Monday, August 15, 2011

Movie Review: Sucker Punch, or, "As long as you're self-aware about it, then you're okay!"

No, but she's fierce! 
          Movie news website Film School Rejects interviewed director Zack Snyder about his newest film, Sucker Punch, a couple of weeks after the film hit theaters. They allegedly set out to ask the polarizing director tough questions about the film. Specifically questions regarding the film's sexuality. The interview starts by asking the question on everybody's mind, "Would you say this film is a critique on geek culture's sexism?"
        "It is, absolutely," Synder says.
        Well then. If he claims it's a commentary, let's take a look at it as one. Here's what I thought of Sucker Punch:

         When Snyder's 300 came out, most of my friends went to see it opening night. They kept telling me that it's really awesome, visually stunning, all that. So, I go see it. It's pretty much what I expected, except boring. I just couldn't get into it. There was something about the emptiness of the visuals. It looked pretty, but it wasn't saying anything. It barely had a pulse.
         A couple of years later, Watchmen is released. I see it opening night, and I have the exact same reaction. It is beautifully shot, but I don't feel any connection whatsoever to the characters. It mostly plays out like a slo-mo music video cut to covers of great songs.
        A couple of years after that, I rent the Watchmen director's cut, and something weird happens. I really, really like it. Now, I don't really remember what was cut or added between the versions, but something definitely changed. The characters became more three-dimensional. Something made me care.
       So when I saw the preview for Sucker Punch, I thought,"Hey, I'll give him a chance."
       But then I didn't go see it. And then I forgot about it. And then last night, I watched it.
       And boy was it bad.

      Now let me explain. I get it. I get it, okay? I understand. Snyder is making a point with the film. He's dressing his characters up as school girls and making them dance in front of fat, schlubby men. They're objectified women who decide to stand up for themselves and be freed of their oppression. They use their "fierce" will to conquer those pesky little men.

      I even understand that their outfits are satire. That their names are supposed to be absurd riffs on fanboy culture. I'm savvy with all of it.

     However, if anybody tries to use any of those points as a reason to permit this movie to use these images, I have to argue with you. I am compelled to challenge you.
     Sucker Punch is immensely sexist. I don't care if it's a commentary. You know why? Because that thing that is being commented on is a thing that the director is guilty of in every single one of his movies, including Sucker Punch. Every woman who has ever acted in a Zack Snyder film is thin, gorgeous, and scantily clad. Every single one. And here is a movie with characters with names like Babydoll and Sweet Pea who wear school girl outfits and little nurse outfits while they fight on a steampunk battlefield.

      Okay, so when I'm watching Emily Browning in her short skirt defeat giant samurais with her katana sword I'm supposed to...feel guilty about my objectification of her?
      That doesn't sound right. I think when girls in leotards infiltrate a train full of robots and disarm a bomb I'm supposed to be in awe of the great action set pieces. I think that the rockin' soundtrack is engineered to disarm me, to make me surrender to the almighty god of style. Nothing about these scenes of action scream commentary. Absurd? Yes. But absurd does not mean commentary. The very existence of absurdity is not in itself commentary. If that was true, then we can all thank Stalin for showing us how absurd killing poor people is.
     The premise of the film is this: A girl accidentally shoots her sister when she's defending herself from a molesting priest. The priest sends the girl, named Babydoll I must add, to a mental institution where literally every single patient is a beautiful 20 year old girl. The priest pays an orderly to give Babydoll a lobotomy. Babydoll is then introduced to a method of therapy where the girls are forced to use their imaginations and act out their frustrations. We are then subjected to a 90 minute dream sequence, that of course we are aware of, that involves all of the main girls working in a brothel/dance club run by the previously mentioned orderly. In this brothel/dance club, babydoll dances for men. However, when she dances, instead of the audience watching Babydoll on stage, the audience instead sees Babydoll perform amazing physical prowess in the most over-the-top actions scenes possibly ever filmed.
     This means that the majority of the film's visuals are filtered through a 20 year old girl's mind. If we were trying to comment on the geek scene, wouldn't the film really be filtered through an 18 year old boy's mind? Just sayin'.
     Apparently Babydoll doesn't think much of women. Because she believes that all women must be sexy. And by sexy I mean slutty. And by slutty I mean impossibly titillating to that ever-important demographic for box office revenue: 11 to 14 year old boys. Babydoll sees herself, and all of the other girls, as underdressed hookers who also fight in anachronistic steampunk battles.
     When Zack Snyder asked if his message would be lost by all of the clearly sexist dialogue and imagery, he responded with, "As long as you're self-aware about it, then you're okay!"
     Ohhh, I get it. You see, Zack Snyder is aware that he's being sexist, so he's actually not being sexist. He definitely hired these actresses because they are beautiful, chose the costumes because they are small and slutty, and wrote the dialogue to be as unoffensive to a 12 year old as humanly possible, and staged the action scenes to be as ridiculous and stupid as a budget can allow, but it's okay because he knows that those things are stupid.
     That makes me feel better.

