If you have ever wanted to see a true live-action anime, then Sucker Punch is your movie. More than a comic book, more than a cartoon, Sucker Punch is anime with a video-game polish. It is a visually stunning movie that can best be described as feast for genre fans.
Don’t be put off by the venomously negative slams from mainstream critics who have gone way (way) out of their way to blame this movie for every ill from global warming to the Kennedy assassination. That’s a lot to lay at the feet of a movie that simply asks you to pay attention and use a little imagination. If you’ve ever been to – or ever wanted to attend – the San Diego Comic-Con or any similar event, this movie is for you. If not…well, why are you reading this blog?
The plot of Sucker Punch sees a young woman known only as Baby Doll (Emily Browning) committed to a sanitarium by her lecherous stepfather following the mysterious deaths of her mother and younger sister. Baby Doll is scheduled to be lobotomized in five days to keep her from testifying against her stepfather. To escape the horror of her situation, Baby Doll imagines a fantasy world in which the sanitarium is represented by a bordello populated by her fellow inmates, Blondie (Vanessa Hudgens), Amber (Jamie Chung), Rocket (Jena Malone) and Sweet Pea (Abbie Cornish). The psych ward/bordello is run Blue (Oscar Issac) a sadistic pig in both worlds. Under the tutelage of Madam Gorski (Carla Gugino), the girls are forced to dance burlesque numbers onstage for visiting male clients. However, when Baby Doll dances, the world around her transforms into a different sort of fantasy landscape – one in which the girls a fierce warriors who are not only dressed to kill but literally kill with guns and swords and knives and axes and mecha… and find the will to fight back and try to escape to escape their personal hell. Guided by the enigmatic Wise Man (Scott Glenn), each girl must decide how much she is willing to sacrifice to win her freedom, because nothing is free.
The changing series of fantasy tableaux take Baby Doll from a snow-swept Japanese pagoda guarded by 2o-foot metal samurai, to the trenches of World War I manned by steampunk Nazi zombies (Yes, you read that correctly.), to a medieval castle under siege by orcs, to a runaway train hauling an atomic bomb toward a colony on a moon of Saturn. At each stage, Baby Doll collects a totem necessary to help her escape the asylum in the real world.
As that plot sketch makes clear, director/co-writer Zack Snyder (Dawn of the Dead, 300, Watchmen) does not suffer from a dearth of imagination. And no expense was spared realizing his vision with special effects and makeup. Snyder keeps the action moving at an impressive clip, and his trademark slo-mo/speeded-up action editing is breath-taking is some sequences. Cinematographer Larry Fong makes the fantasy worlds a literally colorful counterpoint to a blandly sepia-toned reality. Factor in the excitement of battling dragons and androids with machine guns and a katana, and it’s no wonder Baby Doll prefers to spend the bulk of the movie in dreamland.
As long as you keep in mind the fact that the dreamland adventures are symbolic of what’s happening on the plane of reality, you should have no trouble following the story. When Baby Doll needs to snatch a map of the asylum, she imagines it as a mission to steal documents from Nazis; likewise, lifting an orderly’s lighter becomes a quest to steal fire from a dragon. It’s all symbolic. Pay attention to what happens in the opening 15 minutes, and you will not get lost, and the movie won’t seem confusing.
The score seamlessly integrates pop songs into not only the action but the storyline itself. Bjork’s “Army of Me” resonates during the battle with the three giant samurai. Baby Doll is, for the first time, relying on herself (and only herself) to fight off these foes and take charge of her life; the song lyrics talk about shutting up and standing up for oneself when nobody has your back. (“Your rescue is too exhausted.”) “White Rabbit” underscores the WW I trench warfare, and makes you wonder just how deep the rabbit hole goes.
Don’t be fooled by the haters; it goes pretty deep. Like the Wise Man says, “If you don’t stand for something, you’ll fall for anything.”