Sucker Punch revolves around Baby Doll (Emily Browning), who after the death of her mother and sister, is unjustly sent to the Lennox House mental institution for women by her lecherous stepfather. Striking a deal with a crooked worker, Blue Jones (Oscar Isaac), at the institution, Baby Doll’s father arranges for his stepdaughter to be lobotomized in five days. This will ensure that Baby Doll cannot tell of his misdoings to the police or anyone else. To cope with the horror of being locked away at Lennox House, Baby Doll learns from therapist Dr. Vera Gorski (Carla Gugino) to channel her fears into creating an imaginary world where she is a fierce warrior. Drifting between the real world and the imaginary world, and with the clock ticking, Baby Doll designs a plan to escape the institution. In order for the plan to work she must enlist the help of Rocket (Jena Malone), Rocket’s sister Sweet Pea (Abbie Cornish), Amber (Jamie Chung), and Blondie (Vanessa Hudgens). Guided by the instructions of a mysterious Wise Man (Scott Glenn), the women embark on an adventure that will be far more challenging than they ever imagined.
To say Sucker Punch does not make a lick of sense is a major understatement. The audience spends the majority of the film trying to decipher what is going on and how is everything is connected? Part of the problem is that the audience is shown very little of “real life” is like in the institution. Everything they are shown is from Baby Doll’s imaginative view. Which brings up one of the questionable aspects to the film, why would Baby Doll’s envision the institution as a 1950’s style brothel? While there is one scene in the last fifteen minutes of the film where the guards allude to abusing the girls in some way, nothing else in the film offers any further explanation. Why is the “brothel world” even in the film at all? One would assume that Baby Doll should be able to go from the “real world” to the “warrior world” without even needing to go through the “brothel world” first.
On their own, each of the three worlds that inhabit Sucker Punch could have served as an interesting movie in its own right. The “real world” could have been a stylized female version of One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest. As a film onto itself, the “brothel world” could have been a decent tale with rich and fully realized characters. Lastly the centrepiece of the film, the “warrior world” could have been a fun, and over-the-top, fantasy film that really let the female heroes let loose and have fun. Honestly it is perplexing why Snyder did not set the film in this world entirely. Judging by the level of action in the film, not to mention the overall marketing and animated short films teasers, it is clear that Snyder wanted this section to be the focal point.
While the visuals in the “warrior world” are nice at times, for the most part they are just glossy and hollow. This is due to the fact that the audience does not have any connection to either the characters, or the world. Besides Baby Doll being abused, and Rocket and Sweet Pea running away from home, there is nothing really unique or interesting about the characters. So watching attractive women, who the audience cares nothing about, fighting hoards of nameless creatures who have no ties to the main plot does not generate the excitement Snyder is hoping for. It also does not help that there is rarely any level of consequence in this world. The women can get punched through walls and still comeback looking like they just stepped out of the salon. As a result, the ”warrior world” is nothing more than big screen Manga comic that features buxom women and is poorly written.
Sucker Punch wants to be an action film that wants to make a smart commentary on how women are sexualized in action films and in the world in general. Unfortunately, the message gets lost since Snyder’s film is designed to appeal to teenage boys. It is “girl power” as seen through a man’s eyes. For all its talk about females finding the strength within them, being the controllers of their own fate, men being evil, etc. this film still manages to cater to a male demographic instead of a female one. This is most evident when Sucker Punch makes a point early on to clearly state that Baby Doll is twenty years-old. Besides Sweet Pea, and possibly Rocket, all the other women in the film look like teenage girls in lingerie. The fact that Baby Doll can only get to the “warrior world” via a raw sexually-charged dance, which the audience never sees, is not something that would get most females running to the theatre on opening day.
Zach Snyder is a director who usually knows how to balance glossy visuals, interesting characters, and entertaining plots. Yet Sucker Punch is a major misstep in an otherwise strong body of work. It is a film that should have been both a thrilling tale and a major step forward for solidifying females as viable action leads. Unfortunately, the film fails on both parts, it ends up being a film that is both insulting to popcorn movie fans and women in general. Those hoping to find strong female characters on par with Ripley in Aliens or Sarah Connor in the Terminator series will be sadly disappointed. To put it bluntly, Sucker Punch is one of the worst movies to hit theatres in recent years.