Sucker Punch is such a bad movie that it raises the bar for what counts as terrible. That's because there's a horrific genius in it. This film will crystallize for you all those half-formed thoughts about what's wrong with Hollywood.
The thing is, director Zack Snyder (300, Watchmen) has a feel for genre. He understands the crappiest aspects of it, anyway - the scenes of CGI-fluffed action interspersed with inexplicable infodumps and character development signaled by costume changes. And he's ably demonstrated his mastery by pouring everything he knows into a single, assaultive genre mashup flick. The worst part? He decided to turn the whole cruddy package into an art flick that comments on itself. Which means that all the fighter planes and zombie soldiers and stylized strippers are intensely boring.
But wait - there's more! That's right: Sucker Punch is a message movie. If you like licking the goo out of a dormitory shower drain, you're going to love the whack-a-mole subtlety of Snyder's social critique.
The plot of Sucker Punch unfolds with almost no dialogue, save for a voiceover about how sometimes angels come to Earth to save us. Protagonist and putative angel Babydoll is a twenty-year-old woman with blonde pigtails who looks like a child. When her mother dies, Babydoll's evil stepfather kills her sister and frames her for it so he can send her to an insane asylum and inherit her mother's money. Just to make sure she'll be no trouble to him, stepdad bribes an abusive orderly named Blue to forge a doctor's signature on a lobotomy authorization form. Babydoll has five days to escape before she'll be lobotomized.
Except instead of escaping to the world beyond her prison, Babydoll escapes to the worlds inside her head. First she converts the entire asylum into an imaginary whorehouse where she and the other inmates become strippers and sex workers who wear tiny outfits and dance for Blue's clientele. When the madame forces Babydoll to dance, she goes into another level of her fantasy world where she's a badass ninja (in an even tinier dress) fighting giant samurai, steampunk zombie soliders, dragons, and robots. She tries to enlist the aid of her fellow inmates/whores in her escape plan, but one by one they're raped, tortured, killed, or all three.
Let's start with the obvious
It's not hard to get the "incoming metaphor" message, so we're obliged to use a couple of brain cells to figure out the symbolism of placing a young woman in a mental institution that becomes a whorehouse that becomes a series of increasingly cheesy action movies.
A few possible interpretations are:
1. Insane people and sex workers are interchangeable.
2. Women can only triumph over adversity in their dreams.
3. Action movies spring from the imaginations of enslaved, mentally unstable prostitutes.
I could go on, but those seemed like the most obvious.
Is this movie Zack Snyder's masturbatory fantasy?
A lot of people have been asking this question, and I think the answer has to be no, unless Snyder has incredibly unsexy fantasies. Though this movie has women in tiny outfits, you're going to see less skin here than you would in an average episode of Baywatch. And unlike Baywatch, there's nothing fun to jack off to in Sucker Punch, unless you're into the sounds of an offscreen rape. There's no flirty winking at the audience, as you might expect in such a film, nor is there anything alluringly kinky. There's not even any stripping, though Babydoll's special power in whorehouse world is that she's such an amazing dancer that she can mesmerize anyone who watches her.
I'm sure Snyder thought he was incredibly clever for coming up with the idea that we'd never see Babydoll do one of her sexy dances. Instead, every time she starts to strip, she dives into one of the handful of ultra-fantasy action movie snippets that punctuate the film. We're not watching Babydoll strip - we're watching her slitting the throats of dragons and shooting enemy soldiers! I believe this is why Snyder has been telling interviewers (including io9's Alasdair Wilkins) that Sucker Punch is empowering to women.