A series of extravagant computer-generated adventure scenarios linked by grim mental hospital plot, Sucker Punch represents a particularly ambitious exercise in tedium. The movie was created by Zack Snyder, the creator of the 2004 remake of Dawn of the Dead, as well as 300 and Watchmen. This is his first time working from original material, if by "original" you mean a mash-up of every gothic, robot, war epic, girls-in-chains cliché you can imagine.
Most of this seems to take place in the head of our heroine, a 20-year-old peroxide blonde known as Baby Doll (Emily Browning) who we first meet, in long scenes of wordless slow-motion, in which she gets taken by her psychopathic step-father to a hospital for "the mentally insane."
The time is the early sixties; the place is in Vermont, a Victorian hell hole where all the girls are young and pouty, the colour palette might be called Late Cadaver and the mood is squalid and foreboding. In a few days, we learn, a quack doctor will come by and give poor Baby Doll a lobotomy (or should that be called a Doll-otomy?)
But then Baby Doll slips into a new dimension and no, this isn't a mental hospital, it's a bordello! The sleazy orderly (Oscar Isaac) who admitted Baby Doll into the hospital has transformed into a mustache-sporting pimp. The psychologist with the Russian accent (Carla Gugino) is now an imperious ballet mistress, training the girls in their burlesque routines for a special clientele. The doctor who is to come in a few days to mash her front lobe is now known as "the High Roller", a client who will buy her virginity.
Baby Doll is told to dance to show off her stuff. Instead, she zones out mentally, travelling through space and time to a Chinese temple, where a wrinkled guru (Scott Glenn) tells her she has a series of tasks. But first she must fight a trio of giant robot warriors with glowing red eyes. Suddenly, she discovers martial arts prowess she didn't know she had. And when she pops back into her body in the bordello, everyone agrees she's a pretty good dancer.
Later, Baby Doll gets the other girls involved in her plans for escape. They form one of those girls-in-their-underwear action teams, including Rocket (Jena Malone) and her sister, Sweet Pea (Abbie Cornish), Blondie (Vanessa Hudgens) and Amber (Jamie Chung). Mostly they dress in burlesque costumes and fight off the advances of the obese cook.
At other times, they join Baby Doll as she flies away again, fighting zombie German soliders, dragons in besieged medieval castles and robots in tin suits. With each battle, Baby Doll keeps adding to her inventory of precious objects - a map, a fire, a knife, a key - which are supposed to allow for her escape. After each episode, you keep expecting a dialogue box inviting you to press the "Save" button.
Throughout, Snyder accompanies the action with classic rock remixes from different periods. There are spacey cover versions of everything from Eurythmics' Sweet Dreams (Are made of This), The Beatles' Tomorrow Never Knows and Jefferson Airplane's White Rabbit, augmenting the impression that the movie may have been inspired by a particularly unpleasant series of drug episodes.