Okay, straight up? On the face of it, Sucker Punch is mostly indefensible. If you want to take it on the surface.
Not that that’s a bad thing, necessarily. I have no problem with strippers packing big guns being used as exclamation points between explosions. I’m still breathing, right? Especially since this doesn’t pretend (too much) to be high art…this is Zack Snyder being given millions of dollars just to unleash his id on the screen.
And apparently, Snyder’s lowbrow id is influenced by a lot of cinematic influences and genres that I happen to enjoy. There isn’t too much story involved here. Just enough to serve as cutscenes that link the video game mayhem that took to calling itself Sucker Punch.
So let’s go back in time for the faux noir 1950s. What we have here is a thinly veiled Sailor Moon character (called Baby Doll, because what’s the point of unleashing your id if you’re just gonna try and disguise what makes it tick?) committed to the "Institution For Criminally Insane Girls in Short Skirts and Fishnet" by her evil stepfather, so that he can get his grubbies on her inheritance. And make her take the fall for his pervy deeds which led to the death of her naïf sister.
All this setup is played out in an opening gambit that is an ambitious exercise in highly stylized melodrama. It plays it well, setting the tone and backstory in broadstrokes that left me curious how the project would have looked if played entirely that way.
Well, things happen. Under the threat of impending lobotomy, Baby Doll accesses a part of her brain that allows her to set off in an epic quest to score four items (and an ambiguous fifth) in order to accomplish her mission. Let’s call that mission Freedom. Which serves as an excuse to get Baby Doll and her leggy posse to jump around in all sorts of visually-stunning set-pieces that span time and genre.
So we’ve got some giant stone samurai. A dragon and a B-25 bomber engaged in a dogfight. A trainload of killer robots. Zombie Kraut steampunk soldiers. Exploding zeppelins. And asskicking girls highwire-dancing through fireballs and hails of bullets. And other stuff.
Lots of other stuff.
Yeah, it’s cosplay wrapped in an 82 million dollar budget, borderline femslash. If you don’t know what cosplay or femslash is, then you probably won’t get Sucker Punch. Maybe. Maybe it doesn't matter. Not that that’s necessarily a bad thing. But it is what it is. This is auteur theory at its most outlandish, one man’s last dip in the slowly draining Hollywood dream pool. No art is created in a vacuum, and Snyder lets all his influences hang out here.
On one level, it can seem like pretty subversive stuff, albeit subverting the subversive. The bevy of beauties are dressed up in fetish fear and put through empowerment moves. It's not entirely clear exactly what Snyder's intent is...on one hand, we get hot chicks lapdancing to his Svengali cackle. On the other, we have Snyder wrapping up his heavy-breathing narrative in such a way that can be read as a two-fisted fuckfinger salute thrown in the face of Hollywood convention. This is one happy ending that takes some serious thought to wrap the head around. If you want to put that much thought into it.
Visually, it taps into the neo-retro stylings of Sin City and Sky Captain and the narrative affectations of Moulin Rouge. If this sounds like it’d make for a confusing stew, it does. If you give what’s happening onscreen too much thought. If you do want to think about it, there's plenty of subtext to play around with. It's just not neatly wrapped. Scantily wrapped, to be sure, but with deceptive layers of cartoon paper and strings that lead to weird places.
But mostly, it’s two hours of letting yourself be strapped to the theatre seat, eyelids pinned back as Herr Doctor Snyder pokes at your lizard brain with a sharp stick. If that sounds sexy, then you can get your money’s worth here.