Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Sucker Punch Causes Confusion but Not A Knockout

Sucker Punch

I recently read an article that mentioned that action films with female driven protagonist do not do well at the box-office. According to the article, unless the film stars Angelina Jolie, interest from both men and women is low. The piece seems to allude that, in general, audiences to not care to see women kicking butt so to speak. I think the problem has more to do with the poor scripts and the blatant sexualization of the leads than it does with the public’s lack of interest. Zack Snyder’s latest film Sucker Punch is a perfect example of this.

Sucker Punch revolves around Baby Doll (Emily Browning), who after the death of her mother and sister, is unjustly sent to the Lennox House mental institution for women by her lecherous stepfather. Striking a deal with a crooked worker, Blue Jones (Oscar Isaac), at the institution, Baby Doll’s father arranges for his stepdaughter to be lobotomized in five days. This will ensure that Baby Doll cannot tell of his misdoings to the police or anyone else. To cope with the horror of being locked away at Lennox House, Baby Doll learns from therapist Dr. Vera Gorski (Carla Gugino) to channel her fears into creating an imaginary world where she is a fierce warrior. Drifting between the real world and the imaginary world, and with the clock ticking, Baby Doll designs a plan to escape the institution. In order for the plan to work she must enlist the help of Rocket (Jena Malone), Rocket’s sister Sweet Pea (Abbie Cornish), Amber (Jamie Chung), and Blondie (Vanessa Hudgens). Guided by the instructions of a mysterious Wise Man (Scott Glenn), the women embark on an adventure that will be far more challenging than they ever imagined.

To say Sucker Punch does not make a lick of sense is a major understatement. The audience spends the majority of the film trying to decipher what is going on and how is everything is connected? Part of the problem is that the audience is shown very little of “real life” is like in the institution. Everything they are shown is from Baby Doll’s imaginative view. Which brings up one of the questionable aspects to the film, why would Baby Doll’s envision the institution as a 1950’s style brothel? While there is one scene in the last fifteen minutes of the film where the guards allude to abusing the girls in some way, nothing else in the film offers any further explanation. Why is the “brothel world” even in the film at all? One would assume that Baby Doll should be able to go from the “real world” to the “warrior world” without even needing to go through the “brothel world” first.

On their own, each of the three worlds that inhabit Sucker Punch could have served as an interesting movie in its own right. The “real world” could have been a stylized female version of One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest. As a film onto itself, the “brothel world” could have been a decent tale with rich and fully realized characters. Lastly the centrepiece of the film, the “warrior world” could have been a fun, and over-the-top, fantasy film that really let the female heroes let loose and have fun. Honestly it is perplexing why Snyder did not set the film in this world entirely. Judging by the level of action in the film, not to mention the overall marketing and animated short films teasers, it is clear that Snyder wanted this section to be the focal point.

While the visuals in the “warrior world” are nice at times, for the most part they are just glossy and hollow. This is due to the fact that the audience does not have any connection to either the characters, or the world. Besides Baby Doll being abused, and Rocket and Sweet Pea running away from home, there is nothing really unique or interesting about the characters. So watching attractive women, who the audience cares nothing about, fighting hoards of nameless creatures who have no ties to the main plot does not generate the excitement Snyder is hoping for. It also does not help that there is rarely any level of consequence in this world. The women can get punched through walls and still comeback looking like they just stepped out of the salon. As a result, the ”warrior world” is nothing more than big screen Manga comic that features buxom women and is poorly written.

Sucker Punch wants to be an action film that wants to make a smart commentary on how women are sexualized in action films and in the world in general. Unfortunately, the message gets lost since Snyder’s film is designed to appeal to teenage boys. It is “girl power” as seen through a man’s eyes. For all its talk about females finding the strength within them, being the controllers of their own fate, men being evil, etc. this film still manages to cater to a male demographic instead of a female one. This is most evident when Sucker Punch makes a point early on to clearly state that Baby Doll is twenty years-old. Besides Sweet Pea, and possibly Rocket, all the other women in the film look like teenage girls in lingerie. The fact that Baby Doll can only get to the “warrior world” via a raw sexually-charged dance, which the audience never sees, is not something that would get most females running to the theatre on opening day.

Zach Snyder is a director who usually knows how to balance glossy visuals, interesting characters, and entertaining plots. Yet Sucker Punch is a major misstep in an otherwise strong body of work. It is a film that should have been both a thrilling tale and a major step forward for solidifying females as viable action leads. Unfortunately, the film fails on both parts, it ends up being a film that is both insulting to popcorn movie fans and women in general. Those hoping to find strong female characters on par with Ripley in Aliens or Sarah Connor in the Terminator series will be sadly disappointed. To put it bluntly, Sucker Punch is one of the worst movies to hit theatres in recent years.


