Certain formulas just seem fool proof. Like, for example, hot girls in tiny skirts kicking ass. What could possibly go wrong? Taken individually each of these components is fantastic. Hot girls? Yes. Tiny skirts? Hell, yes. Kicking ass? Yes, please, may I have another? Yet when the three components come together in Sucker Punch the result is a big, loud, misogynistic mess that in the end is possibly the worst sin in cinema – boring.
Many of us, me very much included, were excited about the prospect of a big-budget action movie helmed by an ensemble of five women. Female-fronted action films are few and far between as is. So how the trailers made us hope against hope that these young heroines could join the ranks of Ripley and Sarah Connors and that yellow track-suited badass herself, The Bride.
But, instead, director Zack Snyder has given us a derivative jumble of every other action movie you’ve ever seen, mixed in with Inception and an un-ironic dash of Showgirls. The plot – which is using that term in only the loosest possible sense – revolves around a young woman named only Babydoll (Emily Browning), who is hauled off to a mental institution by her wicked stepfather after her mother dies. To escape her fate, she dreams of being in an alternate reality, which turns out to be a whorehouse where the girls are forced to dance for shady clients.
And to escape that fate, she fantasizes about being in increasingly absurd battle zones where she must fight a variety of even more absurd foes. Basically, it’s dream within a dream within a videogame.
Joining Babydoll at the asylum and all the levels of Lara Croft: Fetish Raider are Sweat Pea (Abbie Cornish) and her sister Rocket (Jena Malone), Blondie (Vanessa Hudgens) and Amber (Jamie Chung). The effort Snyder and co-writer Steve Shibuya put into character development extended only as far as each girl’s nickname and their bondage battlegear. In the fight fantasies, the girls are guided by a Wise Man (no, that’s really his name) played by Scott Glenn who drops fortune-cookie advice bombs on them before each mission like, “Don’t ever write a check with your mouth that your ass can’t cash.” Yes, someone got paid cash money to write that.
Also along for the ride in this whole sordid mess are the wasted Carla Gugino, as the head of the asylum/brothel, who struts around in spiked heels with an accent that seems more appropriate for hunting “Moose and Squirrel.” And then, inexplicably, Jon Hamm appears in a small role. Don Draper would not approve.
Snyder, the man behind 300 and Watchmen, has never met a green-screen slo-mo action sequence he didn’t want to take behind the middle school and get pregnant. In Sucker Punch he gives us an orgy of action which never truly satisfies. Instead it’s shockingly familiar. First, she’s in Kill Bill with samurai sword and roundhouse kicks. Then they’re in The Hindenburg with steampunk zombies.
Then, somehow, they pop into The Lord of the Rings to fight cast-offs from the Orc army and, why not, a dragon. And finally she’s in The Terminator fighting shiny robots on Saturn – or something. Only the first sequence, with Browning alone against what appear to be giant demon Samurai warriors, delivers something resembling a visceral thrill.
And we haven’t even begun to discus the nearly half a dozen allusions to or out-right attempts at rape and the continual threat of lobotomy. Women folk, they’re best when they’re terrorized. Am I right, Zack Snyder?
But it’s not just that the film has terrible dialogue and underdeveloped character and sexist fetishism and non-existent narratives that makes it so bad. It’s that it takes itself so seriously while doing so. Snyder actually thinks he has delivered the ultimate fanboy fantasy. Make no mistake, this film is aimed at 14-year-old fanboys and 14-year-old fanboys at heart. Young women may be the leads, but they’re never actually empowered. Just because you give a girl a gun, it doesn’t make her a heroine. A heroine owns her power and controls her own destiny.
The women of Sucker Punch are allowed to do neither. They’re pretty marionettes on strings being jiggled about for someone else’s enjoyment.