     Apart from all of my other problems with the movie, here is a quick note of the basic problem at the fim's core:
    The girls are stealing items from men in order to escape the brothel/dance club. However, whenever the girls do steal an item, we are instead treated to one of Babydoll's dance numbers. Which is, as I said before, actually a stupid action scene. So here's all of the information that is withheld for the sake of cool:
we don't see the mental institution scene that is happening because of the brothel/dance club imaginings of Babydoll, we don't get to see Babydoll actually dance, even though it is implied that she is amazing we never actually get proof, and we never see the girls actually steal anything because we're watching them kill robots on a train. If you're going to make me care about what happens to these girls, stop cutting away to a girl's imagination when the real things that put their lives at stake are happening elsewhere. There is something at stake when the girl is trying to steal a lighter from the man's pocket, but we never see that because we're watching some girl's dream about dragons. WHY? The plot progression relies on the theft that we ARE MISSING.

      In other words, suspense is impossible if we don't get to see the suspenseful scene.

     However, I do have one small praise for the film. It contains an excellent example of a Hammeo.

(Note: A Hammeo is a cameo in any film or television show by Jon Hamm. My favorite is Hamm's appearance as a TV Repairman in The Sarah Silverman Program)


  1. The work is very versatile, with so many concentrations intermingling,

  2. You hit the nail on the head. Good lord, I was actually excited to see this movie and then was really disappointed when I finally did. I don't claim to be as big of a movie person as you are (so until you pointed all this out it was a bit under my radar) but yeah, my biggest issues were plot and execution... So lame.

    So three cheers for you.

  3. SUCKER PUNCH sucked! Its attempts to go all narratively post-modern at the end was simply silly and daft.

  4. My boyfriend and I were pretty horrified when we saw the previews for this movie.

    I agree with your assessment of Zack Snyder's directorial style (without substance). My boyfriend had to listen to me rail about the portrayal of the women in "300" when I came back from the theater and years later he brings us "Sucker Punch" and I am supposed to forget "300".

    I have read reviews by women who are younger and repeating the whole "you just don't get it" or the whole "it's self aware" meme. Well, no, we get it. You just forgot about "300" because your attention span is about 5 minutes and being self-aware is great if the story is handled well.

    Thanks for this, excellent as usual.

  5. I was pumped to watch this movie last night. All in all its a great movie which I really enjoyed watching. It a movie which you will find satisfying.
    Watch Sucker Punch

  6. I appreciate Snyder's geekdom because he has obviously referenced Call of Duty, Harry Potter, Lord of the Rings, Inception, Shutter Island, and then gone on to put a kind of slow-motion visual effect when Babydoll begins dancing that mirrors some of the style from 300 and Watchmen. That does not excuse weak dialogue, or weak acting. I think the story fell apart because of that.