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  2. I totally agree with this review! I was completely disappointed with this movie. I was really hoping for a Kill Bill action style mixed with the styling of 300, and it just failed in my opinion. I appreciate how you talk about how this film is not empowering to women at all, but really just a teenage boy's fantasy. If this movie was only two layers deep it would have been so much more successful but I guess Snyder didn't take that much time to edit down his movie since he had free reign to throw in what seems to be every idea he's ever thought of into one story! All in all, great review!


  3. I agree that it was a disappointment. I wasn't disappointed by the visuals or what Snyder can do visually. It's just that the story was a mess.

    I know I'm repeating myself from previous comments relating to other reviews of the film. Yet, I didn't hate it as other people do. I've seen worse films.

    I'm just worried about the Superman movie with Snyder at the helm. He really needs to tone down his style more and give his actors some meatier parts.

    Besides, with the exception of Carla Gugino, Scott Glenn, Oscar Issac, Abbie Cornish, and (my favorite) Jena Malone. The rest didn't really do anything with the roles they were given. Emily Browning had a blank, porcelain expression throughout the film while Vanessa Hudgens and Jamie Chung were just eye candy.

    Again, excellent review.

  4. I'm so sad that it's a disappointment! I was looking forward to this kind of female-centric action movie. And Abbie Cornish, but it looks as though it's not worth the 20 buck IMAX ticket....*sigh*

  5. @French Toast – They are really trying to market the film as a female 300, yet it is rated PG-13. This film should have been done with an R rating similar to Kill Bill and 300. I also agree that the film would have been more successful with just two layers. Adding a third was an example of mindless excess.

    @thevoid – Oddly enough I am not worried about Superman at all. There is very little Snyder can do to mess up that franchise. His visual style is perfectly suited for Superman, and Snyder is much better when he is adapting other people’s material.

    @Robert – I suffered the IMAX prices as well, though at a slightly cheaper cost. Cornish was the only one I found rather interesting. I would have actually preferred her in the Baby Doll role.

  6. Luckily, I was not disappointed with "Sucker Punch." For me, the movie was exactly what I was expecting.

    I try to review movies in the context of what they're meant to be. I think "Sucker Punch" was intended to be over-the-top.

    I had a really good time watching this and Snyder deserves some credit for his creativity.

    Fortunately, I went to an early morning matinee, so it was only $7/ticket. I wouldn't have paid more than that.

  7. @Rachel – I am glad you were able to find enjoyment in the film. I agree that Snyder is a very creative individual; he has proved this in all of his previous films. I just found that the visuals are not enough to justify a feature length film. Most of the visuals are rather forgettable an hour after you leave the theatre.

  8. Anytime I find interesting writers I like to jump straight to the Sucker Punch review (if available) because it's still the most interesting film of 2011 (so far) to deconstruct from an intellectual angle.

    Sucker Punch was never really intended to be a fun romp. It's continuing along the same trends as 300 (satire of American fascism) and Watchmen (satire of hyper-reality and technology). This time he's directing all of his rage against "nerd culture", action movies and the kind of "woman in trouble" movies that purport to empower but instead just demean as much as the other two.

    By distilling each "fantasy" sequence to it's purest form (as asking which layer is "real" is meaningless) he's asking the question about why anyone finds the kind of representation enjoyable. You can escape from being forced to jump endless hurdles in a skimpy costume by becoming a sex object, or escape being a sex object by persevering in a system that obviously grants no power and will probably end in a lobotomy.

    When we start examining the montage of images together between one level and the next we start to see this distinction.

    Plus his quick slam against mainstream rap culture with the introduction of the senator and barely contained homosexual subtext was hilarious.

    Anyway, don't want to rant too much, my full thoughts here with links to my cohorts (I loved it, Danny liked it, Ryan hated it) are available.


  9. @Andrew – Thanks for providing the link, I will definitely give your review a read.

    The problem I have with Snyder’s commentary on nerd culture is that he himself is a product of it. Nerd culture is what made Dawn of the Dead, 300, and Watchmen to a certain extent, a huge success. It is what allowed him to get the Superman directing gig. However, now he turns around and slaps those same people in the face. Plus the majority of Snyder’s commentary often gets lots in his need to create visuals that constantly out do the scenes that came before them.


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