"You have all the weapons you need. Now fight!" – Madam Gorski
Are flights of fancy capable of transforming us, of having an impact on the real world? Can we defeat the terrors of the real world by confronting them in our imagination?
These are questions that can be used to explore the human condition. Or, in this case, they can be used to put some ladies in sexy steampunk outfits and have them kick a lot of ass.
Sucker Punch is the brainchild of Zach Snyder, who did adaptations of Dawn of the Dead, 300 and Watchmen. He’s developed a unique style, mixing kinetic, intense action scenes using quick-cutting and targeted slow motion to go along with his sense for cool visuals.
On the other hand, he’s criticized for being light on the storytelling aspects of directing. Sucker Punch continues both traditions.
The movie opens in a theater with a voiceover telling us we all have a guardian angel that will look out for us, guide us and teach us to fight. Then the curtain goes up, the film shifts from the theater to the world of the story and we meet Baby Doll in a music video intro, (Emily “Lemony Snicket” Browning) who loses her mother, is attacked by her stepfather, and while trying to keep him away from her younger sister, accidentally shoots and kills her.
This gives the wicked stepfather the excuse to have Baby Doll committed to a sanitarium run by Dr. Gorski (Carla Gugino), and he pays off the head orderly (Oscar “Robin Hood” Isaac) to have Baby Doll lobotomized. As said procedure is about to carried out by Jon Hamm, the movie shifts to another reality.
Here, Baby Doll is a virgin orphan sold by the head priest (her stepfather in the other reality) to a dance club/ brothel run by the orderly, now a mobster, and the girls' routines are designed by Madam Gorski. Baby Doll is worth buying because the High Roller (Hamm) will be visiting the brothel within the week, and he loves deflowering virgins.
Baby Doll befriends Rocket (Jenna “The Ruins” Malone), Sweet Pea (Abbie Cornish), Amber (Jamie Chung) and Blondie (Vanessa Hudgens from High School Musical), who join Baby Doll’s plan to escape.
Madam Gorski teaches Baby Doll to dance, as all the girls in the club must have their own routine. Gorski tells Baby Doll to think of dancing as a weapon. So as Baby Doll starts to dance, we shift realities again.
So in this third fantasy level (I may have lost count) Baby Doll meets her Guardian Angel (Scott Glenn from Silence of the Lambs), who gives Baby Doll a samurai sword, a 45 and tells her that to escape, she will need to quest for five items. Then giant robot samurai attack.
This is all within the opening twenty minutes of the movie.
A wordless, music-driven setup, followed by three reality shifts and perspective changes. This should give you some idea of what the movie is like.
So, the girls bicker and bond as they execute their plot. Said plots all involve Baby Doll distracting people with her dancing.
When Baby Doll dances, we shift to the steampunk dance-world.
In this reality they’re a fighting unit in a war with undead, steampunk WWI German soldiers; mecha, biplanes, dragons, robots, orc soldiers in medieval armor, zeppelins, high-speed trains on anti-gravity rails, castles, B-52 bombers, high-tech cities, and bombed out gothic churches.
It’s an anachronism stew that some people are going to love.
On the other hand, it is going to be too much for some people to follow. There are arguments about which of these worlds are real within the story and which are fantasies.
Everything within the dance-world may be a delusion, or the girls might be affecting the real world with their actions. Or maybe the point is we should not think hard and just watch women kick major amounts of ass in awesome fight scenes as they shoot and slice their way through robots, undead soldiers and a dragon.
None of these questions are given easy answers by the ending (well, except for the last one).
If you can go along with the concept, Sucker Punch has Snyder’s signature action scenes, great music (Bjork’s “Army of Me”, and covers of “White Rabbit” by Emiliana Torrini, “Sweet Dreams” by Emily Browning), and fantastic visuals. It has as much or as little depth as you are willing to invest into it.
I predict we’ll see a lot of these girls' outfits cosplayed at conventions, of which I heartily approve.