Sucker Punch

Bill and I saw Sucker Punch last week. I rarely don’t enjoy the movies that I see, and I see a lot of movies—my friend Dan works at the theater downtown. But Sucker Punch just didn’t resonate with me. I loved the fanservicey action sequences (once I realized that I should be watching it like it was an anime), and I loved the costumes, especially the 50s-era dance outfits they were wearing in the dance studio. But I thought the plot was flimsy and the characters were two-dimensional.

The actresses did a good job with what they had to work with, but they didn’t have much. Who were these girls? Were their real personalities similar in any way to the way they acted in Babydoll’s artificial reality? Basically—why should I give a shit about them, other than the fact that they’re pretty?

Honestly, I thought SP was meh. But what drives me nuts about it is the people who are completely obsessed with trying to justify why people didn’t like it. Here’s what I’ve heard so far. (Warning: Spoilers, and bad language, below the fold!)

“You’re Interrogating the Text from the Wrong Perspective!,” Iteration 1: “You didn’t like it because your expectations were too high.”

My expectations couldn’t have been lower for this movie. I hadn’t seen any of the longer trailers and didn’t know much about the film other than who the characters were, what their costumes looked like, and that there were a lot of crazy-looking fight sequences. I really wanted to enjoy this movie. I was optimistic that it would be empowering and exciting. I liked 300 and Watchmen, so I figured that regardless of what was happening, I’d like this, too. And I just… didn’t.

I’ll say this though: If you give a character a Claymore, and you feature it in your posters, then you better have her use it. I was so disappointed that Sweet Pea never used her sword, even though I did love her shotgun. That she would use her Claymore was probably my only expectation, and Snyder even fucked that up.

“You’re Interrogating the Text from the Wrong Perspective!,” Iteration 2: “You just don’t understand how metaphorical and deep it is!”

Really? Sorry, SP fans, but you can’t have it both ways. You can’t say that I was supposed to just enjoy the eye candy (like STEAMPUNK ZOMBIE NAZIS OH EM GEE!) and then say that I was supposed to engage the text of the film with an analytical eye.

I’ll be honest–I was reading the SP entry on Fandom Wank on Friday, and a lot of the discussion there made me like the movie a little bit more. But once I start thinking deeply about something, I can’t stop, and that’s dangerous with Sucker Punch, because I end up with lots of plot holes that just irk me.

I really did like how the movie came full circle, and the connection between Babydoll and Sweet Pea at the beginning was fleshed out at the end. In a way, that made the ending satisfying. It made the opening voiceover make more sense, and I think that if I watched it again, I could pick up on some more stuff. Except I don’t want to watch it again.

Because when I think about the film in an analytical way, all these plot holes appear. I wonder, if what they did really happened (and Dr. Gorski says that the fire, the stabbing, etc. did), then did Blue really take out Blondie and Amber? How on earth did Dr. Gorski not realize that Blue was forging her signature? Assuming that the institution has other doctors creates even more problems. What right do they have to order lobotomies for her patients? If Blue forged their handwriting in order to get lobotomies for their patients, why hasn’t anyone said anything? It’s pretty clear that he’s been abusing the patients for a long time, and I just don’t buy that none of the doctors know about it. If they’re turning a blind eye to it, which I’m assuming they were, would there really have been such an uproar when Dr. Gorski discovered that her signature had been forged? I don’t think so. A female psychiatrist in the 1950s, using unconventional treatment methods? Please. Not even Blue took her seriously. And the other orderlies… they obviously ratted him out, but why? That was awfully convenient of them to grow a conscience in order to save Babydoll. Again, it makes me want to know what else happened (especially to Amber and Blondie!) to bring about that change of heart, because it had to have been something drastic.

And where the hell do the cyborgs come in? This movie takes place in the 1950s, and up until that fantasy, everything is chronologically appropriate–samurai, Nazis, dragons. Babydoll is creating this reality, so where does she have exposure to know what a robot/cyborg is?

OH, and how do we know that these girls don’t belong in a mental institution? Granted, if they are mentally ill, they deserve not to be raped and abused by the orderlies, but Babydoll is an unreliable narrator. First, she creates a new reality for herself as a defense mechanism. And when that doesn’t entirely save her, she creates a 2nd reality to help her cope. The perfect example of this is when Rocket gets stabbed. Babydoll gets pulled back into her whorehouse reality when the wires spark, but jumps back into Animeland when Rocket jumps in between the cook and Sweet Pea. If she’s creating that many detailed levels of reality, Babydoll probably does need serious help.

And whose idealized version of reality would be a burlesque whorehouse? What focus group is Snyder talking to that said, “You know, when I felt threatened or powerless, I just pretended I was a prostitute! That was so empowering that I was able to overcome anything!” because that sure as hell wasn’t my experience. I’d rather jump straight to the live-action anime, thanks very much.

