Dragons and goblins, knights, zeppelins, steam-powered Nazi zombies, oversized robot samurai, futuristic fighting androids, schoolgirls with swords and strippers with guns... Sound like the premise of a comic book? Zack Snyder, director of Watchmen and 300, takes the idea of hot chicks in a mental asylum and uses it like a platform from which he can launch any wacky fanboy adventure he damn well pleases. And he does.
The movie begins with Babydoll (Emily Browning), a girl who looks so young in her ultra-short sailor skirt I feel like I should card her, and the death of her mother. The graveside sermon and immediate after-funeral rape attempt by her bulging stepfather are accompanied by a softer version of the Eurhythmics’ Sweet Dreams. And if you’ve seen the trailer for Sucker Punch, you know exactly what the plot is going to be.
Babydoll turns out to be too feisty for the drunken step-rapist, nearly clawing his eye out, so he locks her up and proceeds to the younger sister’s bedroom. Babydoll goes out a window to intercept him, finds a gun, an altercation ensues... I won’t spoil it for you but the resulting scene is bad enough to send Babydoll to the asylum with severe hallucinations and you, the viewer, to a nerd-gasm for the remainder of the film.
Dance for me like your mother used to.
During her time at the ‘Women’s Asylum for T&A’, Babydoll re-imagines her captivity as a parallel existence, in which she and the other wardmates are working a brothel, dancing for the club owner. With names like Rocket, Sweat Pea, Blondie, and Amber, I might have come to the same conclusion. And although shy at first, she soon learns that performing stripteases has the benefit of kick-starting her into yet another layer of reality, one where her and her friends engage in the most imaginative battles ever torn from comicbook pages. The tools they glean from each encounter bring them closer to freedom, and away from the lobotomy doctor (high-roller) who arrives for Babydoll in just five days.
Everything is stylized and drastic, even the bloated pig-faced butcher working the kitchens, or the rotund asylum guard with his gold lighter (Why are all the fat people evil?). The artistry of the movie is absolutely fantastic, swaying from melancholy and drab to thunderous fight scenes picked out of WWI era technology. Elements of Steampunk and Japanese Manga are heavy and pasted together like a collage, with a fine clearcoat of expensive editing and CGI.
But amidst all the glamour, the fire, and the shiny objects, the plot gets lost, or at least intentionally set aside. The end scene sums everything up, leaving the viewer to turn off their brain and enjoy the show, but after a while it all blurs together. The karate-kicking girls seem invulnerable during the fight sequences. And their enemies, whether it be cyborgs or secondhand Orcs from the LODR trilogy, die when they’re sneezed on. It’s like watching a reel of anime fight sequences strung together on a loop, with breaks in between for the girls to cry on each other’s shoulders.
When the clip runs dry...
I would recommend fans of comics and action movies to watch this film, but I personally won’t be buying it. 300 and Watchmen sit on my shelf like trophies, but Sucker Punch just doesn’t have the same punch. It’s got the torque and the aesthetic appeal of a Formula One racer up on blocks. The beginning of the movie has heart, and sets the stage so well, while the rest is a colorful, repetitive lapdance.
One final mention- the end was a bit of a letdown. The most loathsome antagonist of the story, Babydoll’s stepfather, is left as a sidenote; a hint that he may be incriminated over the scandal of Babydoll’s lobotomy. She gains the strength and insight to stand up for herself and make the most valiant sacrifice of the movie, which also deprives the story of some much needed closure. I would have preferred to see the stepfather executed Rasputin style.