Sucker Punch isn’t just a triumph of style over substance, it also clubs logic into submission and kills subtlety in its sleep. A mash-up of what feels like every 14-year-old geek’s favorite pop culture tropes, it’s a whole lot of noise that adds up to little more than Inception for hormonal 14-year-old boys.
The scant story (which owes its existence to Terry Gilliam’s Brazil) centers on Babydoll (Emily Browning), committed to an asylum for the criminally insane by her stepfather after she accidentally kills the sister she was trying to protect. As a curious form of coping mechanism, Babydoll reimagines her reality as a high-end bordello (think Burlesque with a touch of The Night Porter). There she undergoes the questionable (and creepy) dancing cure by the resident psychotherapist (Carla Gugino, vamping it up with a bad Polish accent) and enlists four other girls — Sweet Pea (Abbie Cornish), Rocket (Jena Malone), Blondie (Vanessa Hudgens), and Amber (Jamie Chung) — in an escape plan.
Babydoll and her cohorts have to obtain five items necessary for the breakout within five days, otherwise Babydoll will fall prey to a client known as the High Roller (in actuality the doctor who’s going to give her an ice-pick lobotomy). Guiding them on their quest is the Wiseman (a bemused Scott Glenn, the only person involved who seems to be having any fun), another creation of Babydoll’s imagination, her own personal Yoda.
For each mission, Babydoll distracts the mark with a bump and grind number (which we never see) and escapes into another reality where the five of them turn up in an exaggerated battle zone of their imaginations, each seemingly influenced by every prog-metal album cover and issue of Heavy Metal ever printed: World War I trenches populated with steam-powered German zombies; a medieval fortress loaded with dragons and leftover orcs from The Lord of the Rings; a high-speed train loaded with killer robots hurtling toward a futuristic cityscape. It sounds better than it is: tedious, muddled, repetitive, shallow, pretentious, and dull — and not necesarily in that order.
Director Zack Snyder (who also co-wrote the script) is so enamored with the movie’s fantasy landscapes and bombastic-yet-uninspired action sequences that he neglects the actual storytelling. We’re never even given a hint as to why the other girls are incarcerated, and the anemic script gives them little to do but scream, pout, cry, and/or look angsty inbetween punching, shooting, and slashing. It’s a pity, too, because it’s during Sucker Punch‘s quieter moments that it becomes something to watch rather than something to just sit and look at. Sadly, these moments are few and far between.
What is most irritating about Sucker Punch, however, is Snyder’s insistance that it’s all about female empowerment and self-actualization. Sorry bro, but a juvenile male fantasy about a victimized, institutionalized girl named Babydoll who imagines herself dancing in a bordello in order to cope with reality, and then copes with that coping mechanism by fantasizing about being a sword-swinging, gun-slinging warrior babe in schoolgirl fetish gear who slays dragons, zombies, and robots before getting lobotomized is just another form of objectification, and a childish one at that.