Friday, March 25, 2011

“If you don’t stand for something, you’ll fall for anything.” This is one of the ironic quotes from “wise man” or Sergeant in charge Scott Glenn during one of the many fantasies inside a fantasy in Zack Snyder’s incomprehensible colossal inadvertent disaster pic, Sucker Punch. He seems to have fallen, and fallen hard…

I believe Snyder attempted to stand for something with this movie. Having met him and gone on a nature walk talking philosophy with the guy, I can say he certainly isn’t a hater of women. I believe him to be a thoughtful film geek who wants to effect the world with his movies. This makes it all the more disappointing that the auteur director allowed Sucker Punch–which could have been a glorious tour de force message movie of visual splendor about the expected sexualization of women in today’s action films–to devolve into a movie that gives new meaning to the term “battle porn”. It brings misogyny and objectification of women to new heights in what amounts to a two hour rape fantasy, all with a teen-viewable PG13 rating.

The plot, such as it is, follows an anime-schoolgirl miniskirt and midriff wearing 20 year old who is wrongly institutionalized in a pre-reform asylum by her lecherous stepfather, the first of an endless stream of obese, red-faced, doughy, sweating, wannabe rapists in the movie, for the death of her younger sister whom she was trying to protect. The first few minutes, to the strains of “Sweet Dreams (are made of this)”, we are introduced to the fresh hell of her internment, the improbably exposed and busty female lead psychiatrist Dr. Gorski, the head orderly (another pervert), and the other inmates. That’s all we see of reality until the last few minutes of the movie, and that’s where the real trouble (both in the film and the script) starts. She sees her stepfather bribing the head orderly to have her lobotomized in only a few days.

She then inexplicably chooses a sexual fantasy in which to couch her new situation, that of a bordello filled with sex slaves. Are we to believe she is already being subjected to such horrors that she has retreated into this fantasy to escape?

The bordello is run with an iron fist by proprietor “Blue” (who is in reality the corrupt orderly), where she, now dubbed “Baby Doll”, and the other girls are forced to dance and “pleasure” the visitors. In this reality she likens the impending lobotomy to being given by Blue to a regular named “the high roller” to be deflowered. She decides to escape, and asks 4 other girls to join her, the real names of whom we never learn, but in her fantasy sport the equally porntastic monikers Sweet Pea, Rocket, Blondie, and Amber. They are all outfitted in what looks like some slut’s steampunk trunkful of vintage 50s Frederick’s of Hollywood underwear, and eye makeup that would outlash Tammy Faye Baker.

It’s unclear if this layer of reality is the metaphor for the sexualization and objectification often prevalent in society and mirrored in movies, but without laying the groundwork of any character development or consistent or comprehensible plot, it is empty of meaning and seems only masturbatory and gratuitous in the extreme.

The first time she’s asked to dance by Dr…err, Madame Gorski, she retreats further into the second layer of fantasy where she finds the secret of what she needs to escape, all courtesy of the “wise man”. She discovers all men are frozen in some sort of pre-orgasmic hypnosis whenever she dances, so that’s how she and the girls start hatching their escape plan. We are never witness to the dancing, but it must be pretty spectacular…Anyway, she distracts while they act, and each dance takes her and the audience to some wonderland world of Kick-asstopia, where the girls fight dragons, WW1 zombie nazis, & mechanized monsters and obtain something else they need to escape from the bordello/asylum.

The problem is, during the albeit gorgeous CGI sequences of ultraviolet assault none of us as viewers have been given reason to give two flying figs whether any of these girls live or die, other than to continue seeing Baby Doll’s pouty lips, or the girls tote guns and bend over in their bustiers or leap and twirl in slomo and land like Akira or River in Joss Whedon’s Serenity. (By the way, this movie should by comparison alone completely absolve Whedon of the Dollhouse hate).

During the brothel fantasy sequences, that hopeless oppressive place her mind goes, are we meant to make positive parallels to the sexual power women have in society and can use at will? Yuck! Even taken as just a visual trip every girl and a fair share of enlightened men in the audience will feel so squirmy by these girls’ entrapment and forced whoredom, they can’t begin to enjoy the peepshow.

There’s not a fine line but the San Andreas fault between reverential and derivative in this movie that mashes up video games, the Matrix, Inception, a Pussycat Dolls video, Sky Captain & the World of Tomorrow, Japanese Anime, Sin City, Kill Bill, Brazil…

There are a few dim positive lights of the movie…the soundtrack, some of which is sung by lead actress Emily Browning, and the costumes, which are a study in glittery over-the-top steampunk slutwear, the acting, which is more a study in trying to make something out of nothing. They have so little to work with, it becomes painful to watch. They cannot be blamed for not trying valiantly to individuate themselves without any help from the script.

The deepest fantasy sequences in otherworldly battlegrounds are a feast for the eyes, and show why Zack Snyder keeps being given such free creative reign. We can only hope that if or when he works again, he is at the directing helm, not at a word processor. The movie will get his best vision without the detriment of his hubris.

Note to the makers of the upcoming Superman (for which he has been hired), and Snyder himself:
Honey. Just shush and direct someone else’s lines.

By the time we reach the largely predictably dark ending of Sucker Punch I was fairly begging for my own lobotomy. Even a bloody poke in the eye would have been more welcome than another minute of this cinematic train wreck.

If Snyder was trying to use his huge visionary talent and the platform of a CGI action flick to bring awareness to continued stereotypes and objectification of women in film and in society, he failed so miserably one wonders whether anyone else will ever get a chance to express that message again in film. He didn’t follow the advice the “wise man” offered later in the movie, “Don’t let your mouth write a check your ass can’t cash”. Did he ultimately sell out for a PG13 rating, removing what might have given the movie a more coherent or cohesive hardcore feminist message? Or is that message just another fantasy and the whole movie is just an excuse for a heretofore unprecedented nauseating reduction of women to whores with guns? You can’t tear down how people see things and hand them tasty cotton candy at the same time.

How could he have gotten his message across and made this movie what it should or could have been?

I won’t call myself a coward if I just say that’s not my job. I’m not the one throwing the punches. I’m just one poor sucker reeling from the blow.