Though it may contain enough eye-candy to cause the average viewer insulin shock, all the CGI in the world can’t save Sucker Punch from its own ridiculous premise: a sexually abused 20-year-old girl finds solace in an elaborate video-game fantasy world that involves lots of machine guns, robots and skimpy leather outfits.
Sucker Punch proves that director Zach Snyder is somehow refining the not so fine art of trashy CGI-saturated cinema. The movie is a thinly veiled excuse to string together a couple of disjointed samurai-sword-wielding sequences of over-the-top “awesomeness” with a seedy, supposedly girl-power premise about “freeing your mind,” or something to that effect.
More interesting than Snyder and co-writer Steve Shibuya’s amateurish writing is the director's beautifully absurd belief that a woman could be liberated by wandering into the mind of a 13-year-old boy.
I have no sense that Snyder detects the irony of making a movie that is critical of sexual objectification and casting it with lascivious young women in fishnets and corsets. That’s Snyder for you. After his gigantic successes with Watchmen (2009)and 300 (2007), he could have made any movie in the world for his screenwriting debut and he chose to make a weird sexploitation version of Shutter Island in which all the mental patients are kick-ass chicks with great legs and impossible eyelashes.
Because Sucker Punch technically operates on three overlapping--and equally nonsensical--realities, I’ll keep my synopsis short. A young woman (Emily Browning of (Lemony Snickets and The Univited) nicknamed Baby Doll is committed to an asylum by her incestuous stepfather after accidentally killing her younger sister. While checking Baby Doll into the mental institution, the stepfather pays an orderly (Oscar Isaac) to sign Baby Doll up for a lobotomy in five days, least she tell the police about certain goings-on. Naturally, Baby Doll is motivated to get free as soon as possible.
Without much in terms of logical transition, suddenly the mental institution is revealed to be a front for a high-class bordello where the “inmates” are actually a covey of captured erotic dancers. Don’t worry parents, instead of erotic dancing Snyder offers moviegoers gobs of violence. That’s right, whenever the music starts playing and Baby Doll has to start gyrating for older men, we are instantly transported to her “happy place,” which is apparently a series of increasingly absurd action sequences.
To Snyder’s credit the first two “fantasies” are amazing and fairly inventive in an all-out eye-assaulting kind of way. However, by the midway point, his visual excess eventually overstays its welcome--even getting a little boring, which is an odd thing to say of a scene that involves B-52s divebombing dragons.
All and all, watching Sucker Punch is like watching someone else play Call of Duty while occasionally jumping to some twisted anime about schoolgirls in prison. Snyder, who once famously antagonized the Muslim world with his cartoonish depiction of the decadent Persians in 300, is certainly going to be getting some mail from feminist institutions for this one. He deserves them, as much as the MPAA rating board deserves to do some soul searching after this affront to the ostensible purpose of the PG-13 rating.
Sucker Punch raises a lot of legitimate issues with the rating system that may be of concern to parents with younger teenagers. My advice, don’t ever trust ratings on their face value--ever.
Just a few months ago, the film Blue Valentine received an eventually overturned NC-17 rating for the sin of depicting one “emotionally intense” sex scene between two consenting--and married--adults. Yet, the weekend’s No. 2 grossing movie, pulling in about $19 million, is a titillating teen-targeted flick that opens with implied incest and moves through some stylized, and glamorized, sex slavery toward the major plot point: Baby Doll’s impending rape.
But hey, nobody takes off their corsets. The message here is that if nobody sees any nudity then there’s nothing sexually inappropriate going on.
Violence in Sucker Punch features a similar hypocrisy, that of the old “fantasy violence” loophole. These skin-bearing young ladies kill thousands of “things,” but these baddies are always orcs, cyborgs or zombies, basically anything that will let Snyder overload on violence without doing any “killing.”
My feelings toward Sucker Punch are so tied up with its absurdist and tasteless view of sex and sexuality that I have perhaps overlooked its visually inventive action-movie merits. For fans of overtly nerdy action (samurai swords), there is a lot to be enjoyed here. But it's all handled with such an air of seriousness that I can’t help but laugh off Sucker Punch as one of the most frustratingly juvenile pieces of garbage that I have ever seen. It would be thought provoking if thinking about it didn’t give me a headache.