the characters.
Snyder does have a painterly eye. When a creature whose insides are made of light is beheaded, we see its helmet lolling in the dark, emitting the barest shard of brightness. But the battle scenes are awfully monotonous, with sadistic overtones of girls being smashed against walls, hurled onto floors, beaten up by robotic creatures and shot in the head. The faux-philosophical narration makes it worse. “Reality is a prison,” we are informed. “Your mind can set you free... To reach your own paradise just let go.” I felt I was receiving subliminal instructions to bolt from the theatre.
Director: Zack Snyder
Cast: Emily Browning, Abbie Cornish, Jena Malone
Storyline: Young women attempt to escape from a mental asylum... through her dreams.
Bottomline: Videogame addicts may have some fun.