I want to tell you a story about one of my dogs. Chewbacca was my mother’s dog through and through. You know how dogs are in a family. Sometimes, there’s just the one person that’s their person. That was Chewie and Mom. One night, I’m roused from my homework because my mother is screaming. I run into the bedroom to see what’s the matter, and I find Chewie, happy as can be, sitting on the floor. On my mother’s pillow is a dead rabbit, entrails hanging out like an effect in a Romero movie. My mom yelled at that dog that night, and he never really understood why. See, Chewie thought he had brought Mommy a present. Everything about it was good, to him.
That’s what Sucker Punch is: a dead rabbit brought in by a faithful, yet utterly stupid dog. He thinks it’s the bestest present in the whole world, but it’s just a stinking, dead corpse on your pillow.
Director: Zack Snyder
Release Date: March 25, 2011
Sucker Punch “concerns” itself with the plight of Baby Doll (Emily Browning), who has, through an unfortunate accident, found herself in an insane asylum. In five days, she will be lobotomized by a special doctor (Jon Hamm, doing nothing to dispel the notion that he’ll only be remembered for Mad Men). As a sort of defense mechanism, she imagines the insane asylum as a burlesque club/brothel, with the other girls as dancers, and the chief psychologist, Dr. Gorski (a cartoonish Carla Guigno), as a madame/dance instructor. Baby Doll decides to hatch a plan to free herself and the other girls before Jon Hamm comes to take her away. Preparing for the escape and acquiring the necessary items is shown through yet another layer of fantasy, this time featuring the ladies in skimpy outfits defying gravity, wielding swords, and taking down all manner of beasties. Dragons, clockwork zombies, robots, all the good stuff. Basically, someone took the sum total of every doodle from the back of a fourteen-year-old boy’s notebook and put it in a blender.
The story is flimsy, and the characters are, every one, wafer-thin. The dialogue is lousy, especially when delivered by Scott Glenn’s Wise Man, who exists to give the gals their briefings in each fantasy mission and offer up solid-gold platitudes like, “Don’t let your mouth write checks your ass can’t cash.” The acting is either wooden like a door or, in the case of Oscar Issac, the orderly/club owner Blue, it’s straight out of high school “YOU CAN TELL I AM ACTING BECAUSE OF MY FACIAL EXPRESSIONS AND DICTION.” You walk into a movie like this, and you expect that. The action is what you’re going into the theater for.
Other than being legitimately visually inventive, with massive battles across varied dreamscape-y settings, the action is pretty drab. The movie has the same issue that most video games have: a ridiculously unvaried color scheme. Get ready to see a lot of the same shades of brown, grey, and green, because the way the camera shakes around like a child rolling down a hill, you won’t make sense of much! Of course, that’s only when the camera isn’t indulging in Snyder’s signature speed-ramping crap, which more or less exists to get a damn good look at someone’s legs as the fire weapons with a steely expression on their face. The set pieces are paced like a cruise ship, barreling on towards the end boss fight, watching Baby Doll dispatch whatever needs dispatching, then rolling back to the brothel reality. You’ll notice I’m using a fair amount of video game terminology here. That’s the best way to describe the frenetic action pieces. It’s like someone took a series of video game cutscenes and strung them together. Not the actual parts you get to play, mind you, because a certain level of interactivity might have made this interesting.
This film’s chief sin, though, is the awful, insulting message it brings. Just so we’re clear, I should mention first that this is not me reading between the lines or anything, possibly seeing something that’s not really there. This stems from lines in the script and words from the mouth of the director himself. You are led to believe that the film you are watching has a legitimate point to it. It wants to believe so wholeheartedly that it’s all about feminism and empowering women through action and general badassery. That’s ok. However, the only “empowering” that goes on is through their sexuality. This is the stated message of the film: empowering women by dressing them up in little to nothing. Wherever a panty shot is possible, we get three. Wherever there’s the chance for a young girl to wear something slinky, we get slinky and see-through. Every frame of action features a woman looking pouty and vulnerable hefting some big, phallic death object with precision when they’re not getting battered around to an uncomfortable degree. In addition, nearly all of the main female characters are, ostensibly, in their twenties, but you take a look at the girl in the header, and you tell me she looks a day over sixteen. With the exceptions of Carla Guigno and Abbie Cornish, that’s how every single female looks. It’s two hours of jailbait torture/action-porn masquerading itself as neo-feminist.
