Title: Sucker Punch
Genre: Action, Adventure
Starring: Emily Browning, Jena Malone, Abbie Cornish
Director: Zack Snyder
Almost universally slated by critics, despised as little more than misogynistic and plotless drivel; an excuse for Snyder to pack in as many ridiculous set pieces of pretty young things doing slow-motion stunts against an unrelenting array of inexplicable demonic creatures chosen for their style than for any more sensible purpose. Basically it delivers on everything I could have asked for and I wouldn't have wanted it any other way. What were people expecting? The man who made what I'm told is a good graphic novel the bland drivel of Watchmen? Who carved a career by having a bare chested, oiled up guys with oversized CGI muscles scream “This is Sparta” in 300? His first feature film where he's given writing credit and you were expecting Inception? Don't get me wrong, this definitely appeals to only those with a specific mindset; if you have a penis and want to shut your brain down for an action film, then like the endless 'Resident Evil' and 'Fast and the Furious' sagas, Sucker Punch is a film that will deliver on precisely what it promises. Nothing more, nothing less.
As with the recently reviewed 'Source Code,' the concept that revolves around fantasies within fantasies is bound to draw unjust comparisons to 'Inception' once again, but it's really only a means to an end. Our lead protagonist in Baby Doll (Browning) committed to a mental hospital after accidentally killing her sister in a rage against her step-father and recent sole-custodian following the death of her mother, he pays the local warden (Oscar Isaac) who runs the institute from the shadows to make sure she has a lobotomy from the doctor due to arrive in five days. Retreating from the world into her fantasy of a burlesque club - even in her own fantasy she can't envisage a pleasant situation, perhaps reflecting the level of trauma within her own mind - where the other residents dance for guests first in public, and then 'pleasure them' in private. It is in this fantasy that the doctor (Carla Gugino) becomes her dance instructor and the warden the evil master in control of the club; a fantasy world reality that is surprisingly coherent with the reality set up at the outset.
Teaming up with the four other girls; Sweet Pea, Rocket, Amber and Blondie, they resolve to do whatever is necessary in order to escape, and it is during her dances that our Baby Doll loses herself to the music and finds herself retreating even further into the depths of her own mind; the fantasy she has created to protect herself still too traumatic to embrace, but with the aid of her guardian angel, wise man, and the father figure she never had who comes to her aid, helping her by explaining what must be done in order to obtain her freedom; the five items she shall need: A map, a fire, a knife, a key, and a mystery item that will involve a grave sacrifice. With the help of her fellow dancers, she dances seductively to disarm the men who stand in her way and obtain the items she needs to escape, retreating into the depths of her mind to find the strength to fight her battles against the onslaught of personal demons she must face, each set-piece a metaphor for her dance and the meaning behind it. And a dragon. Can't forget the dragon.
The title isn't as random as you might initially think; the manner they dress and the variety of outfits ranging from sailors to strippers; the number of fetishes included to titillate the male audience whom it obviously subscribes to intended as an allure to bring them out for the visual eye candy whilst the real 'Sucker Punch' lies standing right in front of them. Think about it, a plot that revolves around women oppressed by their male counterparts, forced into this inhospitable situation and turning around, rising up and fighting back for their freedom. Degrading towards women? The core plot would suggest otherwise, but I expect many of the female persuasion would have difficulty looking past the skimpy outfits we've long since become desensitised to, but this was was never really a film intended for them. Whether or not it truly succeeds in managing to have its cake and eat it too; playing on males fantasies whilst simultaneously preaching of female empowerment is one that you'll have to decide for yourself and an argument that has been raged since 'Female Prisoner' in '72; 'I Spit on Your Grave' in '78, and now revived here, but the fact that this is a point so many seem to have overlooked and had to be pointed out explicitly by a director often known for his style over substance I think says more about the average viewer than the director.
All arguments of the potential misogyny of the film aside, the plot may have something of an ace up its sleeve, and whilst not quite as idiotic as some try to make it out to be, it all ultimately only exists for one purpose: special effects. This has always been Snyder's forté and the main reason he still finds work and here he has found a vehicle to really outdo himself; by allowing “Baby Doll's fantasies” to take flight, really he's allowing his own ridiculous ideas to come to life with no need to make all that much sense of the situation, only the quest to obtain the item tethering it to the first layer of fantasy; sword battles with undead giant samurai, WWI steampunk creations and fire-breathing dragons complete with all the firepower these little girls can carry to wield against an array of demonic entities tied together with a wafer thin plot. No time is wasted building up the characters, and perhaps whilst some sort of tie-in with her 'complicated past' which is briefly mentioned then immediately forgotten within the set-pieces; using what she's learnt from each of the other characters - fabrications of her own mind don't forget, little more than internally conflicting opinions; the voice of reason, turbulent relationship with her sister and fearful self all arguing amongst each other but fighting for a common goal - to overcome her own personal demons and fight to escape the hellish situation she finds herself in would have gone a long way in creating some sense of character empathy, you also have to stop and remind yourself of the source. This is Zack Snyder. He isn't known for smart or subtle, he does ridiculous, over the top, mindless popcorn flicks for men, and he does them like nobody else, so park your brain at the door, sit back, and enjoy the ride.