5 April 2011


I like Zack Snyder. I don't think he makes guilty pleasure films, except for maybe 300- I think he makes visually exciting and generally very well-made adaptations. Dawn of the Dead, Watchmen, Legend of the Guardians and yes, 300 too, are all fine adaptations from what you could call difficult source material, in terms of their baggage if not in terms of their suitability for the screen.

While Snyder might be amongst the best in the business for adaptations, his new film Sucker Punch is all his, and so his visionary side takes a lemming-like leap into the depths of narrative incoherence. Baby Doll is a 20 year old girl who is left with her younger sister and her abusive stepfather when her mother passes away. When the stepfather attempts to rape the sister, Baby Doll snaps and he commits her to an insane asylum, on the fast track for a lobotomy. She then retreats inside her own mind in order to go on an epic quest to secure her own freedom.

Not everyone hates Sucker Punch. That's gonna surprise certain film fans, who should by now be familiar with the vitriol that has greeted this film since its release in the States a couple of weeks ago. Unfortunately, the audience with whom it's most successful is made up of males aged 13-25, an audience who are not exactly poorly served by the cinema of delights such as Transformers. Worse still, Zack Snyder has been telling anyone who'll listen that this is a story of female empowerment.

Female empowerment is a thorny subject. Last week, I read a blog post by filmmaker and Nostalgia Chick Lindsay Ellis, who speculated that even women now find it difficult to write their own gender because female characters are judged more stringently than male characters. Ellis contrasts Robert Langdon, a vacuous mush of a character created by Dan Brown, with Bella Swan, a vacuous mush of a female character created by Stephanie Meyer. The gender distinction is there in popular criticism, and as I'm not a woman, it makes it all the more difficult to talk about why I don't think Sucker Punch works from a position whereby certain women won't get angry and certain men won't call me some kind of Democrat.

Here's the very simple maths of why it lost me. Emily Browning, Abbie Cornish, Jena Malone, Vanessa Hudgens and Jamie Chung are our leads, and they're all very attractive young women. I don't phrase it like that from the position of someone trying to be diplomatic about gender equality, but from the position of someone who was utterly disinterested in the film. The reason? Their characters are all objectified by Snyder's lens, and it's as objects that they're on a par with Charles Foster Kane's sledge, or the One Ring, or any other narrative object that would be as difficult to root for if we were expected to empathise.

And so as these sexy young ladies plough through a cavalcade of admittedly gorgeous action sequences, involving undead Nazis, robots, samurai, dragons and fighter planes, it's deceptively boring. It's like a picture of a beautiful woman- a representation of what is good looking about that person, but without any personality. More than that, it is extraordinarily contrived, taking on a fetch quest mechanic that really would have made it more suitable for a video game endeavour by Snyder rather than a movie.

The imagined reality angle has led some to compare the film to Inception as both a negative or a positive comparison, depending on if they disliked the film or if they're 13 years old. To me, I was reminded of Scott Pilgrim vs. the World, if only because this is a succession of video game setpieces, but sans any hint of humanity. It is lifeless in a way that Edgar Wright's film was not, and the distinction between them should be greater than it will probably end up. This one's really more like Repo! The Genetic Opera, an overrated film with a much greater cult following than Sucker Punch will ever accrue.

In all fairness to Snyder, his film was hobbled slightly by poor test screenings, which led to studio interference with the final cut. Although an even longer musical version of this film doesn't sound too appealing to me, I can at least appreciate that this ain't entirely what Snyder wanted to do. For another thing, movies have more financial taboos about their ratings system than video games, and Sucker Punch is further crippled in its grislier aspects by the 12A certificate. There are about five or six attempted rapes in the film, and in order to avoid a higher rating, that's an act which only becomes as threatening or as damaging as walking towards someone slowly with a creepy grin.

There's only so much damage that could have been done to Sucker Punch by the studio, because I struggle to pinpoint the salvageable stuff in this indefensible folly. The cinematic visuals can only make for a plot as absorbing as a music video, when combined with shonky dialogue and plot twists and dreadful sexual politics that are nigh on unforgivable in a film trumpeted as a piece of female empowerment. It's a piece of something, alright. It's a catastrophic misstep that, whether intentionally or not, values upskirt shots far above character development, and it's an embarrassment to all concerned.

Sucker Punch is now playing in cinemas nationwide.
If you've seen Sucker Punch, why not share your comments below?

I'm Mark the mad prophet, and until next time, don't watch anything I wouldn't watch.

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