Sucker PunchedApril 4th, 2011 | Posted by in Movie Reviews
A movie opened a couple of weeks ago that I’ve read almost nothing but horrendous things about. Short of Paul Thomas Anderson, the surest way to get me to a theater is universal scorn. And so it was, despite my better judgment, that I laid down some hard-earned cash for Zack Snyder’s Sucker Punch.
The basic plot is simple. A nameless young woman, known only to the audience as Baby Doll, is institutionalized by her stepfather. Learning that she has five days before she will be lobotomized, she recruits four other patients (with names like Sweet Pea and Rocket) to help her collect objects which could help them all escape. We are, however, in this real world for a very short time. Most of the movie takes place in a fantasy world of the institution-as-brothel, with the young women as dancers and prostitutes. As the girls scheme to get the items necessary for their escape (a map, a lighter, a knife, a key), we find ourselves drawn further into Baby Doll’s fantasies as the girls do battle.
This movie has gotten a raw deal. Yes, it’s messy, but it’s far more interesting and (gasp) intelligent than it sounds and has been given credit for. I found it a pretty compelling comment on sexualization and fetishization of women in film, especially action films. It uses the same clichés it’s criticizing, but purposefully and subversively. The action scenes are “cool” (if a bit ridiculous), but you’re never quite comfortable watching them and you’re not supposed to be. These are basically Baby Doll’s “happy place” fantasies. She allows herself to be exploited, and to do that she must bring herself into this mindspace that gives her some dominion over what’s happening to her. It’s also important that none of the girls have real names—they aren’t people. They are patients/prostitutes. They are objects, a full two steps of fantasy away from having any real influence over their own lives. Though full of misogyny, the film itself is fiercely feminist. Snyder has walked a delicate balance here—making a “girl power” movie that hinges on the girls having little to no power.
It’s far from perfect. Characters are sketched only as far as they need to be, and it would have had much more power if we spent more time in the “real” real world. Zack Snyder’s aesthetic choices also distract. He has an undying love for annoying camera filters and unnecessary slo-mo, and his musical choices are, as usual, way too obvious. As a whole, it’s much more ambitious than Snyder is talented. Before this one, the only film of his I’ve really liked was his remake of Dawn of the Dead (granted, I haven’t seen Legends of the Guardians: The Owls of Ga’Hoole). 300 was empty visual pomp and Watchmen peaked with its title sequence (though, what a brilliant title sequence that was). Sucker Punch, however, is far from the adolescent video-game fantasy that it is being accused of. Rather, it is surprisingly challenging and—in its odd, loud, uneven way—thoughtful.
Have you seen Sucker Punch? What did you think? Are there any movies that you think were unfairly slammed on their release?