Liz Tells Frank What Happened In “Sucker Punch”
About two months ago, it got programmed into my brain that I wanted to see Sucker Punch, Zach Snyder’s “first original film” — in part because I’m a sucker for anything that might promise to be a girl power epic, and in part because I have a strange residual fondness for 300. (Not entirely because of this, but, yeah.) Combine that residual goodwill with the fact that American film is currently experiencing a drought of original premises and I like to support the ones that do make it into theaters, and you end up with me giving Zack Snyder my money on Sunday night.
Let’s end the mystery right here, Frank — if the movie had been great, I wouldn’t be writing this, and this installment wouldn’t be filled with SPOILERS. Read with caution.
Sucker Punch starts off by introducing a young girl only known as Baby Doll, who gets sent to a mental asylum by her evil stepfather after the death of her mother. (This movie does not deal in subtleties.) In the mental institution, she meets a pack of girls with whom she teams up for an escape attempt — because in five days, thanks to her stepfather bribing an orderly, she’s getting lobotomized.
What then happens? Here you go (again, SPOILERS): The girls try their best to break out, but pretty much fail. Three of them are murdered, Don Draper lobotomizes Baby Doll, and it’s only the girl known as Sweet Pea who manages to escape the asylum, taking a bus back home to Mother. THE END. Shortest Liz Tells Frank ever! Hooray!
“But Liz!” you say. “What about the totally bad-ass steampunk/fantasy/sci-fi/samurai sequences I saw in the trailer? Isn’t this movie a totally insane and awesome hybrid of the fantastic?”
NOPE. Here’s the deal. Almost as soon as she enters the asylum, Baby Doll starts imagining that instead of an asylum, she’s being held captive in a cabaret/brothel — the other patients being her fellow dancers/whores, their doctor the dance instructor/madam, and the orderly their pimp/pimp.
Casting notes: The girls are varying levels of famous and attractive, the doctor/madam is played by Carla Gugino, who is as always SUPERSUPERHOT, and the orderly/pimp is played by some guy I’ve never heard of before, but more importantly NOT played by David Krumholtz, which I found super-confusing the entire time because LOOK AT HIM:
Anyways, it’s in the brothel fantasy that Baby Doll starts planning the escape attempt, which involves them stealing various items (a map, a lighter, a knife, and a key) from the orderlies. Her plan is, in every instance, “I will dance sexy and distract dudes and then one of you go steal what we need.”
Not only is it bad planning, it is boring planning, which is why every time Baby Doll starts to dance we go a fantasy level deeper (that’s right, like Inception, except stupid), to some awesome/dumb scenario that the girls need to beat like a video game.
I say awesome/dumb above because if you said to me, Liz, would you like to watch a movie where heavily-armed young women fight a dragon, or some super-sized samurai, or steam-powered WWI zombies, or a train car of robots on one of Saturn’s moons, of course I would say yes. But we’re not inside my brain, we’re inside Baby Doll’s brain, and because we know absolutely NOTHING about her as a character, we have no idea why Baby Doll’s second layer of fantasies manifest as a pastiche of a century’s worth of science fiction.
All of these fantasy sequences, by the way, are introduced by Scott Glenn, who appears in Baby Doll’s fantasy world as a mentor/positive representation of the patriarchy, because every woman in this movie is ultimately dependent on the patriarchy for salvation– Oh, man, I just wrote patriarchy twice in the same sentence. Deep breaths, Liz. Deep breaths.
I will spare you the heavily feminist elements of my critique, Frank, except to say that boy, I’m glad of another reminder that women can only be strong and powerful if their navels are exposed, and always require rescuing by a man.
Because here is this film’s fatal flaw, which our friend Jeff essentially pointed out a few weeks ago with the following Facebook status post: “Ladies, help me out. If you escaped into a magical fantasy world of your own creation, would you dress yourself like the girls from Sucker Punch do?”
Not a single one of those who responded said “A sailor suit with thigh-highs? You bet!” In fact, many respondees seemed to idolize, to some extent, Trinity from The Matrix, whose femininity was never compromised by relatively sensible wardrobe choices. (Trinity wore sweaters on the Nebuchandezzer! During their off time, the girls of Sucker Punch wear leotards, heels and tights.)
Anyways. I will admit that while Sucker Punch is flawed, it’s flawed in really interesting ways — the script is a mess, but it’s competently made and there is a lot of imagination on display; it’s hardly a Battlefield Earth-level disaster. But honestly, I’d have rather seen the exploitation version of this movie — the Showgirls edition, if you will — than the weird hybrid of good intentions and terrible execution that has ultimately failed creatively and financially.
Because, really, there was no way for this film to truly succeed without Zack Snyder understanding one basic fact: The strongest feminist statement you can make as a filmmaker these days? Create a female character who isn’t just an outfit, but a person.