Load of spoilers below.
I will probably ruin the movie for you if you haven’t seen it yet.
I’ve enjoyed Zack Snyder’s previous movies, 300 and Watchmen, but not his first movie based on his own original script.
So, it’s about ‘Babydoll’, a wide-eyed Emily Browning, who was sent an asylum by her Evil Step-Dad (ESD), so he can claim her mother’s fortune. ESD was doing nasty things to Babydoll’s little sister. Babydoll had a gun, but failed to blow out ESD’s brains when she had the chance. Little sister ends up dead, and ESD throws Babydoll into an asylum, where he makes a pact with an evil nurse, Blue, who sneakily arranges for Babydoll to be lobotimised in about five days.
Babydoll wanders around in a wide-eyed fugue state, and then for some reason starts imagining the asylum as a burlesque house and brothel. Or maybe it’s one of those strange Silent Hill style reality shifts, just into a kinky alternate world than a monsters-will-eat-out-your-brains dimension. After that, Babydoll is forced to ‘dance’ which is so awesome and incredible and jaw-dropping that we never see it on screen. Instead, Babydoll drops into another state of reality (or alternate dimension or random “I think this was a cool action scene!” scene) where she might kill dragons or fight zombies or whatever. She’s got four sidekicks – Sweatpea, Rocket, Amber and Blondie who come with her on these adventures. In the burlesque house reality, they’re trying to gather five different items to escape, which Babydoll was told about in her first vision by her guardian angel/guy who reminds me of David Carradine. These missions equate to weird but cool action sequences in their own little reality bubbles. Oh, and Babydoll isn’t the narrator, someone else is. And she gets lobotomised at the end asylum reality, but the baddy is taken off by the cops. And the someone else escapes. The end.
This also may not be the most coherent plot re-cap, ever, but overall it was a pretty if incoherent film.
The trouble with incoherent films or ambiguous films is that if everything is a dream or a lie, then nothing is really meaningful except the meaning you ascribe to it. It becomes a Rorschach blot. While postmodern, it also has to be interesting. Unfortunately, I like knowing what’s going on in films (I can enter a heightened state of delusion to in order to ‘figure out what’s really going on’ in David Lynch films). And this film doesn’t give me enough clues/character interest or whatever to be interesting enough for me to want to ascribe a fun meaning to it. It’s pretty and very stylish. But unfortunately, at the end, I didn’t care and felt a rather vague sense of dissatisfaction. It wasn’t fun.
I don’t see why Babydoll or Sweatpea or whoever sees the asylum as a burlesque house. In her original house, I couldn’t see any foreshadowing, and I also saw nothing that symbolised her interest in katanas, Japanse school girl uniforms, killing dragons, clockwork zombies, collect-the-plot-token-quests or action scenes. So, if the layers of reality had nothing to do with the main character, what were they there at all for?
Zack Snyder, writer/director said in an interview that: “…someone one asked me about why I dressed the girls like that, and I said, “Do you not get the metaphor there? The girls are in a brothel performing for men in the dark. In the fantasy sequences, the men in the dark are us. The men in the dark are basically me; dorky sci-fi kids.”
Okay, so all of that action stuff is a meta-commentary aimed at the audience. What about the women in the audience, or those who aren’t really one of those ‘men in the dark’? I didn’t feel any connection there.
As a feminist, arse-kicking piece, Sucker Punch isn’t terribly empowering. The women get their power from men, including the not-David Carradine spirit guide. They get threatened regularly, with the spectre of rape and abuse hanging above them. They don’t take their sexy get up and make it their own; it’s something imposed upon them by Blue, or part of Snyder’s meta-commentary. They can’t directly deal with the men. Babydoll can’t kill ESD. Rocket can’t kill the cook. Babydoll can’t escape without sacrificing herself. Even at the very end when Sweatpea is going to escape, she has to get help from the not-David Carradine/spirit guide/bus driver. There’s a lot of power in women reclaiming sexy wear and gear and making their own thing of it, but not in this movie. It’s nice to look at within Zach Snyder’s stylised direction, but the whole thing falls apart.
I kind of feel that Snyder woke up one day and said: “I want to make a deep movie with many levels of interpretation and meaning… inspired by One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest… and burlesque houses…. and feminist themes. Oh and KATANAS! And DRAGONS!!! And this hot chick in a JAPANESE SCHOOL GIRL OUTFIT!! YEAH!!!!”