How’d you like to watch a little boy play with his action figures? Well, some of them aren’t so much action figures as skimpy anime girl figurines, but trust me, the little boy plays with them with just as much zeal as if they had articulating joints. There’s all sorts of toys here. Little soldiers, planes, samurais, robots, zeppelins, dragons. Some of the sister’s stuff is here too: a bedazzled dance stage and a grungy old insane asylum during the dark old lobotomy days. Wait, what’s my sister doing with that one? Jesus. Barbie playsets are fucked up.
Sucker Punch is the Hot Topic teenager’s wet dream. It makes a very cute play at girl power, but it casts its girls strictly for their looks, puts them in revealing geek sex-object figurine outfits, and asks them to do things like fight giant gatling-gun-wielding samurai armor-bots with swords; gun down dozens of steampunk nazi supersoldiers; and fight through an amazingly inept robot-melee sequence which doubles as a cinematic lullaby; and suffer through melodramatic death scenes with for-reals lines like “Tell Mom I love her.” Worst of all, the movie actually asks us to swallow the concept that these ridiculous geek fantasies are somehow poetic metaphors for personal struggles in life.
At its over-the-top action sequences’ best, they play like an audition tape for a CG-saturated Heavy Metal remake (Zack’s a shoe-in). At this movie’s worst… Oh god… Words can’t express… They invented art so that people could try to put down what is so fundamentally bad in the very bones of this movie… Can I do it justice? Can I create art as a review for Sucker Punch? Fuck it. Let’s do this.
Yeah, so here it is. What the fuck? It’s not even half as campy and childish and ridiculous as Sucker Punch! Yeah, this was actually my second attempt. My first one, which had more colors but was way, way worse as art, might succeed in aping Sucker Punch more, but I’m not exactly out to duplicate the movie in illustration form. Meanwhile, you’re free to enjoy the excess, the self-indulgence, the lack of proper vanishing points or technical skill for shading. Okay good, it’s been established that MY_DRAWING is a piece of shit. Now let’s dig deep into this ugly little bastard (referring of course to MY_DRAWING).
Okay, seriously, what is all this? Random visuals displayed in fanciful detail just floating around for no reason at all? Chaos reigning in the face of any kind of discernible meaning? But wait a minute, what the fuck! No, there’s obviously a little figure in the distance on the horizon. Casting a huge shadow through the whole scene. But all of these ridiculous things – steampunk facades, dicks and boobs, strange creatures and unreal landscapes – are blocking the view, and the artist clearly is paying these things all of the attention and neglecting the thing on the horizon. Why, I wonder? Well, I’ll tell you why I did it. I did it because I’m wondering REALLY HARD why ZACK SNYDER DID IT. He’s not even making movies, he’s making dazzling penis parades. They prance around so prominently in the foreground while the filmmaker, who is completely and totally unwilling to part his camera from this little testicle pageant, decides to poke and tease and play pretend at something deeper, utilizing pungent abused-girl imagery and pretentious 4th-wall-breaking to… well… we don’t know, that’s as far as it goes. So we’re left with just this sparkly surface pageantry. If you don’t feel like spending money actually watching Sucker Punch, I’m sure you can just randomly click through DeviantArt Photoshop paintings and get about the gist of it.
I think that the illustration says more than I could with a traditional writemup – But that said, there are a few points I’d like to make the “old-fashioned way” about the Girl Power on display here and the type of filmmaking Zack Snyder’s rubbing his gen’ies all over.
Firstly, it seems clear to me that Zack Snyder, unleashed, doesn’t create a working cinematic thing so much as a disjointed graphic novel adaptation. Everything screams it about this movie. Every flaw seems to be perfectly explained by this simple fact – except that it isn’t a fact. Sucker Punch is a Zack Snyder original movie. Built from the ground-up to be a movie. And yet he has made it exactly as he did The Watchmen – by placing comic book panels into glass cases along a museum walkthrough. The lighting is bright on these little class cases and it’s neat to see such high resolution in them, and they even move around on their own. But as a cinematic emotional experience it leaves you cold. That’s mainly because it isn’t one. It’s a fucking series of jiggling comic book panels in little glass cases.
It’s almost as if Zack grew up reading Heavy Metal and comic books and just treating them like storyboards, imagining the movie in his head. Now he’s technically grown up and doing this as a career – good for him – but he’s still the little kid just playing with toys and making comic book panels move and make loud noises, all to whatever mix tape or rock radio station he happens to have on at the time. Only now he probably keeps all those action figures locked up in glass cases, collected, their fates sealed. This is, woefully, just about the only adult element in his movies – the display of each shot – like a geek showing off his exquisite limited edition miniature.
