Director Zack Snyder isn’t one to be subtle, so when you go to see his new film Sucker Punch, don’t expect a thoughtful reflection on child abuse or the mental health care industry. That’s not what we expect from the director of 300 or Watchmen anyway, so it’s best just to sit back and let the noise and slo-mo action sequences overtake you. Not to mention girls with a lot of makeup and skimpy outfits shooting machine guns and wielding really long swords.
Sucker Punch is a long gestating project for Snyder and he has finally seen it realized. Opening quickly with a computer generated image of a theatre curtain in some sort of Baz Luhrman homage, we are thrust into a prologue that sets up the travails of a girl dubbed Baby Doll (Emily Browning) whose mother dies leaving her and her sister in the care of an abusive step-father. When he discovers that his wife’s will leaves everything to the two girls, the step-father goes about trying to get rid of them. In doing so, Baby Doll defends herself; in turn she accidentally kills her sister. Seeing the perfect opportunity to get rid of Baby Doll, Evil Step-Dad has her committed to an asylum inhabited by hot young girls who roam the stone cold halls in gray outfits that still give off a come-hither air.
Run by a slime-ball called Blue (Oscar Isaac), this is clearly a place where the girls are abused and no man can be trusted. As soon as Baby Doll is to be lobotomized at the hands of a Doctor (Jan Hamm), Baby Doll fantasizes that instead of an asylum, she and her new gang of inmates are actually in a brothel run by the asylum’s Dr. Vera Gorski (Carla Gugino). In this alternate world, however, Gorski is the dance instructor/Madame of girls who are forced to perform nightly in a burlesque show as well as "entertain" the gentlemen callers who attend the performances.
But Baby Doll ain’t havin’ none of that, and when she is forced to perform a dance as an audition of sorts, she closes her eyes and finds herself in another world. Suddenly in a Japanese temple, she meets a Wise Man played (of course) by Scott Glenn who tells her that in order to survive she must find five things: a map, fire, a knife, a key, and the last thing remains a mystery. Only Baby Doll will know what it is.
Before she can go back to the other reality (which still isn’t reality), she has to fight some really large Japanese-style soldiers who slam poor Baby Doll into every single stone archway and pillar in the place. Thankfully, this world has made her a martial arts expert and she flips and flies through the air like a preternatural Wu-Shu warrior while snow drifts around her. She completes her task and returns to the brothel world where while she was hallucinating Scott Glenn, she was performing one hell of a dance. Instantly, she becomes the Christina Aguilera of the whorehouse.
Gathering her new besties together, she lays out her incredibly simple plan of gathering the four objects together. But the girls, all of whom employ a specific personality trait, aren’t sure if they should attempt this. Sweet Pea (Abbie Cornish) is the hard-edged girl of the group who thinks they’ll die if they try to fight back. Despite her nasty demeanor, it is clear she is the group’s protector, especially over her sister Rocket (Jena Malone) who is all for getting the hell out. Blondie (High School Musical’s Vanessa Hudgens) is the follower, and also the one that breaks the easiest, and Amber (Jamie Chung) is dutiful and willing to do what needs to be done.
With some swaying, the girls finally agree to attempt Baby Doll’s plan. In order to get each item, one of the girls will go about swiping the object while Baby Doll does her dance, which is apparently so amazing, that it will transfix any man. Unfortunately, we never see the dance because each time she is about to get her groove on, we are thrust into a new alternate world where the five girls don skimpy clothes and start shooting things up. They fight German zombies, things that look like the Orcs from Lord of the Rings, dragons, and slender metallic robots. In these sequences there are a lot of explosions and bullets flying and the girls all look ready to walk the streets in some sort of hooker Halloween parade.
There isn’t much depth to Sucker Punch and it’s best to know that going in. Snyder is attempting to make the movie psychologically thrilling, but its all college intro course "stuff" so there aren’t really any surprises.
While Snyder denies the audience a twist ending he promises in various interviews he’s done, he does offer an interesting theme introduced in the opening voice-over: that we all have guardian angels that arrive to us in many forms. Perhaps that’s his twist. Unfortunately the bombastic way we get there doesn’t do that story any justice, especially because it doesn’t make a heck of a lot of sense.
Don’t get me wrong, Sucker Punch is fun to watch, and its use of music is amazing, but it just seems like Snyder is trying to be a low-rent Quentin Tarantino with his hot badass chicks kicking butt to cool music. In fact, Sucker Punch is really Tarantino’s version of Burlesque.
The problem is that we are supposed to root for the women to rise up and stop taking the abuse, yet at the same time, Snyder keeps titillating us with short skirts and pouty lips. In this, his message gets jumbled and like the media’s proliferation of sexualized young women, this is yet another piece of entertainment that tells girls to use their sexuality to overcome adversity. Not the best message, but maybe in doing that he makes us fall victim to the titillation ourselves and in that, he’s giving us the ultimate sucker punch.