|Produced for the Zack Snyder series|
Emily Browning (all grown up from her adventures with Lemony Snickett) is the protagonist, Baby Doll. The film starts with the raising of two theatre curtains and a slow-mo, dialogue free prologue: 1960’s, dead mother, evil step-father, little sister, accidental death, Baby Doll incarcerated at Lennox Home for the Mentally Insane (Mentally Insane?! Love it). Boom bam boom and we’re away. Once there, she’s set up by her step-dad and a crooked orderly for a lobotomy. She escapes into a fantasy where the Asylum is... a burlesque house. And from there she gets a group of girls together to plot an escape. They all have Roles in the plan, and aren’t much more than pretty caricatures. The plan consists of obtaining four items and to get these items, Baby Doll dances to distract the men-folk. Which then leads us into the third level as the obtaining of the items is played out in big geek fantasy set-pieces. The majority of the film plays out in these two “fantasy” levels with the “real” serving more to bookend the film.
So that tells you the plot, such as it is. But what Sucker Punch really is, is a culmination of ideas, images and assorted other bits and pieces that have been swimming around in Snyder's head. This is a mash up of everything from Moulin Rouge (repurposed pop songs, the burlesque house) to samurai films (the first action fantasy with giant robot samurai) to Hellboy and steam-punk (steam-powered WWI zombie Germans) to Lord of the Rings and fantasy (orcs, knights and dragons) to manga/anime (mecha) to future sci-fi (robots on a speeding train). The obvious question is, of course: how are all these geek-centric fantasies relevant to a young girl in the 60’s? They’re all incredibly cool looking, and Snyder impresses with the sheer amount of passion and detail in these scenes but they fit the director more than they do the character of Baby Doll.
And there is no real dramatic weight to these fantasies: in the very first sequence, Baby Doll is tossed around by these giant robot samurai with nary a scratch on her and no real threat to life or limb. And because these fantasies don’t feel like they relate to the character of Baby Doll or to the first or second level of action they're hard to ascribe any sense of peril to. And you have a tough time relating to anyone in the film because they're all of the broadest archetypes and Baby Doll herself is incredibly passive for a large portion of the film. Abbie Cornish's Sweet Pea feels somewhat more real and relatable (although this could just be down to the kick-ass performance of Cornish herself), even if she is the Angry Reluctant One. You could certainly have an argument around the depiction of women in the film. While all the girls are types rather than actual characters, the same is true for everyone. But in these "fantasy" sequences of Baby Doll's, are the scantily clad women self-empowered and fully confident, using their sexuality as a weapon? Or are they dressed to titillate; to be a part of the fantasy, rather than fight it?
Ultimately, I feel like it's another symptom of the story, themes and characters not connecting. You get the sense that Snyder is reaching for something more with this film, but he just doesn't quite grasp it; it doesn't all come together in a cohesive whole. But it's not all bad. The images offered up here, especially in the third level fantasy sequences, are stunning. The work of a master visualist. The train sequence is easily the stand out set-piece, being an extraordinarily well choreographed and executed piece of balletic mayhem. And, unlike the other sequences, I found it had some real heft to it; that, at this point in the game, the stakes were actually higher. And that's another point: Sucker Punch would work really, really well as a video-game. And I don't mean that in a derogatory way (though the story-telling may certainly be on that level). Much like Matthew Vaugh with Kick Ass, Edgar Wright with Scott Pilgrim vs. The World and even Christopher Nolan with Inception, Snyder has taken the language of video-games and successfully transposed it to film. And hey, look at the title of this blog. Look at the url. Of course there are bound to be some things I enjoy and appreciate in this film!
One of the things I found most interesting, leading up to the film's release, was the advertising. Throughout the campaign, the tagline has been "You will be unprepared". When, really, the whole point of the advertising has been specifically to prepare you for it. I was prepared for Sucker Punch. I was just a little let down.