Committed to a mental institution by her abusive step father, Baby Doll retreats inside her own imagination, hatching a plan to escape from the hospital before the lobotomist arrives.
Critically lambasted upon it’s theatrical release, Zack Snyder’s ambitious Sucker Punch reaches Blu Ray with a new extended cut, including 18 minutes of extra footage that flesh out a few action scenes, clear up a couple of contentious points and add some extra violence that was cut to help the film obtain it’s PG13 rating for cinematic release. The extra material may not necessarily make this a better film but it certainly adds to the overall experience of Snyder’s teenage video game fantasy of a movie.
Much like it’s smarter, grown up cousin Inception, Sucker Punch takes place in three different levels of dream-reality. The first level, presumably real life, begins with a virtuoso montage set to a thumping cover of Sweet Dreams showing Baby Doll (Browning) accidentally shoot her younger sister and get shipped off to the insane asylum by her evil stepfather, who pays off the sinister guard Blue (Oscar Isaac) to have Baby Doll lobotomised in five days time.
The second level exists in Baby Doll’s imagination as she turns the hospital into an old fashioned strip club/brothel, full of lingerie-clad dancers and moustachioed goons with Blue now a pimp and Carla Gugino’s well meaning Dr Gorski their madam. Baby Doll soon befriends Sweetpea (Cornish), Rocket (Malone), Blondie (Hudgens) and Amber (Chung) and enlists their help as she begins her epic quest to escape the asylum before the High Roller (Jon Hamm) arrives. Baby Doll must retrieve five items and the mission for each takes place in a third reality, a hyperstylised world populated by steampunk Nazis, orcs, dragons and slick robots.
It is here that Snyder shines, again showing his flair for action and creating some fantasy landscapes that border on visionary genius including a WWI trench filled with zombie, steampowered Nazis for the girls to blast through with machine guns, samurai swords and an impressive bunny-painted mecha. Seemingly cramming in as many cool things as he can, Snyder also provides an impressive medieval world where hoards of orcs are battling a massive, fire breathing dragon and in a separate scene, a bomb filled train driven by killer robots hurtles towards a shiny futuristic city. Snyder has shown in previous efforts, be it zombie remake Dawn of the Dead or comic book adaptations 300 and Watchmen that he is an immensely talented director with spades of technique and visual flair and that is almost fully unleashed with Sucker Punch, his first original film.
It is this, however, that both makes and breaks Sucker Punch. Where his unchained creativity brings to life some fantastic action sequences, all looking phenomenal in Blu Ray, it also makes for an unfocused, messy and at times nonsensical narrative. Each character is an archetypal cardboard cut-out, none of them given any real dialogue to work with and there is in fact barely a conversation that lasts more than a couple of minutes before moving on. The plot, for all it may appear complicated with its different levels, is actually fairly thin and this extended cut does nothing to really remedy that, though an over the top theatrical dance number early on gives a better insight into the girls individual personalities and the way the club runs and a late speech from Jon Hamm’s High Roller, in full on smooth talking Don Draper mode, brings a whole different tone to the final scenes inside the asylum and gives Hamm considerably more screen time.
For all its flaws, there’s so much potential here that you just wish Snyder and co-writer Steve Shibuya had brought on board someone to focus the story, beef up the characters and polish the dialogue to make this a real classic. As it is, this will be regarded by some as a massive failure, one of 2011’s biggest flops and Snyder’s worst film. Others may see it as an ambitious mess of demented visionary genius, a mainstream auteur let off the leash to provide two hours of sexy, violent action for the ADD generation. The reality probably lies somewhere in between but either way, this is one of the more interesting films of the year.