It's ironic that in the movie Sucker Punch so much detail went into creating a computer-animated world of diverse fantasy, yet so little went into the characters. This is a movie more about cool stuff than coherence, with plenty of contradictions to boot.
Sucker Punch has stories within stories within stories. At the movie's melodramatic and dimly-lit opening, Baby Doll (Emily Browning) is committed to a depressing insane asylum when her mother dies and her ultra-evil stepfather (Gerard Plunkett) drunkenly kills (and possibly rapes) Baby Doll's sister and commits Baby Doll to get the inheritance for himself. Baby Doll overheard doctor Blue Jones (Oscar Isaac) taking money to forge a form that will get her lobotomized in five days. The main area of the asylum is called the Theater, where Dr. Vera Gorski (Carla Gugino) tries to use music as therapy for the all-female patients.

So much for reality. The institute morphs into a burlesque club/brothel where Blue Jones is the sleazy owner and Gorski is the dance instructor for the dancer-prostitutes. Here Baby Doll meets her sexy dancer-prisoners: friendly Rocket (Jenna Malone), her protective sister Sweet Pea (Abbie Cornish), and generic sexy female characters Amber (Jamie Chung) and Blondie (Vanessa Hudgens). None of it like it there but they're too scared to try and escape. And in five days the High Roller will be coming for Baby Doll. So... cue another reality!
Every time the music plays, Baby Doll has visions. A Wise Man (Scott Glenn, doing his best to impersonate David Carradine) tells Baby Doll she needs five things to earn her freedom: a map, fire, a knife, a key, and a fifth thing that's a mystery. Back in the club, Baby Doll comes up with what could sort of be considered a plan: When music plays, Baby Doll will dance, which is so enthralling that her friends can steal what they need while Baby Doll is watching. And we never see Baby Doll dance, because as soon as she starts we see her imagining herself and four friends -- armed with guns and swords, battling inhuman opponents -- to get the items they need for freedom (with the Wise Man there, giving mission instructions and cryptic advice).
There are several disconnects in Sucker Punch. First, the story in a story in yet another story leaves the viewer several degrees removed from the action. The gigantic battles are meant to parallel the situation in the burlesque club, but it's a hallucination from a person standing and dancing, not a real struggle. Second, the movie tries far too hard to be cutting edge, from dark covers of cool songs (like "White Rabbit" and "Tomorrow Never Knows") to strange creatures (steampunk zombie German soldiers! a dragon! shiny robots!) to the industrial-Goth feel of the movie. Third, while the movie goes for a grim and gritty visual tone, the characters are pure good or pure evil. And while the movie shows almost all the men as lecherous, the filmmaker has the women always dressed as fantasy objects, like Baby Doll's Japanese schoolgirl-type outfit or the cleavage-showing soldiers. It's like complaining about sexism while putting the cast in sexy outfits. And sadly, the characters are paper-thin: Each one is lucky to have one distinguishing trait.
Sucker Punch showcases what cgi can do with action scenes and a unique world -- and serves as a reminder not to forget the story, message, or characters. Director Zack Snyder has done other computer-generated movies before, and I'd suggest he go back to the basics of movies before continuing to focus solely on the visual and action elements. Sucker Punch delivers some pretty good action sequences, and it's interesting visually, but that's about it.

Overall grade: C-
Reviewed by James Lynch

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