Sucker Punch — a gothic rock ’n’ roll girl-in-peril tale in which the female protagonist finds her sword, mentor, posse, and strength amidst a flea market of bits and pieces influenced by steampunk, psychedelia, war (historically based and imagined), journey myths, and anime — is, at its core, the female version of an action/fantasy film with a uniquely and utterly refreshing perspective involving short skirts, skintight leotards, and sailor tops.
Watchmen and 300 director Zack Snyder’s original idea for this story started as a tiny part of a script he’d written 10 years ago, where “a girl is forced to dance, and in the dance, instead of dancing she has this fantasy where she goes to another place and has an adventure,” he said during a recent roundtable interview in Los Angeles. That bit took on a life of its own, and he discarded the original script because it sucked, “except for this one little part.”
Set in a dark and melancholic 1960s, Sucker Punch opens with a slow and stirring version of the Eurythmics’ “Sweet Dreams” over a sequence of terrible events leading to Baby Doll (Emily Browning) being dumped at the Lennox House for the Mentally Insane in Vermont. There, she joins other young, troubled women lorded over and taken advantage of by the sinister orderly Blue (Oscar Isaac) and watched out for by Madam Gorski (Carla Gugino), a therapist of sorts. In order to escape this reality, Baby Doll constructs and occupies an alternative universe: a brothel with all of Lennox’s characters, but now the girls are dancers who perform for a nightly audience of buyers.
A third reality comes into play when Baby Doll begins to dance and her mind takes her to an Eastern temple where the Wise Man (Scott Glenn) offers his help along with a sword, a gun and holster, advice, and a scavenger-hunt list of the items she must procure in order to win her freedom. Bring on three giant samurai warriors to get you warmed up. In a devastatingly easy-to-follow fight (at least compared to epic scenes of mass carnage later), Baby Doll leaps, runs, and spins as she’s flying through the air wreaking havoc on her foes and using their might against them — sailor outfit baring her midriff and black underpants exposed under a twirled skirt the whole damn time. The stockings only go up so far and she wears Mary Jane heels, part of the costumes Snyder calls “clichés of feminine sexuality” which the girls change into “combat icons ... empowered by their sexuality, not exploited by it.”
Rocket (Jena Malone), a smart fellow captive whose impulsiveness threatens to do her in, wants to join Baby Doll and get the hell out from under Blue’s hand — as do Blondie (Vanessa Hudgens) and Amber (Jamie Chung), while Rocket’s protective and cautious older sister Sweet Pea (Abbie Cornish) takes some convincing. Under the Wise Man’s instruction, the kick-ass girls fight their way through a WWI German bunker, a medieval castle, and a speeding train on their journey to secure the tokens they need for their freedom.
That’s the movie’s basic plot — and if you just want to watch “crazy” pretty girls go all Navy SEAL on enemies while a super-fresh soundtrack blares, that’s enough. But for Snyder, Sucker Punch is more complicated, a make-believe world where “every single bit of it is a metaphor for something else.”
Dir. Zack Snyder; writ. Zack Snyder, Steve Shibuya; feat. Emily Browning, Vanessa Hudgens, Abbie Cornish. (PG-13)