Review: Sucker Punch (12A)***

Zack Snyder’s descent into a fantastical alternate reality combines the best and worst of Quentin Tarantino, Robert Rodriguez and Christopher Nolan to create a movie that is as enthralling as it is incoherent and as visually thrilling as it is self-indulgent.

Emily Browning is the 20-year-old blonde, nicknamed Baby Doll, confined to an asylum by her stepfather as a cover-up for his abuse. Once inside she retreats deep into her own mind where, joined by four other inmates, she concocts a plan of escape.

As in Nolan’s Inception, the plot revolves around fantasy adventures within a dreamlike state. Baby Doll and her companions – Sweet Pea, Rocket, Blondie and Amber – are sent on a trilogy of missions by a mysterious commander (leathery old Scott Glenn) to recover the items she needs to complete her breakout. This is where Snyder’s vision comes vividly to life. The quintet of girls – all attired inappropriately for combat – battle zombified German soldiers in the trenches of WWI, reptilian orcs and a dragon out of The Lord of the Rings and Asimov-style robots defending a bomb on a speeding train.

Sign up to our daily newsletter

The i newsletter cut through the noise

A thunderous soundtrack accompanies each segment as Snyder melds soundscape and landscape within a video game aesthetic that revels in ultra violence. This is The Matrix meets Bruce Lee’s Game of Death with Baby Doll and her wild bunch at the heart of some eye-popping action.

Sadly it doesn’t go beyond surface pyrotechnics and the admittedly impressive visual flair. The quintet of femme fatales – Browning is partnered by Abbie Cornish, Jena Malone, Vanessa Hudgens and Jamie Chung – brings a group dynamic to what is a male-dominated genre but emerges only as a band of chicks with guns.

Unlike the über-serious Inception – which was too po-faced by far – Sucker Punch is hugely entertaining, but only in parts. Once action gives way to plot, then the energy fades and the film struggles to regain momentum.

The final impression is of a script that is packed with incident and overloaded with opportunities to show off special effects. In that arena Browning and her (strangely sexless) gal pals are merely set dressing.