Sucker Punch: the Palmer Take

As I mentioned in a previous blog, I have been much entertained at seeing the dreadful dreadful reviews for Zack Snyder’s new movie Sucker Punch.  So I thought I’d check it out for myself.

And this is what I thought: it’s fantastic.  It’s action packed, thrilling, visually extraordinary and daringly imaginative.  And I don’t at all accept Anne Billson’s argument that the women in it all wear porno fetish wear.  The heroine Babydoll (played by 23-year old Australian actress Emily Browning) has pig tails and has a school uniformy kind of outfit, reminscient of Britney Spears in that video. And the other girls in her crew wear leather and carry guns, but we’re not talking Halle Berry in Catwoman here. It’s superhero garb, nothing more.  And the fact that the heroine (whose character is 20 years old) dresses like a schoolgirl isn’t necessarily sinister.  Buffy was a schoolgirl too, remember!  And the school uniform thing evolved as a party-goer’s  fad, a knowing joke by consenting adults,  it’s not a paedophile fantasy.   

Here’s Babydoll:

Sucker Punch

Silly, yes. Pervy?  I don’t think so.

So essentially what we have is a Charlie’s Angels set up where Babydoll and her crew (Sweet Pea, Rocket, and Blondie) fight assorted enemies.  And it’s bravura stuff.   The wrinkly Wise Man played by Scott Glenn briefs Babydoll on her assignment; she has to acquire four objects and solve a mystery to save the day.  And each time she has to fight a CGI enemy of a dastardly nature. 

First it’s three samurai robot giants, who Babydoll fights solo.  Then she and the crew have to get a map by invading a First World War type bunker inhabited by zombie Germans.  Then they’re on an alien planet trying to defuse a bomb on a train.  And there’s another big setpiece too, the details of which have flown out of my fickle memory; but that was fab too!  We’re talking movie-as-computer-game here.  There’s no characterisation, no subtlety, just kick ass glory; Snyder is like a jazz saxophonist improvising riffs, and even if you can’t tell what the melody is, it’s still sublime.  Babydoll leaps and kicks and uses a sword and gun with equal panache and the camera flies here and there – bliss!  This is why I love Snyder; he pushes the boundaries of the visual, just as the Wachowskis did way back when with The Matrix.

So that’s what I think about Sucker Punch.  But here’s another take on what I think about Sucker Punch.

It’s SHITE. It’s incoherent, stupid, horribly grey and visually boring, badly acted, and ineptly conceived.  The women are all whores – and possibly feeble-minded.   And here’s the worst thing about the movie – BEWARE MAJOR SPOILER AHEAD – and it comes in the finale - when Babydoll is lobotomised, and enjoys it!  Yup, girls love to be lobotomised! Who’d have thought it, eh! 

I mean, what kind of out-of-touch-with-reality geek would believe a thing like that?

By this point you may have discerned that there’s a Jekyll and Hyde quality to this critique.  I love this film; and I hate this film.  That’s because Synyder has made TWO DIFFERENT FILMS, loosely joined together. 

Film 1 is an action movie in which Babydoll and her crew fight real enemies that exist in some kind of imaginative space.  Think The Matrix or even Inception and you’ll see how interesting that could have been.  You’ve got five women fighting evil that manifests in ways that traverse a variety of iconographies – from giant samurai robots to zombie Krauts.  It’s like an anime movie crossed with Kim Newman’s The Bloody Red Baron (which features vampires in World War I) crossed with Kill Bill (which also features a kick ass character in school girl clothes) crossed with Mission Impossible crossed with – well, it’s got EVERYTHING in there.  And that’s a movie I’d loved to have seen; and indeed, DID see. 

But Snyder and his co-writer Steve Shibuya decided it wasn’t enough to be kickass cool; they also wanted to be clever.  So the action movie segments only exist as, in effect, a dream dreamed by Babydoll.  In “reality” Babydoll is wrongly incarcerated in a mental home by her evil stepfather (after a stunning opening sequence played out to the sounds of the Eurythmic’s Sweet Dreams).  Babydoll then discovers that when she dances, she dreams – of the action movie universe – and her dance (which we never see) seduces all who see it.  But even that’s a (ANOTHER SPOILER AHEAD, BUT DO YOU REALLY CARE? I MEAN, YOU REALLY DON’T NEED TO SEE THIS MOVIE, I TOOK THE BLOODY HIT FOR YOU, GUYS!!!)  dream. So it’s all a dream! Nothing we see is real except for the beginning bit, and the very end, I think.  Or is it?  Who knows!

There’s a voiceover coda explaning that the meaning of life is You, or something; and a clever narrative trick about who the hero of the story actually is.  But basically this whole strand of the movie is utter drivel.  It’s not been thought through at any level – unlike the Matrix where gnostic philosophy and science fictional extrapolation were harnessed together to create the Matrix world which seems to be real, but isn’t.  But here nonsense is piled upon nonsense until gibberish results. 

I actually really enjoyed the experience of watching the movie, because I just ignored the rubbish bits and waited for the brilliant setpiece “fantasy” bits.  And you could easily re-edit this movie and create a genius 40 minute action movie as a teaser for the computer games which this deserves to inspire.  But without the genius of Frank Miller ( 300) and the equal genius of Alan Moore (Watchmen) Snyder is lost. 

He’s a great action movie director! He should therefore direct great action movies; and leave the philosophy and the narrative twists and turns to better and more seasoned writers. 

I have to admit that I often walk out of movies that I find boring – Season of the Witch was the last one I bailed on. But I never felt the urge to leave Sucker Punch; because I was buoyed by the certain knowledge that the terrible bit I was watching would soon be followed by a great bit.  It’ s not enjoyment as such, but nor was it tedium. So I hope Snyder keeps the Superman gig; because that’s a character and a concept equal to his considerable talents.

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