Just Look Away

Posted on May 20, 2011


Sucker Punch

“If you don’t stand for something, you’ll fall for anything.”

This 2011 action movie has a 22% rating on Rotten Tomatoes, where a whopping 55% of the audience report liking it.

Why Bother?

“Don’t ever write a check with your mouth you can’t cash with your ass.”

Hot chicks in skimpy outfits with guns, in a PG-13 movie by the guy who did 300 and Watchmen. If that doesn’t work for you, I’ve got nothing.

I watched it

“For those who fight for it, life has a flavor the sheltered will never know.”

Babydoll’s mother dies, and leaves everything to her and her sister. Her stepfather (Gerard Plunkett) throws a fit at being left penniless. He approaches Babydoll (Emily Browning) in a threatening manner and she claws his face. He locks her in her room and goes to menace her younger sister. Babydoll climbs down a drainpipe and gets her stepfather’s pistol. She goes to save her sister by shooting her stepfather, but she misses. The bullet ricochets and kills her sister. Stepfather locks her in a mental hospital, presumably gaining full control of her inheritance by doing so. Babydoll descends into a series of fantasy worlds.

The Verdict

“It’s every one of us who holds power over the world we create.”

If you follow the “three month rule” for movie spoilers (this movie came out in March, and I’m writing this in May), let me say that Sucker Punch is worth seeing on the big screen if you’ve got a second-run theater in your area that charges $3 (or less) for tickets. If you’ve got a high def, big screen, TV at home, save your money and stream Sucker Punch from Netflix or something. The actors do a fine job. The visuals are terrific. I like the message that we are ultimately responsible for controlling our lives. I just wish it was in a better movie.

Now go to another web page, because I’m going the full spoiler after this.


Still here? Okay, don’t say I didn’t warn you. I will try to stick to the high points of the low moments.

The opening scene makes no sense. Why is Babydoll sitting on a stage set? We see the same set later, in the theater of Lennox Hospital, dingy and dinged up. What’s the link supposed to be, Zack Snyder? I suspect it’s something about control over our lives and what we make of them. Unfortunately, it’s not strong enough to make the point and he never “closes the circle” by revisiting it – although voice-overs beat us over the head with the point about control.

As long as I’m talking about the opening, stepdad’s motivations make no sense. If the girls are underage, then legally he controls their inheritance. He has until Babydoll reaches legal adulthood to steal as much as he can. There’s no need for him to freak out and do something vaguely menacing. I say “vaguely” because the script never clarifies that he’s abusive, and he never actually does anything to the girls. If they’re not underage, then he can’t commit Babydoll to an institution. He’s not her guardian if she’s an adult. While I’m on the subject, who was mom? If she’s fabulously wealthy enough that stepdad will drop $3000 to institutionalize her only surviving heir, she must have been pretty rich – and therefore pretty famous. You’d think that other relatives, or at least the press, would notice a disappearing daughter. For me, that signaled the end of anything approaching logic in the script.

Babydoll drops into her first fantasy sequence as the Doctor (John Hamm) is about to perform a lobotomy on her. Thanks for killing the suspense, Zack Snyder. I admit that I was holding out hope, briefly, that when the fantasy ended, someone would stop the procedure just in time. As the movie unfolded, I realized that wasn’t going to happen. That killed any emotional investment that I had in her character. None of the other girls – Sweetpea (Abby Cornish), Rocket (Jena Malone), Blondie (Vanessa Hudgens), and Amber (Jamie Chung) – get enough development, soon enough, to carry the film. Yes, I did care about Sweetpea and Rocket eventually. I just think it should have been sooner.

In her first fantasy, Babydoll is a victim – an orphan sold by a priest to a whorehouse. This is just a muddled mess. Yes, the movie does show why she might “go there.” That said, it’s the kind of whorehouse imagined by a girl who led a sheltered life back in the 1960s. That helps you maintain a PG-13 rating, I guess, but it cripples the story. Why would a girl who led such a sheltered life escape into a whorehouse “fantasy” to begin with? It’s also psychologically wrong. Typically, people flee reality into either a) worlds/personalities where they are strong enough to survive, or b) worlds/personalities where they are safe and free. Babydoll does neither. If she’s supposed to be hanging on to reality by a thread, and just converting her confinement into something else, I don’t know why we, as moviegoers, need the fantasy at all.

Babydoll drops into her second fantasy sequence when she has to dance. No, really, that’s what happens. All the girls have their own dances, and the customers in the whorehouse pick their prostitutes based on the dances. Dancing in front of the teacher (Dr. Vera Gorski, played by Carla Gugino) and the other girls is enough to send Babydoll further over the edge. Apparently, she dances with wild abandon while she fantasizes, but we never get to see it.

I thought the second fantasy world was clearer. In it, the Wiseman (Scott Glenn) forces her to verbalize her goal of escape. Once she has that focus, most of the fear leaves her and she becomes a deadly competent warrior in a mish-mash world of steampunk, WWI, WWII, Vietnam, and her future (our present, except for the giant exoskeleton that Amber pilots in the first sequence). In these sequences, the girls acquire the things they need for a successful escape. Apparently, Babydoll’s dance is so entrancing that men can’t resist watching it with their full attentions, and the girls use it to distract the men who guard them.

Which reminds me, Zack Snyder: In Western narrative tradition, stories involve a protagonist in a setting with a situation. The main character tries twice to resolve the situation and fails, but learns lessons that let that protagonist succeed on the third try. You get it completely backwards. The girls succeed the first two times, and fail the third. There’s nothing wrong with breaking patterns, but you have to do so in ways that acknowledge the patterns exist. You have to help the consumer of your story see your new pattern, and why your story demand that you not use the old one.

The ending, back in reality, just didn’t work for me. Hospital orderly Blue Jones (Oscar Isaac) is upset that the lobotomized Babydoll won’t know that he’s hurting her. Really? What did he think was going to happen? He acts like he’s forged Dr. Gorski’s signature many times before on lobotomy orders, so he must have known what the results were like. Also, Zack Snyder, when Sweetpea turns out to be the only “survivor,” it feels like a cheat. It feels like you “sucker punched” your audience. Our story should end when Babydoll’s story ends. She is our point of view, and our main character. It just doesn’t work.

What else? The music was probably supposed to be foreshadowing, but instead it’s heavy-handed and gives away plot points before the story reaches them. The PG-13 rating kills any titillation value the story and costumes might have had. The mish-mash of reality and fantasy doesn’t follow any logical pattern.

My wife cried a couple of times in the movie, but I wept only for the loss of two hours of my life.

Duck, You Sucker

Did you love it? Did you find it a powerful message about female empowerment? Do my words make you want to demonstrate your mastery of tae kwon leap with a boot to my head? Show us your kung fu in the comments.

Posted in: Movies