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Entries in Sucker Punch [2011] (1)

Sunday
Mar272011

Sucker Punch (2011)

Guy Candy

I had no interest in seeing Sucker Punch because its trailer made the movie out to be an obnoxious melange of video game action and pop culture cliches.  I saw nothing new or interesting and was pretty sure I'd figured out the beginning, middle, and end of the story before the the preview was over.  But I've been a fan of director Zack Snyder's work since his 2004 Dawn of the Dead remake, and figured there must be something to latch onto.

Turns out there's a lot to latch onto, if you're a twelve-year-old boy or a thirty-seven-year-old man-child who collects vinyl figures and plays too much XBox Live; if you're also a misogynist, Sucker Punch will no doubt be your Film of the Year.  This is one of the ugliest pieces of trash I've seen, and its attitudes about women, violence, and pop culture sicken me.  Snyder should be ashamed, as should everyone else involved in the production.  Fuck this movie.

Ahem.

Sucker Punch begins with one of Snyder's signature musical montages, in which a young girl named Baby Doll (Emily Browning) is placed in the Lennox Home for the Mentally Insane after having fatally shot her young sister while aiming at their wicked stepfather (the opening song is, I believe, officially the billionth "kind-of-okay" cover of The Eurythmics' "Sweet Dreams are Made of These"--no doubt the inspiration for Snyder and co-screenwriter Steve Shibuya's breathtakingly clever choice of "Lennox" for the asylum's name).

Once committed, Baby Doll befriends a group of smokin' hot inmates who take dance lessons from stern headmistress Dr. Vera Gorski (Carla Gugino).  It's never made clear what the other girls did to wind up at Lennox, or what dance has to do with solving their problems (outside of some vague addages about freedom that I'm pretty sure were swiped from the Stallone movie Lockup), but Sucker Punch isn't about mental health; it's a ticking-time-bomb picture: Baby Doll has five days to escape before she's lobotomized by the sinister High Roller (Jonn Hamm).

To that end, we enter a fantasy world that Baby Doll creates for herself, in which she and the other girls work as prostitutes in the asylum run by the greasy Blue Jones (Oscar Isaac), an orderly-turned-pimp who makes sure the mayor gets only the choicest tail and looks the other way when the overweight cook tries to play hide the salami with a girl in the storeroom.  It's bad enough that the girls' "profession" requires them to wear skimpy outfits, but their mode of dress when scrubbing floors and taking dance lessons can best be described as "Hot Topic Crack-Whore Chic".

Not to worry: When Baby Doll and pals enter the second-level fantasy realm--in which they must find five sacred totems in order to escape their prison--they run the pop-pinup gamut of Naughty Schoolgirl to Leather Dominatrix, all the while wielding katana blades and gigantic machine guns.

The driving force behind the plot is Baby Doll's seductive dancing which (no kidding) so entrances the old, horny men around her that they become oblivious to the other girls' theft of the totems.  In the real-life level of the fantasy (try to keep up), it's a simple matter of lifting a cigarette lighter from a breast pocket or swiping a map off a wall; but in the fantastic level of the fantasy, these quests become epic, effects-heavy adventures involving fifty-foot-tall ghost samurai, dragons, and zombified nazis--all set against a steampunk backdrop that mixes the New Millenium Retro Fetish with high-tech gadgetry. Watching Sucker Punch's battle scenes is comparable to (and as thrilling as) walking through a comic book store during a fire sale while the guys behind the counter play Call of Duty.  To some of you, this will sound like an endorsement.  I assure you, it's not.

And now, a few words about gravity.  Gravity is very important to Sucker Punch, except when it isn't.  On one hand, you have numerous action scenes in which girls are flung into buildings by giant monsters, their bodies blasting through pillars and causing concrete floors to errupt on impact.  Without exception, these warrior chicks jump right back up and strike menacing poses, ready to resume fighting without so much as a scratch or a whimper.  Because this is established in the first face-off, we the audience are excused from giving a shit about anything that happens next--during the next five minutes or hour-and-twenty-five-minutes.  In the fantastical fantasy world, which is as high-stakes as the regular fantasy world, and, in turn, the real world (Jesus, someone shoot me), we should have a sense that our heroes are in danger.  Instead, we simply watch as special effects duke it out for the right to level up.  There's no question that everyone will be just fine as they collect their totems and prance towards a happy ending.

Until Snyder turns the tables on the audience by having one of the girls sacrifice her life to save the others.  In a futuristic fantasy, Rocket (Jena Malone) detonates a bomb on a high-speed elevated rail that's headed towards a city (by "futuristic", I mean 2005, which is the year this plot point and visual idea were introduced in Batman Begins).  It makes no sense that she dies, because up to this point the only rule is that there are no rules--so, why didn't she drop-kick the bomb into the abyss or wish it away or something?  Back in the first-level fantasy world, Rocket is stabbed in the belly by the cook, and she bleeds out on the kitchen floor.

Blue scolds the group and punishes them by shooting two of the girls in the back of the head.  In a matter of minutes, Snyder takes us from Sailor Moon to Blue Velvet without earning one ounce of sympathy.  It turns out this doesn't matter, either, as he turns the tables one more time ahead of the climax.

As Baby Doll helps her former-rival-turned-reluctant-friend Sweet Pea (Abbie Cornish) escape by diverting the attention of the asylum's guards, we're told that Sucker Punch was never Baby Doll's story: It was Sweet Pea's all along.  In their final moments together, Baby Doll tells Sweet Pea to run back home and tell her mother how much she loves her--which is nice; I mean, what mother wouldn't want to hear that?  Oh, I know: The kind that has her daughter committed to a fucking mental institution.  By film's end, Sweet Pea's on a bus to God-knows-where, Baby Doll's a vegetable, and every other female character is either dead or subservient.

Now, a brief sidebar about totems: What sense does it make for Baby Doll to quest for a knife when the fist item she's presented with on her journey is a sword?

Look, I know I'm not the audience for a PG-13 movie, but I'd be uncomfortable letting my thirteen-year-old watch this (granted, he's about twelve-and-a-half years outside the demographic, but still...). Despite being marketed as a crazy, imaginitive romp, there's nothing smart or innovative in the whole movie; it's a catalogue of pop-culture, not a celebration of it--how else to explain the fact that the best songs in the film are covers?  The only thing one might take away from Sucker Punch is an unhealthy disrespect for women (possibly racism, too: The hot Asian girl is named Amber [Jamie Chung], and she's really good with machines).  It bothers me to think that kids (or adults) might take away the idea that the best a group of girls can do in terms of creating an empowering dream-image of themselves is to enact a male fantasy full of stripper attire and automatic weapons.  Who knew self-esteem was so demeaning?

I'm not one of those alarmists who believes in a correlation between violent media and violent behavior; but I'm not denying there could be one.  And Sucker Punch, whose female characters get tossed around, beaten, sexually assaulted, and murdered in such a way that the audience doesn't have to face the reality of what those actions implies, plants seeds of tolerance--in both genders--that make me uncomfortable.  And before you compose angry comments about how this film is a wonderful feminist power-trip, let me assure you that I understand this argument and I don't buy it one bit.  This movie's as pro-woman as Scarface is anti-drug.  But, hey, if this is your thing, I hope you have a great time, and humbly suggest that you pick up Chris Brown's new album on the way home from the theatre.