Step 2: Try not to have high expectations. This isn’t the kind of film you go see if you want zippy dialogue or a thoughtful drama. It isn’t about great characterizations or a linear story. Sucker Punch does just that – KABAM POW! The story centers on Baby Doll (Emily Browning), a young woman who loses her mother and her baby sister in one fell swoop, and is left with an evil stepfather who has her committed to a mental institution for the criminally insane. This all happens very quickly so we can get to the action. Once there, she meets other young women in similar circumstances — including Sweet Pea (Abbie Cornish) and her sister Rocket (Jena Malone), Blondie (Vanessa Hudgens) and Amber (Jamie Chung). The conditions are rough, of course, with leering guards and abusive orderlies, but there is one kindly doctor (Carla Gugino), who urges the girls to create fantasy worlds in order to help them cope. And boy, do they take this to heart.
Step 3: Here’s where the movie gets a little hard to figure out. Baby Doll arrives at the institution, she sees it at it really is, horrible, but suddenly the surroundings change when the camera zeroes in on Sweet Pea, having a moment onstage in the “break room.” Now, the hospital has turned into a speakeasy of sorts, with all the girls glammed up and forced to be “dancers” in this new milieu, so this guy named Blue (Oscar Isaac) can make money. The girls are indenture servants, so to speak, and while it’s not ideal, they make the most of it. They don’t really like Baby Doll much, at first, but soon she gains their trust when she comes up with a plan to escape. Then things get even weirder when Babydoll starts to dance, going into a semi-trance and transporting herself and the other girls into one stylistic, seriously kick-ass action sequence after another, trying to find certain objects that will help them in their quest for freedom.
Step 4: Play dress up. The actresses all fit their roles nicely, gorgeous and psychosexually charged, all equipped with weapons of choice (Baby Doll loves her some samurai sword). In Baby Doll’s fantasy, they are a small band of expert mercenaries, easily handling the slo-mo Matrix-esque, acrobatic moves as they take down a series of otherworldly armies, from walking dead Germans, to Lord of the Rings-like creatures to robots. Browning is particularly fetching with her blonde pig tails and false eyelashes, and while it’s hard to tell if she has any acting chops from this performance, she does wield said sword with aplomb. Malone and Cornish probably have the most emotional scenes as the two sisters, and they are capable actresses, while Gugino also makes the most of her 15 minutes on screen. All the men are appropriately grotesque — except for Jon Hamm, who comes in at the last minute as the High Roller.
Step 5: Don’t think about it too hard. The wonderfully fantastical elements of Sucker Punch far outweigh any of the film’s faults. Director Zack Snyder, who gave us 300 and Watchmen, solidifies his signature stamp on filmmaking — the overly stylized action against the canvased backdrop of greys and blacks splashed with vibrant colors, turning scenes into near works of art. Now, while some feel he hasn’t ever really surpassed 300, I think Synder continues to be a intriguing visionary. I like the chances he takes, even if he fails to engage the audience every time. Sucker Punch is not for the faint of heart, that’s for sure, but it is endlessly fascinating and highly inventive — and well worth a look-see if you want some ultra-cool action.