Sucker Punch … Less and More and Less
Like a lot of people, I was stunned by the visual promise of Zach Snyder’s Sucker Punch from the very first time I saw a preview last fall. But even back then I IMMEDIATELY felt skepticism and suspicion creep into my heart. Sure, the images were cool … but what was the movie actually ABOUT? As the release drew closer and the previews started revealing more about the film, I found my heart hardening toward the movie … it seemed to be promising an “important statement” wrapped in bubble-gum special effects, a commentary on modern feminism, and a full-throated anthem for Grrrl Power … and it seemed woefully short on actual CONTENT. It really just continued to look like a very pretty film that had very little to actually SAY.
Then reviews started rolling in … many of them quite harsh about underlying misogyny, vapid over-simplification, and plain old bad filmmaking. I decided that I was not going to pay $11 to see something that seemed so likely to disappoint me on so many levels. Thankfully, though, there’s an excellent second-run theater in Renton, and I am much more forgiving of films that I only pay $3 to see.
Well, this week Sucker Punch made it to the $3 theater … and I plunked down my money to see it. My quick review: It is both less and more than I’d thought it would be … and, in the end, $3 is about the right price for a ticket.
SPOILER ALERT: I will not talk about plot details, but I am going to talk about overall content and the full plot arc … so if you want to see this movie without emotional expectations, then you probably ought to stop reading here.
The claims that Sucker Punch is misogynistic are, I think, highly overblown. It does contain some real moments of female empowerment, but they are all undercut by what I can only assume is Snyder’s own failure to understand (or at least inability to portray) the difference between the threat of a domineering male figure as seen from a female perspective and the undercutting of female power by over-sexualizing and juvenilizing the protagonists. I think he really WAS trying to make a movie about female empowerment … but he only ever saw it through the lens of male power fantasy.
On the other hand, the multiple layers of fantasy and reality were handled very well, juggling at least three layers of “truth” easily and never letting the audience forget what was REALLY going on. And the visuals were just as stunning and immersive as I’d known they would be (and represent the REAL reason to see this movie on the big screen).
In the end, the biggest fault I have with the movie is that it doesn’t play fair with the viewer, pointing in every way toward a false possibility of resolution, and then slamming the awful truth in as an intended moment of noble sacrifice that really is just a foregone conclusion.
Of course, with a title like Sucker Punch, that really WAS the point all along. The fault, in my mind, lies squarely in not disguising the “surprise” well enough, and then trying to imbue it with noble sentiment and female empowerment, when really it’s just passivity and inescapability.
In the end, every bit of “Grrrl Power” is just an illusion, and the only way that anything positive gets accomplished is through unbalanced self-sacrifice. And all of that would be fine, except that the movie was SOLD on the Grrrl Power message, and the filmmaker spent a good long time doing the talk-show circuit describing a positive feminist message contained in the movie.
Sucker Punch fails to live up to its own hype, and works better as a high-octane horror film than an action flick. The problem is, you don’t realize that until the final reel … and that’s the REAL sucker punch of the movie–that you find out that everything you THOUGHT you were enjoying is really quite sad and meaningless.