Sucker Punch is a super-charged romp that feels like a hyper-sexed comic book with a few steampunk elements thrown in for good measure. Director/co-writer Zack Snyder brings this martial pastiche of remixed pop-song mash-ups and outlandish fantasy elements to the screen with a dazzling visual aesthetic.
The story begins almost like a silent horror film, as we see the sad tale of Babydoll (Emily Browning), a young girl who loses her mother and sister and is then taken by her evil stepfather to a mental institution, where she's abandoned. As a means of escape from her dark reality, Babydoll retreats into her imagination and creates a world in which she's an orphan deposited in a bordello and forced to dance for the male clientele. Every time Babydoll dances, she slips into yet another fantasy world -- a violent mission-based fantasy adventure with her friends helping her slay monsters, fly fighter planes, and generally save the world, all the while being advised by the mysterious Wise Man (Scott Glenn).
There's a fetishistic undercurrent to Sucker Punch, as demonstrated by Snyder's choice of dropping Emily Browning right smack-dab in the middle of a Japanese school-girl fantasy. Browning, with her porcelain skin, rosy cheeks, and permanent pout strikes the perfect balance between innocent adolescent and deadly temptress, all the while using machine guns and swords and pistols and knives and martial arts to slay scores of bad guys. Along with her girls -- Rocket (Jena Malone), Sweet Pea (Abbie Cornish), Blondie (Vanessa Hudgens), and Amber (Jamie Chung) -- she barrels through a half-dozen worlds and three layers of reality on an epic scavenger hunt. They need to find a map, then fire, then a knife, and then a key -- but the girls don't really act so much as pose and pout while engaged in choreographed violence.
The story itself is a half-shredded assemblage of genre standbys structured like a musical. The narrative crashes to a halt for each big number -- in this case, an elaborate action sequence instead of a song-and-dance routine. And while the film panders relentlessly to adolescent fanboy fantasies -- scantily clad heroines fighting zombie Nazis, orc-like creatures in body armor, and fire-breathing dragons on a post-apocalyptic battlefield -- even the special-effects-heavy sequences somehow seem dull. Snyder clearly has talent and a great eye, but his ostentatious, uninspired concept gives us nothing to hang on to.