If you’re looking for a movie where scantily clad babes fight, shoot and blow stuff up real good, then you’ll probably love Sucker Punch. If you’re looking for story, characters, or meaning, you’ll find it pretty thin.
Babydoll [Emily Browning] is the victim of a leering stepfather, whose advances she resisted after her mother died. In attempting to shoot the leering jackass, she accidentally killed her younger sister – and wound up in a dreary mental institute overseen by Dr. Gorski [Carla Gugino] – at least on paper. In reality, the place is run by the slimy orderly, Blue Jones [Oscar Isaac] – who was bribed to facilitate Babydoll’s being lobotomized. With the help of four other inmates… sorry, patients, Babydoll sets out with a plan to set them all free.
That’s the entirety of the movie’s plot. To make it seem like there’s more, director/co-writer [with Steve Shibuya] Zack Snyder turns the group’s efforts to acquire the items necessary for their escape into two levels of fantasy. The first is a lush, period bordello – in which the girls are prostitutes working to free themselves of their pimp/enforcer [Isaac, again] and, second, a fantasy world filled with orcs, dragons, steampunk World War I German zombies and all manner of other weirdness.
Watching Babydoll take down three ten-foot, supernatural samurai is, undeniably, fun – as is watching Amber [Jamie Chung] pilot an anime´ robot, or B-52 against a dragon, seeing sisters Sweet Pea [Abbie Cornish] and Rockit [Jena Malone] and Blondie [Vanessa Hudgens] wield machine guns. Especially in the archetypal scanty outfits they tend to be wearing. The result of their costuming takes their individual appearances and turns them into fetishist fantasies – never mind that we’re supposed to buy that Babydoll and her cohorts have entered these fantasy worlds because of Dr. Gorski’s whispered advice.
Outside of the action and effects, the best thing about Sucker Punch is Scott Glenn’s performance as a character solely referred to in the credits as Wise Man. In the martial fantasy world [level three], he tells Babydoll what she’ll need to escape, then, in further encounters, gives the girls the assignments that line up, allegorically, with those items. He also has the movie’s best [and only really memorable] line, ‘If you don’t stand for something, you’ll fall for anything.’
Much will be written about how Snyder, who came up with the original story, is trying to take elements of female exploitation and turn them into symbols of female empowerment. He’s as much as said exactly that in several interviews – but, hey, whatever helps him sleep at night.
In terms of production, Snyder does a whiz bang job of moving things along and has once again shown that he is a visual genius. His first effort at making an original film is an awesome thing to behold – even if the story is barely substantial enough to register as one. When someone else does the writing, he produces memorable – even classic – films. This gives me hope for his take on Superman.
I remember a dog food commercial that has a sheepdog eating whatever the brand was, with a voiceover [supposedly in the dog’s voice] saying, ‘Tastes great! What’s it look like?’ Sucker Punch looks great but has little real flavor.
Final Grade: C+