Those who know me could be forgiven for thinking that I’m little obsessed with talking about the movie ‘Sucker Punch,’ but it would appear that, for some opaque reason, people who watched this film and enjoyed it consists of me, and like 3 other people. Against us stands approximately 70 percent of the professional film critics and roughly the entire internet, a state of affairs which is so difficult to reconcile with the actual movie that I saw earlier this week that I feel I must speak out.
Also I am sort of an obsessive-compulsive personality, but anyway…
Following his successful and all-round sublime adaptations of Frank Miller’s ‘300’ and Alan Moore’s ‘Watchmen’ Zack Snyder seems to have finally gotten a shot at doing a project that’s his very own from the ground up, hence ‘Sucker Punch,’ production, direction and writing credits all being to himself this time.
‘Sucker Punch’ features ‘Baby Doll,’ a young and deceptively naïve woman in the 1960s condemned by her wicked stepfather to a mental asylum to clear his path to her late mother’s fortune. Not alone in being falsely committed, Baby Doll begins organizing an escape plan which she filters through layers of fantastical scenarios as a coping mechanism for herself and as an opportunity to watch women in battle armour and miniskirts slice through legions of steampunk Germans, robots and magic mecha-samurai for the rest of us.
The multiple layers of internal fantasy Baby Doll experiences are radically different from one another, rather like the dream layers from ‘Inception’ only more so, with one layer representing the archetypal players of her overall situation, and numerous others to represent her overcoming specific obstacles that stand between her and her ultimate goal. One consequence of this is the movie’s trailers were pretty incoherent, which led me to conclude that it was going to be some kind of brainless explodey, whiz-bang, fanservice-heavy action flick. I strolled into the Cineplex looking forward to this the same way I look forward to a large slice of fudge cake or a fireworks show.
The only obvious hypothesis I can conceive regarding the overwhelming negative reception of this film is that people walked into it expecting just that experience and then got upset to discover that Snyder had actually intended us to use our brains, and that this movie actually has a plot, morals and intellectual subtext, and an intense emotional arc that…well, that sucker-punched me.
A lot of people seem to be criticizing it as a ‘hot chicks in skirts shooting stuff for the arousal of male moviegoers’ pretentiously shallow film, a new generation of sexploitation flicks. Possibly I’m just a prissy idiot but I cannot for the life of me fathom how they worked that out. The degradation and sexualization of women is vilified at every turn and the mini-skirts and guns sequences, apart from being a nod to the anime films Snyder was evidently inspired by, come across as Baby Doll reclaiming herself from the aforementioned exploiters – exhibition as empowerment, as it were. And really, as fanservice, a short skirt and anime sailor suit is about as scandalous as Charlotte Bronte’s Sunday best compared to Queen Gorgo of Sparta’s ‘Designer eveningwear for the woman who never sneezes’ outfit in ‘300.’
That, admittedly, is at least somewhat subjective, and there are some people (particularly among my otherwise-beloved feminist blogosphere) who will see non-sexist intent disguised as sexist intent as proof of sexist intent and so on ad infinitum, but I see empowering characters and themes in this scenario. It also resonates with me personally since Baby Doll’s use of fantasy filters for her predicament is eerily similar to how I cope with stressful times and situations myself. Personally, I prefer a rapier to a katana, though. But I digress…
If I were going to criticize it for anything (other than having a title that’s really awkward to say more than once or twice) I’d say it was (to put it mildly) a touch derivative, but having said that it derives from the best: In the course of one movie I picked up a range of delectable flavours reminiscent of ‘Alice in Wonderland’ (a deliberate homage on Snyder’s part), ‘Inception,’ ‘Chicago,’ ‘Sailor Moon’ (yes I have watched Sailor Moon. Shut up. I was eight.), ‘the Lord of the Rings,’ and ‘the Matrix.’ It’s probably a question of where you, personally, draw the line between ‘homage’ and ‘rip-off.’
If you could wrap your mind around the plot of ‘Alice in Wonderland,’ ‘Inception,’ or, hell, ‘the Italian Job’ and are the least bit capable of willing suspension of disbelief, then the potential is there for you to enjoy this movie, but you have to go into it ready to think. As mentioned earlier, it is really intense in places (oddly enough those places aren’t the fantasy-action sequences a lot of the time), thoughtful and exhilarating. I also mentioned ‘intellectual subtext,’ and I will admit that I’m not sure how much sense I made of it my first go round, but I am sanguine that this is a genuinely intelligent movie with an underlying positive message and pretty decent applicability.
So go see it. We’re all getting lonely here in the internet, so get a move on!
“You have all the weapons you need…now fight!”