I loved this film, despite its bleak tone and ending, and will not countenance the haters.
Sucker Punch is about a girl unjustly committed to a corrupt asylum, and the multiple layers of fantasy she creates to cushion herself from the trauma around her. The first layer is a brothel/cabaret world, where the jailer/orderly has become a gangster, and occupies most of the length of the movie. Here she hatches a plan, framed in fantasy-genre/video-game-RPG plot coupon style (these are not true plot coupons as they are directly necessary for the escape attempt), and it is from this layer of metaphor that she departs into over-the-top geek-culture-informed set-piece action settings. These excursions are beautifully imagined: the protagonist (referred to as “Babydoll”) wields a katana and a pistol with Japanese mobile phone danglies, and wears direct homages to the sailor-suited heroines of anime, and fights giant demon samurai, Nazi steampunk zombies, orcs and dragons, and robots within worlds of ruined cathedrals, pseudo-WWI under Zepplins, and so on.
Zack Snyder is very careful to distinguish between the fantasy violence of these two-layers-in settings, where enemies are explicitly described as being okay to kill, and the toe-curling brutality of the real world and the nasty allegory of the cabaret layer – something that kneejerk critics have been unable to discern. Sucker Punch is similar to Pan’s Labyrinth and the PS2 game Rule of Rose, featuring a protagonist who builds fantasies to impose meaning on trauma; particularly the latter, which creates settings and boss monsters out of incidents of bullying and abuse. I won’t say too much on the charges of misogyny; I disagree with them, and believe that Snyder set the film in the 60s for a reason, and that the cabaret setting is a more pleasant metaphor for what was actually occurring at the asylum.
I was a bit annoyed at the mangling of the initial Asian setting, but it’s a minor crime. The action sequences draw from classic setups, and are composed with panache and stylistic flair; in particular I liked the tangible struggle the characters had to endure to prevail, as opposed to the one-sided scenes common in other action movies. Emily Browning continues her appeal from Baudelaire; I thought her fraught, persistent desperation gave her character an interesting ambivalence. Vanessa Hudgens was cute but kept reminding me of a friend. Oscar Isaac’s malevolent Blue is masterful.
Zack Snyder is a taste akin to Frank Miller, both controversial about similar things; I’m looking forward to more of his work.