Why are stepparents always so rotten in movies?
In a wordless prologue, we see that after her mother's funeral, Baby Doll's sinister stepfather heartlessly assaults her and her little sister. And when the younger girl dies, his pins the blame squarely on Baby Doll.
She's banished to Lennox House, a 1950s-era gothic psychiatric asylum, where her stepfather blithely orders up a lobotomy. In five days, Baby Doll will be a mindless vegetable.
That is, she'll be a mindless vegetable unless she can find a way out of this terrifying place which somehow operates on three outlandish levels: reality (a mental hospital), subreality (a burlesque-fueled "gentleman's club") and a dream world (an apocalyptic, steampunk battlefield chockablock with machine guns, zombified WWI soldiers, dragons, robots and supernatural samurais).
The bereft (but still sexy) Baby Doll quickly befriends fellow (sexy) female inmates Rocket, Blondie, Amber and Sweet Pea. With the help of Madame Gorski, the therapist/choreographer, the girls attempt to outwit Blue, the evil chief orderly/nightclub owner. To escape the asylum, they must collect five items: a map, fire, a knife and a key—with the fifth thing being kept a mystery. To distract and entrance their male captors and obtain each component, Baby Doll dances for the men they will hoodwink. Via her epic performances (which we never see), she and the other girls somehow enter the fantasy battlefield realm, where they are met with video game-like challenges proffered by a nameless wise man.
The goal is pedestrian: Get out of jail free. The hyper-stylized (sexy) shoot-'em-up methods are surreal to say the least, absurd to say the most.
The girls risk their lives for each other's safety, developing a tender and loving sisterhood. Their will to survive and find freedom is impressive. Baby Doll unselfishly recognizes that she must channel what she thought was her story and battle toward Sweet Pea, whom she deems the true benefactor of her fight. And that ultimately involves a great personal sacrifice, willingly made by Baby Doll.
Confidence in one's abilities is stressed, and it's said that we can all find within ourselves the wherewithal to combat evil and achieve liberty. Eventually, after Blue's flunkies have seen and participated in enough misogyny, they turn away from him and vow not to hurt the girls any more. Madame Gorski acts as a comforting mother figure, and she too shows strong disapproval of Blue's hurtful manner.
It's said that people have guardian angels who speak to them through various people and means—including via demons. Baby Doll summons supernatural powers that, among other things, swirl snow around her as they enable her to fight a giant samurai. It's unclear whether Baby Doll and Sweet Pea enter heaven or merely a higher level of their vivid imaginations, but the word Paradise is symbolically shown on a sign as Sweet Pea arrives in a town.
Song lyrics mention saving someone's soul, surrendering to a void and finding meaning within.
Hollywoodandfine.com film critic Marshall Fine well captured this film's sex drive when he wrote, "[Sucker Punch] feels, at times, like a tease for pedophiles—particularly Emily Browning as the kewpie-lipped Babydoll, whose pigtails, short skirts, midriff-baring outfits and permanently lipsticked pout all make her look like some pederast's vision of cotton-candy jailbait."
The rest of the girls are clad no less provocatively—and all for the "delight" of male viewers. Revealing corsets, camisoles, teddies, garters and stockings are the women's permanent costumes. The camera captures occasional close-ups of their cleavage, bare thighs and backs, or fishnet-covered rears. Men, who are called "clients," do very little besides ogle the girls. Amber kisses a client's neck and sits on his lap. Blue kisses several women as he threatens them. Baby Doll's dancing is said to include moaning and gyrating.
On separate occasions the asylum's cook tries to kill and rape Rocket. We see him striking her to the ground and lying on top of her. Twice Blue tries to force himself on Baby Doll, kissing her and manhandling her. The first time she fights back. The second she is catatonic. It's implied that the stepfather molests one or both of his stepdaughters. A girl's virginity is questioned.
So just how many ways can dolled-up dollfaces slice, dice, shoot, kick, punch, skewer and blow up the big bad men around them? Sucker Punch tries to find out. And as the girls slash, bash, bomb and stab masculine zombies and robots, they never so much as break a fingernail or look remotely worse for wear on the battlefield.
Eventually, though, back at the brothel-like nightclub, Blue shoots two women in the head at point-blank range. (The results are implied.) Women are frequently—and violently—thrown, punched, choked, slapped, stabbed or kicked by men. Multiple scenes depict mortal combat between the genders, both wielding swords, grenades, powerful guns and knives. Women kick men in the groin several times.
Baby Doll's stepfather viciously kicks and shoves her to the ground before she attempts to shoot him. A hatchet or two lands in a monster's head, and a man is impaled to a wall by a sword through his shoulder. A man dangles from a zeppelin before it becomes an inferno and crashes. Other massive explosions immolate enemies and raze cities.
An Orc-like creature is chopped up by an airplane propeller. Two girls kill a baby dragon by graphically slitting its throat. They grope around inside its neck for their prize, and Baby Doll then stabs the angry, fire-breathing mother through the head. Hideously disfigured soldiers are shown. A mallet and an ice pick-like instrument are used for performing lobotomies. We watch from behind as a doctor pounds the pick through a girl's eye socket.
In Matrix meets Drew Barrymore-era Charlie's Angels sequences, girls jump from planes and tall buildings using karate-style moves that suspend them in midair. Slo-mo shots of bullets are shown. Buildings collapse. A Molotov cocktail is thrown, engulfing a storage room in flames.
Drug and Alcohol Content
Men periodically drink wine and hard liquor. Cigars are smoked and medication is briefly mentioned—some of which is hallucinogenic in song lyrics.
Who chooses our steps in the dance, and who sends monsters to kill us? the narrator asks.
Sucker Punch tries to tell us that we do. But I'd say director and co-writer Zack Snyder (of 300 and Watchmen fame) has more to do with that than your average moviegoer does. He's called his film "Alice in Wonderland with machine guns," and he confided after writing the script that "it's as crazy as anything else that I have ever done. It's a movie that nobody can get made with the ending that it has and the subject matter."
And yet it did get made. Clearly.
Self-empowerment is the ultimate message Snyder attempts to deliver. We're told that we are the mysterious element necessary for our own freedom. That we have all the weapons we need to fight for survival—and that we must fight for it. But such themes of confidence, courage and even self-sacrifice are merely what could have been in this film. What is is a fantastical tornado swirling with violence perpetrated by and leveled against women. Women who have bedazzled themselves with titillating lingerie and period push-up bras for just such an occasion.
Is that a fresh look at female empowerment or merely another tired example of female exploitation? Hint: It's an easy, easy answer.