See what happens when I engage the text analytically? Are you sure you want me to do that?

“The DVD is going to be so much better!”

…are you fucking serious?

I’m at an age where I don’t have to pay attention to movie ratings. I don’t have children, and I’m not age-restricted to see some movies, so I just go to whatever I think looks good. I assumed that Sucker Punch was rated R, and I’m not quite sure why. Apparently it’s PG-13, and apparently they took a bunch of stuff out to keep it from being an R-rated movie, no doubt so that they could get money from the 14-17 drooling fanboy demographic. But I think it would have been a more effective movie if it had the violence/swearing/seriousness to make it an R-rated film. The movie deals with a few issues–rape, institutional abuse, saving one’s identity–in ways that don’t convey how important or serious those issues are. An icepick lobotomy isn’t something you should brush off lightly, but I don’t think there was really anything in the film that conveyed how threatening this really was to Babydoll. A lot of that goes to the lack of character/plot development.

I hope that whatever’s included in a Director’s Cut DVD fleshes out the characters more. I’ve heard that there are some more moments of actual reality that they’re going to include, and that’s fine I guess, as long as it develops the characters. I didn’t have any trouble getting that they weren’t actually prostitutes, but then again, I completely understood Inception the first time I saw it and wondered what the hell everyone else was confused about. That’s another complaint I’ve seen–“you just didn’t understand the levels of reality!”–and even though I did, if I hadn’t, that would have been Snyder’s fault for failing to adequately delineate the lines between fantasy and reality.

But at any rate, “The DVD is going to be better” is not an adequate response to my complaints about the theatrical cut. You have no evidence that the DVD is going to be better. It might include better world-building and character development, or it might just be some more Animeland fight scenes.

In the end, Sucker Punch was extremely unsettling to me. I hated how lightly things like attempted rape and icepick lobotomies were treated. I never got the sense that Zack Snyder really understood the inherent horrors of being involuntarily committed to an insane asylum, being abused and helpless, or dealing with rape attempts on a regular basis. People actually experience(d) that type of abuse in mental institutions, and abusers actually used the justification of “She’s not really here. It doesn’t matter what I do to her.” People were actually lobotomized with icepicks. And instead of treating those things as serious threats, Snyder used them as throwaway plot devices to “empower” his characters, the same way that comic writers often use rape to motivate female characters to action. The icepick lobotomy made me nauseated; just setting it up at the beginning of the film made me feel ill, and throughout the end of the movie, I felt distraught. The scene with Sweet Pea at the bus station was the only thing that made me feel okay. And probably my favorite scene was when Babydoll kicked that guy in the balls. You could tell that was actually happening, and it was awesome. But the horrors of the attempted rapes, sexual harassment, and lobotomy outweighed the rest of the film for me. (And is that an icepick in the S in the logo? Looks like it. TEE HEE ICEPICK LOBOTOMIES ARE FUN. ARRGGGH. *stab*)

Oh, and Jon Hamm was awesome. As soon as I saw him, I laughed and thought, “Of course he’d be the high roller!” I feel like he kind of stole the show, which is sad considering he had maybe three minutes of overall screentime.

Even the Animeland fight sequences were a little disappointing, primarily because they were repetitive. Bill says he started to doze off during one of them, and he was more excited about hot girl fight sequences than I was.. There was no doubt that the girls would succeed, because they were too powerful not to. Even when Rocket died, they succeeded.

The ending credits sequence was extremely jarring to me. I would have loved to have seen that in the movie, but its placement at the end of the film seemed inappropriate. The protagonist has just been lobotomized, and she just barely escaped being raped. I hardly think that’s an appropriate time for her would-be rapist to sing a light-hearted song with the doctor who was trying to help her, and who busted him. :\

When I look at the promo posters now, with the girls in their awesome, ass-kicking costumes, I get a little sad. I don’t feel like I know who any of them are. The movie had so much potential, and it just… failed. I would have preferred a completely unrealistic movie that took place in the Animeland world to the triggery mess I sat through last Thursday night.

I’m still looking forward to seeing the cosplay groups, though. Just because I didn’t like a movie doesn’t mean I didn’t like parts of it, and it doesn’t mean that I don’t understand why you’d want to costume as one of those characters. You can bet that I’ll be in the big group of photographers snapping pictures. (Amber ended up being my favorite, because she piloted all the vehicles and was awesome. I liked Blondie, too, but only in the Animeland sequences.) I loved the costumes and the make-up (even all those false eyelashes), and I enjoyed the fight sequences… really, it’s not all that different from how I feel about Episode I now. Amidala’s Throne Room dress is one of my favorite costumes in the entire SW saga, but I’m not crazy about the movie. See? You can like some aspects without liking the whole film. I just wish the diehards would understand that and stop telling me that I’m doing it wrong.

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