Director: Zach Snyder, 2011
Pros: fascinating story within a story, modern fairy tale, complex message, great action scenes
Cons: Brutal, music overlay got distracting
Sucker Punch is a modern fairy tale. It tells the story of a young woman who is incarcerated in a mental institute. She forms a plan to escape and encourages some of her fellow female prisoners to help her.
In order to escape they need five things and it's here that the film gets... creative. They're also under a deadline as in five days the doctor comes to labotamize "Babydoll" (Emily Browning).
*** Minor spoilers ***
The scene shifts and suddenly we're seeing, not a hospital, but a bordello. The girls are no longer patients but dancers in this club. This is the protagonist's way of dealing with what's going on. Many people, when faced with horrific situations create fantasy worlds they can cope with. In this film, there's a fantasy within a fantasy. In addition to the bordello - an inward view of the abuse the girls undergo while in the hospital - there's a second fantasy world, the one where the girls fight back.
These secondary fantasies are the scenes that are action packed and cinematographically beautiful even though, or perhaps because, they borrow so heavily from other films (Matrix, Lord of the Rings, Harry Potter, and various anime). Each fight scene is different, emphasizing that each item they need to acquire requires different tactics to steal.
Fairy tales are about growing up. They're warnings of the evils that await in the larger world. They're morality tales. And Sucker Punch is no different. The bordello setting hints at the sexual abuse these girls suffer living in this institution where they have no rights and no way to fight back. Indeed, the first fight scene is Babydoll coming to grips with her fear and hopelessness, and discovering she does have a way to fight back - to escape. Other messages are mentioned, especially at the end, but I won't spoil them here.
I loved the ending. If you like fairy tales, you'll understand what they've done here.
If you want a good explanation of the film and don't mind spoilers, check out this fantastic two part Tor.com review. One thing that reviewer mentioned that I'd like to touch on is her annoyance that the 'wise man' was still a man pointing the way rather than an older woman. My response to that, and I may be reading too much into the film here, is that it was done as a balancing effect. Fairy tales often have evil stepmothers and/or fairy godmothers. The stepmother was changed to a stepfather (a welcome change), so it makes sense that to balance the otherwise entirely evil male cast a good male character had to be included. Making him a godfather/guardian angel/archtypal wise man didn't bother me.
Like Inception, Sucker Punch made me think and try to figure out what happened. The story within a story was fascinating and a good source for discussion as things could be interpreted many ways.
Ultimately I enjoyed the film. But then, I like fairy tales.