It is rare for filmmakers to blend both a lush visual style with a concern for actual storytelling. With Sucker Punch, Zack Snyner manages to balance both sides of this delicate coin with stunning adroitness (dare I say more adroitly than in his famed 300?). While some may be reluctant to accept the fantasy world created by Snyder and co-writer Steve Shibuya, the appeal of Sucker Punch does not lie solely within the vivid depictions, but in the persistent message conveyed by the film's narrator, Sweetpea (Abbie Cornish, yet another Aussie to round out a cast headlined by Emily Browning as Babydoll).
After Babydoll's mother dies, she and her sister are left in the less than capable hands of their abusive stepfather, who takes out his aggression on Babydoll when he discovers that his wife has left all of her assets to her two daughters. Out of self-defense, Babydoll fires a gun at him one night, the bullet of which ends up hitting her sister instead. All of this transpires wordlessly and while Emily Browning sings a creepy version of "Sweet Dreams (Are Made of This)" over the soundtrack (then again, this song always sounds creepy when it's not the Eurythmics' version). The only dialogue up until this point is Sweetpea asserting that everyone has a guardian angel, though it might not seem like it when Babydoll's stepfather uses the tragedy of her sister's death to his advantage by committing her to an insane asylum in Vermont (wouldn't just being in Vermont make you go crazy anyway?).
From the instant that Babydoll arrives, it does not take her long to start imagining her own alternate world, one in which she is not in a mental institution, but instead a glorified brothel run by Vera Gorski (Carla Gugino), a Polish madam who instructs her girls on the art of sexy dancing. Babydoll's plan for escape must be fully executed within five days when "the high roller" (a random cameo by Jon Hamm of Mad Men) comes to devirginize her, although what is actually going to happen in five days is her lobotomy.
In Babydoll's first mental fabrication, she encounters the Wise Man (Scott Glenn), a mysterious mentor who tells her all the items she will need to gain freedom: A map of the building, fire, a knife, and the master key. Once she accepts her mission, a mutant of some sort attacks Babydoll for no apparent reason (I think it was just an excuse to include a fight scene with Bjork's "Army of Me" playing). She then returns to her alternate alternate reality (does that make sense?) to inform her cohorts, Amber (Jamie Chung), Blondie (Vanessa Hudgens, yeah from High School Musical), Rocket (Jena Malone), and Sweetpea, of her intentions to flee. Everyone, save for Sweetpea, is naturally excited by the prospect, agreeing to help Babydoll to secure their own liberation.
It is at this point in Sucker Punch that Snyder starts to get a bit long-winded as every single item must have an accompanying fantasy scene--even something as simple as Amber stealing a lighter from the mayor, one of her best clients. Still, if you stick it out through some of the more protracted stages of the second act, you will be given one of the attenuate experiences of modern day moviegoing: Being left utterly blindsided by act three.
Without ruining the outcome of the story (which is usually my wont in most reviews), I will simply say that very few of Babydoll's booby hatch chums survive the road to emancipation. The only real consolation is the extrication of one member of the formerly fierce cabal, who reminds us of the following: "Who chains us and who holds the key that can set us free? It's you. You have all the weapons you need. Now fight."