Dan: Movies that delve into someone’s psyche are tricky. Movies that delve into the psyche of someone with serious trauma and possible emotional and mental issues are even more so, for obvious reasons: The subject is challenging, the issues are complex, and trying to interpret the workings of the human mind can be confusing. It takes a lot of work to make it all come together into a coherent piece of cinema. “Sucker Punch” is a prime example of when all that goes wrong.
Coming off the success of the visually stunning and action-packed “300” and “Watchmen,” Zack Snyder both wrote and directed “Sucker Punch,” about a young woman who escapes into fantastical worlds as a coping mechanism. We start by watching her be abused by her stepfather, then get taken to a mental institution after she tries to shoot him. As the doctors are about to lobotomize her, the audience is taken into a bordello where the same girl, Babydoll, is about to begin work. It is soon discovered that Babydoll is an incredible performer: When she taps even deeper into her psyche, she becomes a stylish warrior who does battle with all kinds of monsters and enemies, and somehow, this translates into unparalleled dancing. Several other dancers take her under their wing, and eventually they start planning their escape, the keys to which Babydoll is told in her fantasies.
So the group of women bounce back and forth between the bordello world and the fantasy world, gathering the tools of a map, fire, a knife and a key. A few members of the team are lost along the way, suffering epic deaths at the hands of robots, dragons, undead Nazis and the like in the fantasy world and being shot by the brothel owner, Blue, in that world. In the end, Babydoll gets out, only to take the audience back to the mental hospital, where, though she gets lobotomized, she gets her vengeance upon the real-world Blue, implying that she has found her inner Paradise.
This sounds like a pretty awesome movie, and at times, it is. But next to none of it makes any kind of sense. Caryn, what did you think? What were your favorite and least favorite parts of this movie?
Caryn: The movie was very pretty. It had pretty special effects, pretty cinematics and pretty actresses. For all of its outward beauty, it was an ugly film. The themes and the plot were gritty, and I felt like the “prettyness” minimalized the characters’ real issues. The women who were being objectified in the psychiatric hospital and the bordello were objectified by gratuitously placed upskirt shots in the action scenes, as much as I would have liked to think they were kicking butt.
For the first hour or so of the movie, I was wondering what was even going on. Until I realized the whole thing was like a knockoff of “Inception.” I caught a hint of “Moulin Rouge,” minus Nichole Kidman’s off-pitch singing, of course. The movie completely ripped off other films. But I guess you could say that about anything.
The characters were insanely bland. While dire things were happening to them, it was a shame I couldn’t have cared more about them because I didn’t know anything about them. Too much time was spent on up-close shots of the characters’ pretty faces and not enough time was spent on actually developing them beyond that. Plot-driven films are great as long as some time is spent on the characters.
What did you find awesome and abysmal about the film?
Dan: You hit the nail on the head. Ultimately, I didn’t really care that much about the characters because … well, they didn’t really have much character. I had trouble telling half of them apart, aside from the few male characters. And those were all horrible, horrible people.
It’s weird: It looks as though the movie is trying to show female empowerment by having the girls kicking so much butt (and the action scenes are intense and awesome), but at the same time, the movie fails to make any of the characters interesting. It’s breaking the action movie mold while at the same time retaining all of the terrible things about action movies.
I get the feeling there was supposed to be a message about something with how much detail Snyder put into this movie, but it gets completely lost. Trying to follow this movie is tougher than following “Inception,” largely because we don’t really know what the stakes are. Having no connection to the characters makes the fantastical battle scenes only more confusing than they would be ordinarily. They mostly equate to just a group of people running around and killing things for 10 minutes, then transporting to another world. There are other movies that pull this off much better. What would you recommend people watch instead of “Sucker Punch”?
Caryn: I would recommend watching “Inception” if you want to have your mind blown with characters traveling through different dream worlds and dealing with their own issues on top of that. “Inception” is darker, more clever, and more thoughtful in comparison.
If you want something about girls in a psychiatric hospital, try watching “Girl, Interrupted” or read “The Bell Jar” by Sylvia Plath. You get the same amount of despair, but without the obvious objectification.
If you happen to see “Sucker Punch” on TV or in the dollar bin at Wal-Mart, just leave it there. It’s definitely not worth it.