Reality is a prison. Freedom is in the mind. These are the mantras of director Zack Snyder’s (“Watchmen”) new film, “Sucker Punch.”
At Quality 16 and Rave
The film follows the mind-bending story of Baby Doll (Emily Browning, “A Series of Unfortunate Events”), a 20-year-old girl who is sent to an insane asylum after she accidentally shoots her sister in an effort to protect them both from their evil stepfather. Upon arriving, her stepfather makes a deal with the twisted owner of the asylum to ensure that Baby Doll will be lobotomized in five days.
To cope with the harsh new reality in which she finds herself, Baby Doll re-imagines her prison as a burlesque house. The owner of the asylum becomes her pimp, the doctor becomes her dance instructor and the other inmates, Blondie (Vanessa Hudgens, “Beastly”), Amber (Jamie Chung, “Grown Ups”) and sisters Sweet Pea (Abbie Cornish, “Limitless”) and Rocket (Jena Malone, “Into the Wild”), become her fellow dancers and friends. Unfortunately, this fantasy is not much better than reality — they’re still prisoners, only now they’re strippers too.
This might leave some viewers to wonder why Baby Doll may not have chosen a more pleasant reality, but those people probably aren’t familiar with Snyder’s work. He has a penchant for the macabre and it’s this aesthetic that ultimately makes the film.
So, when Baby Doll is first asked to dance, she escapes to an alternate reality within her alternate reality, where an old man tells her she needs five items in order to escape: a map, fire, a knife, a key and a mysterious fifth item that only she will be able to get. On the quest to get each of these objects, Baby Doll and company are transported to other worlds filled with apparent robot Nazis and fire-breathing dragons, where they have machine guns, samurai swords and even racier outfits. The blueprints to the asylum-brothel become a treasure map, the kitchen knife becomes a bomb on a high-speed train that they must dismantle.
These alternate worlds are visually stunning. The incorporation of Bjork and music from the film’s own Emily Browning (try her cover of “Sweet Dreams” and her duet with Yoav, “Where Is My Mind?”) work well. The aesthetic is classic Snyder, looking half like a movie and half like an extremely well-developed video game — and wholly over-the-top.
While some might see this over-the-top quality as a problem, it works for most aspects of the movie. The only place it doesn’t is for the ridiculously revealing “costumes” the girls wear. Despite the film’s claims to be feminist, it still feels like a bunch of half-naked girls with machine guns running around in fishnets and heels — or, in other words, every man’s “fantasy.”
Apart from that, the film’s main problem may actually be that it isn’t over-the-top enough. Many films adapt an in-your-face-ridiculous quality and it works for them. The problem is, it needs to carry over into the writing as well — it can’t just be in the direction and cinematography. And despite the film’s name, its plot is actually quite straightforward and predictable, establishing a pattern for itself within the first 30 minutes (find object, fight bad guys, repeat). All in all, “Sucker Punch” doesn’t just look like a video game, it functions like one too — enjoyable and visually entertaining, but without much depth.