What’s the Story?
Babydoll is taken to a mental institute because she accidentally killed her sister. Her step-father then pays the orderly to have her lobotomised. Babydoll deals with this by imagining the asylum is a bordello, where she befriends four of the other girls and they go on a quest to find four items that will help them escape.
What’s the Problem?
The main problem is that Babydoll isn’t crazy.
That is, we are given no indication, prior to her suddenly imagining that the asylum is a bordello, that she is anything other than a normal, healthy girl. She was understandably upset when she accidentally shot her sister, sure, but surely when she told the cops that her step-father had been about to rape her and said sister they’d have taken her out of his care.
On the whole, though, the story is just an excuse here. Babydoll needs fire, a map, a weapon, and a key to escape. To acquire each of these items, she performs a sexy dance to distract the men in the bordello while the others steal said item. These sections are what Sucker Punch is about. While she dances, Babydoll imagines herself in some kind of hyperactive videogame-like world: battling steampunk Nazi zombies or orcs or robots or samurai golems.
Those sections are violence well done: well choreographed, well shot, good backing tracks. They’re the result of Zack Snyder refining his hypervisual style from 300 and Watchmen into a thing of beauty.
The problem is the story linking them together. The hypersections come too close together, feeling like videogame cutscenes. They lose their impact because we don’t spend enough time in the bordello in between learning about the characters. We don’t care. Amazing things are happening, and my reaction is a disappointed, “Oh… uh, really? Another large-scale battle pitting five sexy women against villainous monsters?”
Let’s be clear: your audience should not be weary for the fight scene to finish before it’s even begun.StupidityThe other problem with the film is that the girls are morons. They steal a lighter made of gold and expect its owner won’t notice this theft? And why not steal the weapon first and then stab the bastard of a pimp, steal his key and map, and leg it?The story makes even less sense in the real world. Babydoll isn’t crazy, and surely her doctor would notice this at some point during the five days before she’s lobotomised. Apparently not.
The other option, of course, is that Babydoll is crazy, in which case she should be lobotomised. But I don’t think that’s the conclusion the audience was supposed to come away with.
Ultimately, I expected the film to jump back one level from the bordello back to the real world so we could see what Babydoll and friends were doing. That we’d see the real horrors of the asylum and understand why we need to escape into the bordello fantasy world. Instead we’re forever in the bordello, then jumping into hyperfantasy, then back to the bordello. We never know what’s really happening.
And if Babydoll is creating these hyperfantasies to escape the horrors around her, why can’t she do so from the asylum? Why does the bordello exist in the first place? Presumably because the overalls that guests at mental institutes wear aren’t sexy, and if you put five women front-and-centre in your film, you want them in as little as possible for as much of the film as possible. Sucker Punch never crosses the line into degrading women (quite the opposite – the men are even more of caricatures than the girls), but it’s sure as hell dressing them in proper battle armour when there are skimpy sailor outfits to be ogled over.
Ultimately, the biggest let-down of this film is its end. The fantasy sequences were great, but the ending isn’t. Stupid mistakes catch up with our heroes and they seem surprised by this. After being five strong, take-no-crap women for an hour, they all start crying and acting helpless
Oh, and should we really be hoping they escape the mental asylum? Babydoll, yes, because we know she shouldn’t be there. But presumably the others should, so why should we be happy if they escape?
What’s the Solution?
Give us some time with the real characters, in the asylum. Make us care about them more. Pace your over-the-top fight sequences.
Oh, and that thing you did once they managed to get outside the bordello? Don’t do that. Everyone saw that coming and it made us all sigh with disappointment.
Switch your brain into low gear and watch the pretty visuals.
But it is a pity, because if the real-world story had made sense (and wasn’t filled with plot holes) this could have been a fantastic film instead of just being four very pretty music videos/cutscenes interspersed with nonsense.