“Sucker Punch,” director Zack Snyder’s latest hyperactive, computer effects-driven action trip, resembles many things: a series of linked, high-gloss music videos; an overlong advertisement for something vague (possibly itself); a video-game concept reel blown up into a big Hollywood feature; a collection of top-tier computer-effects demos strung together along a tiny strand of impenetrable narrative. Visually inventive to the point of excess, it’s all these things and more. Sadly, however, it’s not much of a movie.
Mr. Snyder has developed a reputation as something of a specialist in over-the-top juvenile fantasy. His comic book adaptations “300” and “Watchmen” played out with all the subtlety of nuclear attacks, robbing his considerably smarter source material of all nuance and replacing it with mindless, digitally doused visual frenzy — slow and fast motion, computer-created fantasy sets, and a careening camera as likely to induce vertigo as anything else.
These traits were striking and memorable stylistically, and they helped make “300” a huge hit. They were also total overkill.
Yet if anything, “Sucker Punch” takes Snyderism and turns it up to 11. The film sets every scene to an exuberant pop song and works heavily in slow-mo and computer-generated landscapes. It also features, among other fanciful elements, a goblin-nosed samurai giant with glowing red eyes and a rapid-fire bazooka, a rocket-powered fighting suit painted to resemble a pink cartoon bunny, a World War II vintage bomber being chased by a dragon after launching an attack on an ancient castle surrounded by a moat of fire, and an army of steam-powered Nazi zombies backed by skyscraper-size zeppelins.
If it sounds like entirely too much, that’s because it is. Mr. Snyder barely develops one fantastic scenario before tossing it aside and hopping to the next; they’re vignettes, crafted for attention spans shaped by YouTube and music videos. And the story, if you can call it that, is built around a series of excuses to indulge in unmediated adolescent escapism.
As the film begins, a pale-and-pasty Barbie of a young girl (Emily Browning) — referred to only as Babydoll — accidentally kills her younger sister while attempting to fend off a brutish attack by her stepfather. In response, he enrolls her in an all-girls mental institution, ensuring that she will soon be lobotomized.
Once trapped, Babydoll retreats into a highly detailed alternate world, bringing both the asylum’s residents and the audience with her. Instead of a grungy asylum, she reimagines the facility as a swank brothel, with her and the other occupants as showgirls. Within that fantasy, she plans an escape, which plunges her and the select squad of other young residents accompanying her into a series of even wilder and more elaborate action fantasies — hence the dragons, samurai giants and steam-powered zombies.
It’s easy to get the sense that traditional cinematic components like logic, character and plot — not to mention some semblance of a coherent reality — are not high on Mr. Snyder’s list of priorities. Even the tragic events at the film’s center often seem like afterthoughts. They’re handled with such indelicacy that one wonders if Mr. Snyder cares about these or any other humans at all, or if he simply views them as a flesh-and-blood avatars with which to populate his (admittedly breathtaking) adolescent fantasies.
The cast includes brief appearances by Scott Glenn, Jon Hamm of “Mad Men,” and a handful of grubby characters, most of whom have little to do besides glower at Mr. Snyder’s digital pyrotechnics.
Mr. Snyder is technically proficient, but he displays a fundamentally shallow approach to both human beings and the subtle craft of moviemaking. In the end, one can’t help but wonder if what the movie resembles most is its creator.
TITLE: Sucker Punch
RUNNING TIME: 109 minutes
RATING: PG-13, for a barrage of incomprehensible fantasy violence