While we all wait for Zack Snyder’s next movie, Doc Clockwork reviews the one in theaters now.
I read an interview from director Zack Snyder saying that Sucker Punch is his version of a “Heavy Metal” movie, referring to the comic book anthology magazine that typically blends science fiction and fantasy themes with a hyper-sexualized style. It’s an apt description. Sucker Punch is what you’d get if someone saw Showgirls and thought “this needs more steampunk zombies and samurai swords.” It’s truly, remarkably exploitive in many ways. But it’s also beautiful to look at, ironically self-aware, and oddly compelling in parts.
Sucker Punch is about a girl in a mental hospital (Emily Browning, always detached or on the edge of tears) who escapes to a fantasy world to deal with the pain of her reality. She’s called Baby Doll, and dresses like one. As with Inception, there are dreams within dreams, layers of fantasy stacked within and upon one another that occasionally interact and mingle. I got the feeling the confusion was intentional, to impart some part of what Baby Doll is feeling to the audience. Is this part of the fantasy? Is this just how she processes things? Is she really crazy?
Ultimately, it doesn’t really matter, because the underlying plot is simple to the point of banality. Baby Doll wants to escape her prison (sometimes a mental hospital, sometimes a brothel). A sort of mystic guardian (played by Scott Glenn) tells her she must go on a quest and acquire five items in order to escape. She fights her way through a different fantasy world to acquire each artifact, bringing a cadre of hot chicks (her fellow prisoners) along for the journey.
In some ways, Sucker Punch felt like a logical extension of The Matrix. Everything is imaginary, including whatever obstacles the heroes have to face, and whatever skills and abilities they might have to fight them. No discipline or training is required to attain majestic and awe-inspiring fighting skill; it’s just there. And, most importantly, there is no struggle. Everything the hero wants to do is either as simple as willing it to happen, or it is too impossible to even attempt.
Many people, including myself, are inclined to give this kind of film a pass on some levels because it’s supposed to be fun and light entertainment, but Snyder wants to have it both ways. There’s an awful lot of implied rape and sexual abuse in this film. Like, a lot. The main characters are all seriously damaged and abused. But at the same time, there’s no nudity or sexual act depicted. Even though half the film takes place in a place where girls are imprisoned and trained to please men; no one ever says the words “brothel” or “prostitute” or “whore”. Among Baby Doll’s super powers, in one reality, is the ability to hypnotize everyone with her seductive dance. We are told this, but never shown it, illustrating again how this film wants to flirt sexual subtext, but never deal with it head on.
The action scenes are technically proficient, and well designed. I’m never confused about what’s happening, and there are a few moments of jaw-dropping coolness. However, I never get the sense that the girls who’re in the middle of it all believe what’s going on any more than I do. Whether Baby Doll is charging up for an epic kill or running for her life, her face remains as blank and emotionless as ever. I never sense anything from her like fear or resolve or even adrenaline. What I sense is the detachment of a stripper on stage performing.
Maybe that’s intentional. It’s obvious that part of the point of Sucker Punch is to show us that exploitation is exploitation; that whether we’re watching a girl shaking her ass on stage or kicking ass on the battlefield, it’s all put on for our perverse enjoyment. At one point in the film, a character literally stops the action to point out how exploitive the scene we were just watching is. Fair enough, I guess. But since the film so obviously capitalizes on the exploitation of (particularly young) women, I don’t think it gets a pass just for being enlightened enough to point it out to us.
This sort of lecturing tone reminded me a bit of the scene in Terminator 2 where James Cameron take a minute to point out to the audience the self-destructive nature of mankind, how our propensity for violence is what will inevitably cause our destruction. The point hits home for a second, until you realize it’s in the context of a film that’s selling over the top violence and apocalyptic fantasy.
Sucker Punch does its fair share selling violence as well. This is to be expected in a film featuring girls with machine guns on the poster, and I’m certainly not opposed to fantasy violence per se. I do find it notable however, that the enemies in this film getting gunned down by the hundreds tend to be emotionless automatons (orcs, zombies, robots, etc). Again, harkening back to the precedent set by The Matrix. Our heroes only get to let loose on dehumanized villains, so that we can experience the visceral thrill of killing and dismembering them without any of the moral complications that come with those actions.
It was extremely obvious that Sucker Punch was edited to obtain the coveted PG-13 rating. The implied rape and abuse I mentioned earlier was at one point so vaguely depicted as to make the motivations of the characters in that scene somewhat unintelligible. At point, the F-word is bleeped out by gunfire. So it’s impossible to say if it was really Snyder’s vision on display. My caveat to that would be that I don’t see how making the sexual themes more explicit would make the film better, just more honest.
I’d say this is easily my least favorite of Snyder’s films so far, but even here I can see his talent for visual storytelling. The soundtrack was also very good. The songs chosen were mostly new covers, but all appropriate to the scene and helped tell the story. One of my favorite parts of the film was a musical sequence that played over the end credits. It was fun and irreverent, and had more of the kind of tone I was looking for in the rest of the film.
So what implications does Sucker Punch have for Zack Snyder’s Superman? Actually, none that I can see. Aside from having cast my first choices for Clark Kent and Lois Lane in small, fairly thankless roles in this film (Jon Hamm and Carla Gugino, respectively) I can see no connection whatsoever.
With Sucker Punch, Snyder set out to make a hyper-sexualized genre picture with tons of epic violence, and he did that. I don’t particularly like the result, but I have to admit that it pretty much does what it intends to do. Likewise, with his adaptations of 300 and Watchmen, the goal was to reproduce the essence and experience of reading those books as faithfully as possible on screen, and he succeeded there as well. I think whether his Superman succeeds is going to depends heavily on whatever spin he and David Goyer are giving the character to make him relevant again.
My thanks to Doc Clockwork for taking the time review the movie for us. Now head on over to the forum.