Secondly, I must talk about Baby Doll. The main character. The protagonist. The movie’s voice and the mind whose testosterone-fueled visions are the focus of the movie’s plot. The way she is written, the needs of the character in the story REQUIRE her to be insanely sexy with a staggeringly vulnerable countenance. This sort of story works perfectly for Zack because this will ensure that he and the production team must cast someone who has the right look – in order that the comic panels look perfect under the bright lights of the display glass (though finally we have come to the comic book panels that have been existing purely in Zack Snyder’s head all along). Emily Browning won’t need to do any more than that: Pose precisely, in motion, over and over, to no end other than to look super cool while doing it. Oh, we did write in a bunch of melodramatic pretense, but we’re not going to bother spending time on whatever might be under that, we’re just going to dress it up like everything else. Snyder conceives a movie that takes place inside a character’s head, but rather than build substantial fantasies that come from anything real, he just fills it up with his own boyish desserts. And Baby Doll MUST be an actual baby doll! And all the others have to be sexy as fuck, we’re going to need lots of heaving cleavage on these steampunk nazi shots.
So much for girl power. The amount of acting that has been demanded of the actors for the unbelievably shallow dramatic scenes is less than piddling. I felt like I was watching a 48-hour film festival entry. These actors are here to look pretty and kick lots of balls, and they’re also asked to act out a dark sexual melodrama, but Snyder doesn’t bother so much with this stuff, so why should they? It sucks. 13 year old boys are going to think this movie is the coolest thing ever made. In 15 years we might see a small generation of snot-nosed Zack Snyder wannabe filmmakers coming out with their movies. I’m still reeling from that stack of Tarantinos we had for a while.
Well, until then we’ll still have Zack Snyder playing with his multimillion dollar action figures (and sexy anime figurines and sister’s barbie playsets). And there’s no denying that he has some visual style, but it absolutely drowns out any hope for something substantial to come out of his films. Early in the movie we get a lot of powerful images overloaded, drunkenly stumbling to carry their heavy emotional load. We get alocholic sexually-abusive father figure images, we get domestic violence and murder, and it’s all made into a kickass pop music video? Zack Snyder movies will never resonate as long as the extent of the nuance he’s trying to express is somewhere between “cool” and “totes bad-ass.”
And yet the movie dares to make pretense that it has something to say beginning very early on, when, for a moment, the fourth wall seems to be broken and the actors in this cartoonish story come forward and claim to the audience, “wow, this is really stupid. Is this for real?”
Well, turns out, yes, yes it is, and that eerie moment of clarity adds up to nothing whatsoever. Is Snyder acknowledging that the movie is pure camp debauchery, or is he hinting that he’s up to something else? Let’s hope it’s the former, but he doesn’t deliver in either direction, not even close. Well, there is a lot of poor acting (it really isn’t the actors’ faults) and a howling attempt at a poetic ending that proves pretty well that this whole script was always a mess and never really got sorted out (apparently they reshot the same ending with a different character because everyone was so clear on what this movie had to say). For a movie about a girl struggling with demons in a mental institution, that just plain fucking sucks and as a result the movie frequently dances on the borders of being insulting and exploitative. Snyder explains in an interview with Flicks and Bits that this movie is the result of being obsessed with Heavy Metal magazine as a young lad. But there was an important piece missing, a reason beyond his age that he could not yet make Sucker Punch as we see it today. Why is that? “You go to art school, you start getting exposed to so called bigger ideas…”
Bingo. So Sucker Punch is a musical, but instead of breaking into song it breaks into absurdly over-the-top action music videos and short bursts of even more absurdly over-the-top art school pretensions of poetic truth. It’s packed to the gills with blatant Heavy Metal inspiration. It’s also really fucking bad.
“But it’s supposed to be bad” is the inevitable response. I would certainly hope not. But what about the movie’s attempts to say something at the beginning and end? What about the movie’s insistence on exploiting loaded imagery and teasing meaning that isn’t otherwise bothered with? What about the sheer amount of time spent on how oh-so-very vulnerable Baby Doll is everywhere except in her mind? On the entire asylum frame story? The movie’s constant attempt to empower women through its sub-story of breaking free of sexual imprisonment (though the actors never really get to break free of their sexy doll outfits). The entire purpose of the movie to be about escaping through fantasy rather than literally, and about fighting personal demons, and so on and so on. It’s a long movie. I’m quite sure it’s straining to say something. It doesn’t really care about what it has to say; There are too many ridiculous, nonsensical monsters parading in the foreground.