DESPITE EVERY INDICATION to the contrary, Sucker Punch is not based on a videogame. But a hell of a videogame it'd be: There are steampunk zombie Nazis! And mechanized super suits! And dragons! And giant samurais with glowing red eyes! And robots! (Some of the robots also have glowing red eyes.) And shootings and stabbings and explosions! Then again, it's also really uncomfortably rapey, so maybe it actually wouldn't be that fun of a videogame.
If the moral of Sucker Punch is "Girls rule!"—and I'm pretty sure it is, unless it's "Watching scantily clad chicks fight steampunk zombie Nazis is significantly more boring than one would expect"—it's weird that the way co-writer/director Zack Snyder tells it is to treat his characters like punching bags for sexual and psychological abuse. To be fair (uh, I guess?), Snyder's had more explicit rape scenes in his other films—both 300 and Watchmen had chunks of sordid ick—but Sucker Punch might be the first time he's based an entire narrative, such as it is, on the conceit that women are super easy to beat the crap out of. (Unless they're fighting robots, that is—then they rule! Especially if they're wearing miniskirts!)
I'm not trying to get preachy here, because holy shit—I love zombies and robots and samurais and dragons and mech suits, and I'm also an ardent supporter of miniskirts. Given this thing's ingredients, I should've been standing up in the theater, yelping and clapping like a trained seal. Instead I wanted to take a shower.
The story's a dumber, skeevier Inception: The childishly named (and childish) Baby Doll (Emily Browning), Sweet Pea (Abbie Cornish), Rocket (Jena Malone), Blondie (Vanessa Hudgens), and Amber (Jamie Chung) are imprisoned in a Dickensian mental institution... until Baby Doll is transported into an alternate reality in which they're actually enslaved in a whorehouse/burlesque club! In order to escape this mental institution/whorehouse, Baby Doll then goes into even more pretend universes, meeting up with a wrinkly faced mentor named, shockingly, Wise Man (Scott Glenn). Wise Man is one more dude ordering these girls around, but this time it's okay, 'cause he's a good guy, I guess? Anyway, Ol' Wrinkles tells Baby Doll that to get her freedom she'll have to fight her way through a bunch of imaginary challenges—Nazis, dragons, robots, etc.—and he gives her a samurai sword and a handgun, at which point she turns into a shitty CG special effect and starts fighting those giant CG samurais. (Attention music nerds! Björk's "Army of Me" plays during this sequence, a song choice that's only slightly less ham-fisted than Snyder's decision to soundtrack Baby Doll's asylum arrival with a shitty cover of the Pixies' "Where Is My Mind.")
And so Sucker Punch goes, for what feels like forever: Weirdly bland, cartoony action sequences intersperse long periods of monotone dialogue as Baby Doll and her retinue of nü-Spice Girls scheme, shoot, and vamp their way to freedom, along the way fighting pimps, rapists, and magical dragons with equal gravitas. Also, Don Draper shows up at the end for like two minutes for no discernable reason? Look, it probably seems like I'm doing a crummy job explaining this thing, but no, that's just how Sucker Punch is: stupid and nonsensical and gross. It's a squirm-inducing exploitation flick that loudly, unconvincingly insists it's an empowering fable, and also, honestly? The dragons in it aren't even that cool.