I would be able to rate this higher if it was just dumb fun for the sake of dumb fun. Dumb fun is fine. There’s a place for it in cinema. Sometimes, entertainment can just be entertainment. However, Sucker Punch tries so, so hard to have a message that is only self-destructed by the weight of itself. There are coherent ideas here; they’re just odious and, frankly, deeply offensive. I honestly have to question whether or not Zack Snyder, who also co-wrote the film, has some serious issues with women. If any of you are justifying watching this for the hot ladies, here’s a news flash; there is actual porn everywhere on the internet. For free! I just saved you $12 bucks.
I have been disgusted by the content of films. I’ve not agreed with the content of films. It’s a rare experience when I am actually offended by a film’s content. I have every hope that this film will be Zack Snyder’s Southland Tales, where Hollywood realizes it’s a terrible idea to give carte blanche to a hyperactive, middling talent. I weep for Superman’s future.
3.65 – When I first heard the buzz over Snyder calling this movie “empowering,” I figured it was a botched attempt to give depth to a movie about women in little outfits kicking ass. There’s nothing really wrong with that kind of movie if you just want some mindless entertainment. Instead, I got a movie about some guy’s fetish for battered women with a “message” about fighting back being shoved down my throat. I’m supposed to draw inspiration from a bunch of overly made-up women who have to search deep down to find their secret weapons? Spoiler: it’s their sexuality.
6.00 – Sucker Punch is fun to watch. It’s fast, saturated, and constantly epic. The movie also seems heavily influenced by video game and anime culture and stylistic tendencies. But for a movie that is thematically about how the sexualization of women is bad, it just doesn’t quite do enough to disillusion the viewer from the fact that throughout the movie, these women are always sexy. Always. The way that Sucker Punch tries to sucker punch you is by trying to point out that taking advantage of women is actually something that people should be ashamed of, but the movie kind of defeats itself in this agenda. I don’t think Sucker Punch is a terrible movie, I think it tries really hard to be something inspirational and has great intentions. If you go into it looking to have fun, you’ll have fun. If you go into it hoping to be empowered, well, it just doesn’t make a smart enough of an argument.
5.20 – Sucker Punch doesn’t all out suck, but it is far from the entertaining romp that it should be (at least for adolescent males). Crammed with everything you could ever think of as awesome the film is a cacophony of action and slow motion that never actually settles down into anything more enjoyable than a few amazing action shots. Snyder clearly wanted to make something that was full of everything he’s ever seen on screen and thought was awesome. He succeeded. Unfortunately, the outcome isn’t something that is enjoyable to watch.
4.35 – I spent a couple hours after seeing Sucker Punch last night trying to figure out what that bad taste in my mouth was, and I finally pin-pointed it: betrayal. Suddenly, I was in high school again, just a few days after finishing the novel Dreamcatcher by Stephen King, sitting in the theater opening night with rapt anticipation. The movie began, and I was in awe: it was perfect. Then, about half-way through, it all went wrong. It’s like they only got the first half of the novel and had to make up the rest as they went along. I was crushed. It’s not exactly the same story with Sucker Punch, but it’s damn close. The first three quarters of the film or so were a visual treat, light on story, heavy on visuals, and it was pretty cool. Then, it’s like Zack Snyder got a phone call asking if he wanted to make Superman and he decided “Eff this, I’m gonna make the most realistic Superman movie ever!” and just wrapped it up in a disappointing anti-climax of constantly bewildering choices in cinematic direction. There were cool things, like the steampunk German soldier zombies and heavily-armed shogun giants, but not even those gems could save me from the disappoint of Sucker Punch’s squandered potential. I have a lot more to say, but if I keep going, I may burst into tears.