Sucker Punch Movie Review

I’m a strong believer in geek-pride. Sure, we lack the upper body strength to do a single pull up, but we certainly make up for it with our genius intellect and limitless creativity. But every once in a while, something terrible will come around that makes me hang my head in shame as a self-proclaimed geek. That something terrible has a name…and it is Sucker Punch.

The bulk of Sucker Punch is told through the fantasies of a young woman known only as Babydoll (Emily Browning). After the tragic death of her wealthy mother and younger sister, Babydoll is shipped away to The Lennox House for the Mentally Insane by her villainous stepfather who has his eyes set on his dead wife’s will. With the assistance of a paid orderly, the greedy stepfather manages to score some forged paperwork that gets Babydoll moved to the top of the lobotomy list. To cope with the harsh reality that surrounds her, Babydoll imagines the insane asylum to be a mob owned brothel. For some ridiculous reason she turns all of the mental patients, including herself, into burlesque dancers and part time prostitutes. But this fantasy still doesn’t satisfy our troubled protagonist needs. For every time she performs her erotic dance routine, Babydoll imagines herself battling demonic samurai warriors, massive fire-breathing dragons, zombie Nazis, and…of course…robots. As the date of her lobotomy approaches, Babydoll and her small group of female crazies (Abbie Cornish, Jena Malone, Venessa Hudgens, and Jamie Chung) set in motion a plan that will hopefully result in their escape and eventual freedom.

As a whole the film feels like a bunch of poorly strung together action scenes without any real plot or character development. The cast of young actresses aren’t given much to work with. Their motivations and personalities are about as present in the film as they are on film’s paper posters. Babydoll is the only character given a back story but the origins of her bizarre fantasies are never fully explained. But I’m sure anyone who’s interested in Sucker Punch at all isn’t interested in the film’s pathetic attempt at a plot or weak character arcs. What they truly want to know about are the outlandish visuals and the over the top action sequences. One of the few positive things I can say about Sucker Punch is that it’s pretty. From the cast to the production design, Sucker Punch is a gorgeous film to watch in high definition. But these stunning visuals are quickly forgotten when the shortcomings of the film’s script become so transparent. The action scenes, like the rest of the film, are beautiful but dull. Because they all take place within Babydoll’s head, no feeling of actual risk is formed. How can I worry about the safety of the main characters when I know their foes are nothing more than figments of Babydoll’s overactive imagination?

Most critics argued that Sucker Punch is all style and no substance. I don’t necessarily agree with that. Much like his previous work, Zack Snyder loves to tackle huge themes but chooses to disguise them as mindless geek spectacles. On the surface, 300 was a romanticized version of the Battle of Thermopylae. With its slow motion action sequences and greased up cast, general audiences failed to see 300‘s championing of Western Society over Islamic Fundamentalism. Watchmen‘s plot was a simple murder mystery surrounding a group of retired costumed adventurers, but instead was an sociopolitical allegory that used common superhero archetypes to represent opposing philosophies. Believe it or not, Sucker Punch does the same and explores some very heavy themes about women in pop culture. The film was advertised as a ridiculous action film that spewed from the mind of a thirteen year old boy. Living up to the film’s given title, director Zack Snyder promised geek porn and instead attempted to deliver an attack on the rise of raunch feminism in today’s society. What’s sad is that the film ultimately fails at both.

Babydoll is the embodiment of a young woman growing up in today’s culture. Like anyone of any gender, Babydoll turns towards fantasy as a means of escape but the problem lies with the way women are depicted in any genre of entertainment. Female characters are generally one dimensional and often treated as an object. They are nothing more than mere trophies that male heroes seek to gain. Very little female protagonists exist and the few that do just happen to be treated as simple sex objects. The most famous female super hero is Wonder Woman who’s early stories were simple bondage fantasies. The most iconic female character in the video game world is Lara Croft, who was given ridiculous proportions to keep male gamers interested. The film genre is no exception. Selene (Kate Beckinsale) of the horror/action film series Underworld is forced to wear tight latex and leather when she goes into battle with werewolves. Babydoll embraces everything that came before her and becomes an overly sexualized action hero, believing that this method will lead to success in a male dominated world. Without spoiling too much of the film, Babydoll realizes that this tactic doesn’t work and in turn relies on other women to achieve her goals. Getting breast implants isn’t feminism. Women rallying together to achieve equality is feminism. But this idea is never successfully conveyed by the movie’s ending. Instead of being set in a contemporary world where Babydoll has been exposed to decades of this negative female imagery, Snyder’s film takes place during the 1960’s. Making it a period piece completely prevents the audience from drawing a connection between modern pop culture and Babydoll’s fantasy worlds. The film’s climax and Babydoll’s fate aren’t explored enough to successfully renounce the rest of the movie’s seemingly enjoyment of female exploitation.

Sucker Punch mimics the rhetorical style of Mathew Vaughn’s Kick-Ass. Violence as depicted in media is under constant attack by conservatives who believe that action movies and video games encourage young adults to do as they see. Vaughn’s film showcased characters that actually lived and breathed that very argument right wingers were expressing, and the result completely deflates that theory. The events and characters in Kick-Ass are so ridiculous that one can’t accept that people are dumb enough to copy what they see in film. Zack Snyder’s Sucker Punch attempted to do the same with modern feminism. Dressing up like a sexy school girl isn’t the correct path towards equality. But this positive message is buried beneath weak storytelling and distracting visuals. Nice try Snyder. I applaud what you were trying to do…it’s a shame that you just couldn’t do it this time around.

 

Final Score: 3 out of 10

1.5 / 5 stars      

David McMillin

David McMillin

Film / Graphic Novel Reviewer

David writes movie and graphic novel reviews at That’s It Guys.