3/25/2011

More Like A Sucker's Bet

There is probably nothing new I can add to the discussion about Sucker Punch that A.O. Scott, Annalee Newitz and Andrew O'Hehir haven't already said. But I've never allowed that to stop me before, and why start now?

My expectations going into this movie were pretty low. I am not what one might call a Zack Snyder aficionado. His films are all style, no substance, and nothing I had seen or read about Sucker Punch did anything to alter my perception.

So it would be unfair to say I was disappointed in Snyder's latest offering. It was, in fact, exactly what I knew it was going to be. Vapid and emotionless, but damn pretty to look at.

I believe all three reviews linked to above compare many aspects of Sucker Punch to video games, and while that is not an entirely inappropriate comparison, it is also somewhat insulting to video games. I was playing video games 15 years ago that had more compelling characterization and plot than this insanely expensive trifle of a movie, to say nothing of the current generation of games with even more complex gameplay and storytelling.

Yes, there are moments during Sucker Punch where you just want to grab control of the gamepad and start button-mashing. Numerous moments, in fact. Who wouldn't want to take control of a scantily-clad schoolgirl armed with a ninja sword and hack-n-slash your way through hordes of WWI German zombie soldiers or battle a dragon in air-to-air combat while piloting a gunship?

But the really good games provide some sort of context through which you grow to care about your characters, but Sucker Punch can't even be bothered to try to make us care.

Our protagonists (to call them heroines would be inaccurate) all have ridiculous code names like "Baby Doll" and "Sweet Pea." They have no personalities, or they all share the same one: scared, sniveling little girls in one reality and hardcore monster killers in another. They're interchangeable, like most eye candy is in Hollywood these days.

Speaking of realities, and not that it matters so much, because, really, no one is going to see this movie for its plot, but the vast majority of this movie doesn't matter at all. Because none of it is real (within the confines of what the film establishes as "reality" in the beginning). (Also, I suppose, *Spoiler Alert*, but, again, no one cares.)

Baby Doll's mother dies, ostensibly murdered by the wicked stepfather who wants her fortune, but the sneaky minx went and left all her money to her daughters instead, darn it all to heck. So the stepfather figures the girls have to die, too, right? Only Baby Doll tries to fight back. And fails. Her sister is killed, and the stepfather blames it on her. He then commits her to an asylum for the criminally insane. Apparently no one bothered to ask Baby Doll what happened or gave her a psych evaluation. Nope, off to the looney bin she goes, with a lobotomy waiting for her. (Do they even still do lobotomies anymore?)

No sooner does Baby Doll get locked up that she withdraws inside her own mind, where instead of a psych hospital, she's trapped in a whorehouse, because that's somehow worse. Or better. Or something.

And all the whores learn ballet. They're taught to dance for their clients. But we never actually see any of the girls dance. We only hear about it. Because as soon as Baby Doll starts her apparently hypnotic gyrating, we're sucked into yet another imaginary world, one filled with the aforementioned zombie soldiers and dragons.

See, to escape the insane asylum, Baby Doll makes up a whorehouse to hide in, and then to escape the whorehouse, she makes up these other worlds where she and the other girls are scantily-clad ass-kicking super soldiers. Or something. Why she didn't go straight from the nuthouse to the ass-kicking, I don't know. There doesn't seem to really be a point to the whorehouse. Or any of it, really.

For a film that is probably supposed to be some kind of feminist, empowering, pro-women fable, I don't understand why Baby Doll is imagining herself and the other girls wearing ultra-short skirts and tiny, cleavage-baring tops. I guess she's trying to "own" her sexuality? But it really just comes off as kind of creepy. It's like Zack Snyder made a masturbatory pseudo-feminist fantasy for guys.

Or I could be wrong. Do women fantasize about killing robots while wearing tiny schoolgirl outfits?

I mean, if the movie at least tried to play up the camp, if there was the occasional wink at the audience, that'd be one thing, but it's played completely straight throughout the entire ridiculous movie. You cannot make a movie like this without knowing how silly it is, and to not play up the silliness is perhaps the film's biggest flaw.

But definitely not its only flaw.

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