Directed by Zack Snyder
From the second the Warner Bros. logo appears on screen, you’re thrust into this world as it transitions into images of Emily Browning’s Babydoll dealing with the death of her mother then her little sister following, both at the hands of a murderous stepfather. It’s an intro that plays a bit like a music video for the accompanying take on “Sweet Dreams (Are Made of This)” (sung by Browning), leading to her being placed in a mental institution by her abusive stepfather to silence her. In five days, Babydoll will be lobotomized and unable to testify against him. This realization sends the girl into an alternate version of her world where the asylum is a brothel and the “escorts” perform dance numbers for the male clientele. With five days until Babydoll’s virginity will be given to the club’s Highroller, she has to escape and she enlists the other girls to help her. They soon learn that Babydoll’s dance moves are enough to distract any man from whatever they’re doing, which allows them to retrieve a number of items that can elicit their escape.
As might be expected, it’s a lot to absorb and it might take some adjusting to all the ideas that are thrown at you, and because of that, there’s less of the immediate and instant gratification that “300” offered because they need to set up the story and characters before moving into the coolest aspect of the film, the four fantasy worlds the girls enter to find those items. These include an Edo-era world with machine gun toting samurai, a world of Orcs and dragons, killer robots on a bullet train and a warped version of WWI.
Visually, the film looks fantastic with Snyder’s team really pulling out the stops for every scene. Snyder is unlike any other director when it comes to putting visuals together to music, something some might say makes him a better music video director than filmmaker, but by the time Skunk Anansie’s version of the Stooges’ “Search and Destroy” kicks in over a scene of a helicarrier flying the girls into a medieval castle, you’re ready to forgive him. You’ll also start to find favorites in the cast with Jamie Chung’s Amber winning me over as soon as she got into the pilot’s seat of bunny-painted Anime-inspired ovoid battleship. Just the fact that Snyder would create such an enormous WWI battle sequence without concerning himself with any sort of realism or historic accuracy is part of what makes “Sucker Punch” so daring, though at times, it feels like the ideas may be too big for the execution to possibly deliver. As much as the fantasy sequences are the highlight of the film, their stylish composition tends to be obliterated by the CG rather than embellishing it as was the case with “300.”
It’s hard to adjust to all the jumping back and forth between these fantastic worlds and their bombastic action sequences and the “real world” but an even bigger problem is that the latter constantly downgrades the energy, and much of that comes down to the performances. Browning is a talent to be reckoned with and both Abbie Cornish and Jenna Malone have proven themselves as terrific dramatic actors before, yet their scenes in the brothel tend to bog down the works. It’s painfully obvious that Vanessa Hudgens is the weak link in the ensemble, while Carla Gugino is good, but she was better in “Watchmen.” On the other hand, the few guys really standout especially Oscar Isaac’s portrayal of Blue, a sleazy orderly who becomes the girls’ even sleazier pimp in the Brothel World, and Scott Glenn is perfectly cast as the girls’ mentor and leader.
“Sucker Punch” is Snyder’s craziest ride yet and his most ambitious film to date, but it won’t be for everyone, especially as it enters an incredibly dark third act that veers dangerously close to “Brazil” territory. Not that it should be too surprising with Snyder delving into realms in which Terry Gilliam has thrived for years which also makes it the type of movie that can only be better appreciated with the passage of time.