Fifteen minutes into my first viewing of Saving Private Ryan, I turned to my friend and asked, "Are they going to keep this up for the next two hours?"
We're not wired in such a way as to sustain continuous abuse. To escape on-going pain in life we turn to coping mechanisms. In media, we turn to something else. Drama lives off conflict. For it to affect us it has to matter. But for things to matter, they often have to be pretty intense. But when things are intense for too long, we shut down. So filmmakers have the difficult job of keeping you on the edge, but letting up enough so you don't tune out.
This break from the action is often accomplished through comic relief. Those two totally obnoxious characters that have absolutely nothing to do with the story? They're in the movie to give you something to laugh at when things get too intense.
Bollywood films employ song and dance. When things are getting too hot, the whole town turns out to sing about it.
Sucker Punch takes a different tack. To escape the intense brutality of the unfolding drama, we are given "guy movie" eye candy: Girls in miniskirts taking out bad guys.
Comic(book) relief totally works for me. Song and dance is my second choice. But I typically find comic relief distracting, annoying and detrimental to a movie. I really like that filmmakers are exploring alternate ways of breaking the tension. And, in the case of Sucker Punch, they killed it!
Your Media Production Mentor