Advertisements for Sucker Punch lead audiences to believe that they are about to get "sucker punched" by a visually enthralling action/fantasy film.
Unfortunately, terrible acting and a fundamentally confusing script prevent the movie from becoming truly great. While director Zack Snyder (300, Watchmen) shows that he knows how to stage elaborate fight scenes, they simply don't add up.
The film opens with a beautifully crafted montage of images of Baby Doll, played by Emily Browning. Audiences see the death of Baby Doll's mother followed by her stepfather's rampage after he discovered he didn't inherit any of his dead wife's fortune. A cover of Eurythmics' "Sweet Dreams (Are Made of This)," performed by Browning herself, blasts during the scene, not only perfectly capturing the mood, but also setting up Baby Doll's use of imagination as an escape from her tumultuous reality.
Baby Doll's stepfather then sends her away to the Lennox House, a mental institution corrupted into a brothel for burlesque dancing. All of the admitted women are forced to perform erotic dances for high-paying customers. Baby Doll creates an imaginary world filled with cartoonish violence in order to cope with her situation.
And now the film takes a nosedive. The movie doesn't adequately set up this fantasy world or any of its rules. One minute audiences are presented with the heavy drama of Baby Doll being thrown into an asylum and the next, 15-foot-tall samurai are punching her in the face. The juxtaposition of these two elements renders the film strange and disjointed.
Despite inconsistencies within the structure of the story, the aesthetics of the film are both impressive and engaging. Snyder uses a bleakly colored palette for most of the scenes in the asylum. It properly enhances the hopelessness of Baby Doll's situation.
Once she enters her fantasy world, Snyder begins to crank up the number of computer-generated images. Baby Doll and her fellow female warriors must battle samurai, dragons and even Nazi zombies. All of these scenes feature copious use of slow motion and music that includes several interesting covers by the cast members themselves. Synder proves that he is able to craft eye-popping fight scenes despite the lack of a compelling story.
What makes the film so disappointing is the simple fact that it has so much potential. It appears as though Snyder approached the film with great ideas, but the execution was lackluster. It could have been a dark and violent action thriller about women trying to break free from a corrupt system. Instead, it arrived a generally tame film with PG-13 violence and ridiculously cheesy dialogue.
Snyder's inability to properly use his ideas also affects his actors. Abbie Cornish (Sweet Pea) gives a fine performance and Browning, an Australian native, nails the American accent – but everyone else is completely wooden.
Sucker Punch isn't a complete waste of money, though. The film may be inconsistent, but at least the techno-rock soundtrack is awesome. And, for every moment of mediocrity in the film, there is another moment of brilliance.