Apr 2, 2011

Sucker Punch [12A]

Dir: Zack Snyder

Dear Zack
Where to begin? Well, I really like Dawn of the Dead. Actually, and here's an admission that alienates me from other horror fans on a regular basis, I like it more than the overrated original. So you made a strong start. What happened man? Is your entire career some sort of art project, an experiment in just how long you can continue making a worse film every time you step behind a camera and not have the audience rise up and demand your blood, or their money back, you know, whichever's easier? I was disappointed to not be a big fan of 300, and even more disappointed by your 163 minute snoozefest Watchmen, but even after those I really, really didn't expect you to deliver an abomination like Sucker Punch.

You'll find, Zack, that I'm pretty tough to offend, but even so I found Sucker Punch a disgusting film on a lot of levels, mostly in the way it treats and looks at women. Now, I know what you're going to say, something like 'The movie is about female empowerment, it's about girls taking up arms and fighting against their fate, what's the problem?' There isn't one. If that were true. That's what the movie wants to be about, but the way it approaches telling its 'progressive' story is so retrograde in so many ways that it renders that argument utterly without merit. Let's begin with the moment I nearly walked out (about three minutes in, a record in terms of time taken for me to get itchy feet). The scene is of a large bald man, he is punching and kicking his pretty young stepdaughter, in slow motion. To add to the already luridly exploitative stew, you've soundtracked this moment with a cover of Eurythmics' Sweet Dreams, in which every utterance of the phrase 'some of them want to be abused' is drawn out, and comes over a shot of a cowering young woman. Essentially you've opened the film with a six minute music video fetishising the abuse of nubile teenage girls, and it doesn't stop there.

The biggest problem with your film is perhaps how it suggests that these young women should deal with abuse, be it suffered at home or in the mental institution in which the bulk of the film takes place. As the critic Erik Childress observed, it's not by fighting back so much as it is by going to a fantasy world so they can forget that they are being abused. This is so mind bogglingly offensive in the 21st century, never mind in a film that aspires to be about strong women, that I can't believe you got the funding to make this film.

The story of Sucker Punch may work on three levels of reality, leading you to pat yourself and co-writer Steve Shibuya (presumably along to augment the pot fuelled 'wouldn't it be cool if...' sessions that constituted the 'creative meetings' on this film) on the back, but these only reinforce the film's outright disturbing sexual politics. The first level is reality; the shabby mental hospital where the girls live and are, presumably, regularly abused by the orderlies. The second is an apparently collective fantasy world, (not sure how that works, but since you don't care let's pretend I don't either) in which the girls work in a club, as exotic dancers and whores. Because, sure, when women want to escape a terrible real life, the fantasy they have is that they are indentured sexual slaves. Jesus Christ man, even as I'm writing this I feel like I need a shower. Anyway, the third level of reality is one which Babydoll (Emily Browning) escapes into when she dances, which apparently hypnotises everyone else, but also draws the other main girls; Sweet Pea (Abbie Cornish), Rocket (Jena Malone), Blondie (Vanessa Hudgens) and Amber (Jamie Chung) into this world where they suddenly have machine guns, are advised by a 'Wise Man' (Scott Glenn, looking like he wants to murder his agent, in case you didn't notice during shooting) and fight such enemies as robo Germans from World War 1, Orcs and dragons, and 15 foot tall Samurai robots. Why is this happening, how does Babydoll create this world or draw the others into it, what bearing does it have on the real world? Oh, right, I'm not supposed to care, I'm supposed to be staring at Emily Browning's legs, and the special effects (which, for the most part, barely deserve the designation 'special').

