Sucker Punch … Less and More and Less

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Sucker Punch … Less and More and Less

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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.

Comments: 4
  • Jodi Lane May 23, 2011 12:51 am

    I don’t think that all of the girl power is an illusion, just the visual illusion.
    At the very end Dr. Vera Gorski talks about how “Babydoll” helped a girl escape…Remember? That was reality…
    So they actually DID conquer all of those “quests” for items but they weren’t so glorified. She used that to motivate herself. So to me that is real girl power as it would be IRL. *shrug*

  • Stan! May 23, 2011 10:57 am

    I certainly see your point. But I see it another way.
    It seems to me that the only power the girls have is in their delusion. Yes, they had some effects in the real world, but only by immersing themselves in fantasy … AND the results of that were several girls dying and the main character being lobotomized.
    None of the original inequities that were visited on the main character were redressed. The rapist uncle still has control of everything (including the little sister). Yeah, the corrupt hospital attendant (and would-be rapist) gets caught … but only at the cost of “Babydoll”‘s brain.
    I don’t want to try to talk you out of your more positive interpretation, Jodi, but for me every “victory” is hollow and illusory and the girls are shown, in the end, to be practically powerless.

  • Sean K Reynolds May 23, 2011 11:50 pm

    Babydoll’s little sister is dead (the end section has Carla Gugino’s character stating that Babydoll lost her mind after accidentally shooting her sister).
    I don’t think the other girls died, they just weren’t relevant to Babydoll’s/SweetPea’s story.
    Yep, Babydoll’s stepfather ends up in charge of his dead wife’s estate, but Babydoll didn’t care about that, she had just lost her mother and her sister. She felt she had nothing to live for, and sacrificed herself to save someone who did have something to live for.
    “Yes, they had some effects in the real world, but only by immersing themselves in fantasy” doesn’t really make sense… they *did* accomplish things in the real world, it’s just that how they accomplished those things is *presented* to the audience as fantasy… the effects still happened.
    Yep, the girls are practically powerless. But all the victories in The Great Escape are hollow, too, and most of those characters die. Does that mean the male characters are powerless? Does it mean that everything you thought were enjoying in The Great Escape is sad and meaningless? Hell, the Nazis capture a bunch of the main characters and shoot them to death with a machine gun, that’s just as depressing and pointless as Babydoll’s lobotomy.

  • Stan! May 24, 2011 12:05 am

    If The Great Escape ended with that assassination scene or the one of Steve McQueen hanging like a rag doll on the barbed wire fence, then the film WOULD have presented a message of sorrow and life’s meaninglessness. But it didn’t. It ended with McQueen being put back into the cooler with his baseball glove and ball … in particular, it ended with the echoing, repetitive sound of the ball bouncing and being caught … a sound that signifies McQueen’s resistance … that he is not beaten and that the fight would go on until the Nazis were beaten.
    Sucker Punch, on the other hand, ends with the main character having been lobotomized and now being unable to even take mundane care of herself, let alone be able to fight against the still unresolved evils that have been visited upon her.
    I think we’re just going to have to agree to disagree on this one … because while I see the power in many of the scenes you’re talking about, I don’t see that message being carried through the whole of the film (particularly the ending). Indeed, I see the ending pulling any vestige of power from the main character (and even the girl who escaped). That’s just what I got from the film.
    I can respect that you got something different … but I don’t see it. I don’t see it at all.

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