Sucker Punch (2011)

Sucker Punch is a movie in which a young woman dances so alluringly that men are rendered dumbstruck, practically catatonic, their eyes glazing over with pleasure. The movie audience never gets to see this amazing dance, but their eyes will be glazing over just the same. It won't be with pleasure, however. A little interpretive dance might have been a nice break from the dumbening effect of Sucker Punch. Director Zack Snyder, who cowrote Sucker Punch with Steve Shibuya, comes out of the more-is-more school of filmmaking. If one explosion is good, 20 are even better. Giant robot samurai demon things? Dragons? Reanimated Nazis? Good, good, good, and keep 'em coming. And if you could make the skirt on that warrior girl even shorter...

You get the picture. But wait, there's more. Sucker Punch is sexploitation pretending to be grrl empowerment, because the girls in the short skirts and lingerie also have samurai swords, big guns, and artillery. Sure, they're captives in a brothel, sexually if vaguely menaced in a PG-13 kinda way, but they're trying to escape, see. Sisters are doing it for themselves. Just, you know, in their underwear.

This is not to say that Snyder (Watchmen, 300) is not an equal opportunity fetishist. 300 featured scantily clad Spartan menfolk with big swords fighting giant elephants and slaves and such, and it was every bit the crappy, loud, visual bombardment that Sucker Punch is. 300 looked like the Frank Miller graphic novel on which it was based. Sucker Punch, although an original creation for Snyder, borrows pretty liberally from Kill Bill, Lord of the Rings, Chicago, Inception and Japanese manga, all dismembered and reassembled and reanimated as the fugue fantasy state of Babydoll (Emily Browning), a Sailor Moon lookalike with platinum ponytails and an itty bitty sailor suit. 

Babydoll has had a tragic life. Her mother died, then her sister died, and her abusive stepfather had her committed to an insane asylum during what appears to be the 1950s. So it's a really bad, snakepit type of asylum where Babydoll is scheduled for a lobotomy. It's so terrible that Babydoll fantasizes that she is instead a captive in a brothel, about to be sold to a mysterious fellow known as "the Highroller" (John Hamm). When Babydoll dances, she goes another level deeper into a fantasy within the fantasy, where she encounters a mysterious mentor (Scott Glenn) who tells her she can free herself by collecting a map, a key, a knife, fire, and an unknown something. Then she has to fight some giant samurai robot things. It's too bad she can't imagine herself into a wildflower meadow with some frolicking unicorns and chirping bluebirds or something. And Oprah could be there. That would be nice. Back in the brothel, Babydoll becomes pals with Rocket (Jena Malone), Sweetpea (Abbie Cornish), Blondie (Vanessa Hudgens), and Amber (Jamie Chung), who all join in her quest to be free of the brothel's mean, violent pimp Blue (Oscar Isaac). I guess back in the asylum, they all want to escape too. So Babydoll dances her way into one thematic epic battle after another (fight dragons for fire, Nazis for a map, etc.). This requires much slow motion photography, and much leaping, slashing, gnashing, shooting, and blowing things up. Babydoll's imagination looks suspiciously like that of a 13 year old boy who spends all of his free time playing video games. This is also, coincidentally, what Snyder's films look like.

I'm trying to imagine who might enjoy this movie. I can't do it. The suggestive salaciousness isn't titillating, the pretense of female empowerment isn't convincing, the characters are one-dimensional, and the story doesn't even bother to hold together. The movie is all style and visual excess, but it's ugly, overly busy, derivative, and boring. You've see all of this before, even if you haven't seen it all scrambled together in one movie.