This stuff might matter less if you'd bothered to A: Give any of your characters a personality, or B: Make an even slightly coherent film. Let's deal with A first shall we? Simple question; Who is Babydoll? I know this much; Her Mum's dead, her stepdad was abusive, and you so royally fucked the editing of a key moment of the opening that I'm not sure whether she accidentally shot her sister. Also she has nice legs, and pigtails. She's an utter void, she's got less personality than Bella fucking Swan. I've said it before, but clearly Hollywood doesn't listen, so I'll repeat myself: If characters don't have any personality action scenes are boring, because there are no stakes. Even the modicum of personality afforded Sweet Pea (protective of her sister Rocket) and Rocket (gung ho) is totally fumbled in a late action scene, in which a key moment that, if you paid attention to the single trait she has, should belong to Sweet Pea, is instead handed to Rocket. Honestly now, was there a mix up when the sides were printed that day and were you just too embarrassed to tell the actors? More than the lack of engagement though, more than the fact that it renders the endless action scenes completely empty and void of any and all tension, the problem with such underdeveloped characters is that it means that your five 'strong women', end up as little more than scantily clad action figures. You take every opportunity to ogle them, dwelling on their stocking clad legs and figure hugging crop tops. Look Zack, I appreciate the female form as much as the next straight guy, and you've got five beautiful examples here, but the way you relentlessly fetishise them... well, I've seen porn that feels less dirty.

As far as B is concerned, for a film with such an easily defined story (Babydoll has to escape the asylum before someone comes to give her a lobotomy), Sucker Punch is fantastically poorly told. It doesn't make a lick of sense. You never show us how the worlds of fantasy and reality interrelate, or lay down the rules of the fantasy world (beyond the idea that the girls control it, and if this is the case why are they fighting monsters rather than, I don't know, picnicking and playing with puppies)? You also completely botch the structure, not only forgetting entirely about the film's major villain (Babydoll's stepfather), but shifting focus late in the day and making the film the story of a second totally empty character, for no particular reason. Amazingly the film is both intricate and stunningly banal.

Lets, for a moment, leave aside the utter moral and political repugnance of Sucker Punch, and deal with it at a level of craft. I imagine, Zack, you'll be disappointed to hear that the news isn't about to improve. A friend of mine (who, admittedly, has only seen the trailer of this film) accused it of having a video game aesthetic. Would that it were so accomplished and resonant. Video games can, at their best, be extremely involving, roleplaying games in particular allow you to develop a relationship with your character, oh for even a second's worth of that engagement in these two hours. This film, with your endless use of cover versions or mash ups of female fronted pop songs, doesn't so much resemble a computer game as it does one of those youtube videos in which some gamer has cut together some of their favourite moments from a game and edited them to a song they particularly like. Well done, you've made the first feature length gamers fanvid. Very, very occasionally you showcase some decent effects, but much of the time the CGI looks like it's a month away from being completed, like it needs another texture pass. This, of course, may be related to the general hideousness of the film's aesthetic. The whole thing has a sickly tint to it; green for the real world scenes, yellowish in the fantasy world, resulting in the experience of watching it being nauseating in more ways than one. Thanks for that.

It's perhaps unfair to criticise the acting in Sucker Punch, largely because I suspect your response as director will be 'acting?' The performances seem totally undirected and all have only one note; Browning simpers, Cornish is 'tough', Hudgens and Chung... erm, nope, not sure. Only Jena Malone even attempts a performance, hobbled though she is by the lack of help from you, the actors around her and the utterly broken script, still, nice that she showed up. This probably also means (well, this and the fact that he's also hammily awful in Robin Hood), that I can't blame you for Oscar Isaac's razzie baiting turn as the head orderly / pimp.

In conclusion Zack... I'm just baffled. It's SO bad. It's SO offensive. It's SO ugly. It's SO stupid. One final question, the only one in my head as I left the cinema after witnessing this titanic cinematic fiasco; what the fuck is wrong with you?

Here's the grade for your movie...
Sam Inglis

1 comment:

  1. I agree with all your points and am relieved that you being a guy are offended by this movie as much as I am. I am a young female and I feel sick and am so offended by this movie! It is rewinding all the hard work people have done to make women equal and not considered sexual objects by men. Shame on the actresses for performing in such a demeaning and disturbing film to women! I cant believe this movie can be played in a cinema today.