Review of Sucker Punch

A “sucker punch” by definition is a move that the recipient doesn’t see coming, which ultimately leaves him defenseless. Given the ending of this movie (which I won’t spoil in this review), I think it’s an appropriate title. Most of the commentary on Sucker Punch, though, hasn’t been about that gut-wrenching twist of fate.

All the talk of objectification of women in the movie – is it or isn’t a feminist mouthpiece? – might be exactly what the creative forces behind Sucker Punch wanted. The previews flash mind-blowing clips of beautiful women expertly wielding guns and kicking-butt; it’s eye-candy for a generation raised on special effects and violence-laced video games. The morality of the movie’s story, though, revolves around the question of what happens when men take gratification at the cost of women’s happiness.

Sucker Punch opens with a young woman, newly orphaned and now victimized by her stepfather, who in her struggle to resist makes a grave mistake. After being taken into police custody, she is escorted by her stepfather to an insane asylum for women. As Baby Doll’s fate unfolds, the viewer begins to realize that nothing is what it seems in her new personal hell.

Zack Snyder, the movie’s director, talked about wanting to maintain a PG-13 rating. To do that, he creates an alternate reality where the awful truth of these young women’s real lives – where they are sexually abused – is portrayed in a less horrific allegory. The alternate reality is more stylized; the girls are dancers who entertain customers.  They have long eyelashes, beautiful hair, and clothes reminiscent of what one might find ballerinas wearing to rehearsal. But somehow, underneath all that, the horrible reality of their predicament hovers within the story.

The difficulty for the movie is that it takes a while to get up to speed, and when it does yet another layer of reality is revealed.  In this second alternate reality, Baby Doll and her four friends escape the moments of their victimization. Once there, the stunts and special effects are mind-blowing and spectacular. The fight scenes are created around iconic movie formulas, which are twisted into oddly recognizable mashups for those who are fans of film and fantasy. Steam and clockwork-powered Nazi zombies, Terminator robots, orcs, killer military mechs – the great thing about using the imaginations of his female characters is that the possibilities are endless. Each scene is unique in and of itself, and is backed by remixed, high-energy beats of past hit songs.

Somewhere in the middle of second mission, the fate of the characters finally grabs hold, and that’s where their success starts to unwind. I won’t say more about the story except, yes, you will be sucker punched.  If for no other reason than the visuals and the twist, it’s worth a trip to the theater.

As a woman, though, it was quite a thrill for me to see these five young, beautiful actresses dig into roles. Traditionally, women have to watch the male characters on screen get to play those parts.  There isn’t a token female in a strike force; they are the team. While I’ve read some commentaries with a different view, I don’t see the objectification in this movie. The clothes were stylish yet functional, and the stylist and costumer designers used things like make-up, iconic hairstyles, and overblown eyelashes to create a sexual feel to the characters. To me, the context matters here. In the real reality, the girls are sexual victims, so it’s natural they’d carry themselves forward as sexual beings even in their escapist alternate realities. But acknowledging sexuality isn’t the same thing as being a sex object, and if anything that seems to me what Baby Doll and her friends were fighting against.

While the movie focuses on what happens when women are victimized, the message that I took away was this: in the face of overpowering oppression, we still have choices and we still can affect change. On the outside, Baby Doll’s Britney Spears “Hit Me One More Time” schoolgirl look epitomizes how some men would prefer to fantasize about women. While men stare and drool, one beautiful girl shows the internal strength to deliver the groin shot heard round the world.

It’s not the best movie ever, but on the dessert scale I’d say this one is a key-lime pie, sweet, tart and something different from the standard fare.  Try it; you might like it.

For ongoing discussion about Sucker Punch, visit the FANgirl Cantina.