It is more than a little ironic that Sucker Punch (review) is taking a critical beating for merely being an example of the very things that it's actually most critical of. At heart, it's a critical deconstruction of the casual sexualization of young women in pop culture, the inexplicable acceptance of institutional sexism and lechery, and whether or not images of empowered females on film can be disassociated with the sexual undercurrent of those same images. It's an angry feminist screed, and a genuinely disconcerting little myth, without the 'it's all okay' feel-good elements that would have made it more palatable to mainstream audiences. I wish it were a better movie overall (the plot is needlessly confusing in the first 25 minutes, and the characters are more game-board pieces than actual characters), but this is genuinely challenging movie-making and should be acknowledged as such.
It is a tricky thing that Zach Snyder was trying to do, making a genuinely bleak and depressing film about sexualization of women in pop culture as well as real life, while using some of those cliches to tell that story. But beneath the outfits and the very idea that attractive women with guns can qualify as titillating, there is next to no actual sexual material, and really Baby Doll (Emily Browning) is the only female character who is overly fetishized (the rest of the girls are basically attractive young women dressed in battle gear). The critics who complaint about empowerment missed the point -- it's not supposed to be empowering. You're SUPPOSED to notice the creepy undertones, the fact that these action scenes are basically a mental distraction for Baby Doll as she is sexually exploited. My first thought coming out of the movie was (pardon the crudeness): "Zach Snyder just made While he raped me, I closed my eyes and imagined myself somewhere else: The Movie." Pointing out that the film is not empowering is not a criticism, merely an objective statement regarding the film's overall tone. Films involving females do not have to be empowering. Feminism does not have to be empowering. It can exist merely to expose a problem involving gender relations.
Is it a great movie? Absolutely not. I cannot say how much of its flaws are due to MPAA and studio interference, but it is a severely compromised and messy picture. But it earns points for being about something genuinely interesting. Snyder could have just taken the same characters and action beats and made a guilt-free, live action version of The Powerpuff Girls, but he actually tried to make a real film. But even if you don't care about the film's messages (or don't think the film successfully imparts said messages), it's an incredible feat of action filmmaking. The second major set-piece is an all-time classic action scene, and just the kind of HUGE superhero action that we all claim we want in superhero films. I guarantee that set-piece (and the fourth major action scene) is why he got Superman.
With all due respect to respected colleagues who just didn't care for the movie, the majority of the pans are the sort that can't see past the glitzy special effects and sensationalist elements and then accuse the film of having no story/substance (see -- Speed Racer, Beowulf, etc). Sucker Punch is not a great film, but it's a dynamite piece of action filmmaking that has quite a bit of thoughtful subtext that partially makes up for the sloppy structure and relatively un-engaging characters. But I cannot fault anyone who saw what Snyder was trying to do and simply believe that he failed. It's the critics and audience members who didn't even try to look under the surface or couldn't see past the surface level elements being satirized that deserve our scorn.
Rarely have I spent so much time and effort defending a film that I merely liked. But the seemingly willful misinterpretation of the film merits mention and acknowledgment. You can't complain about the lack of challenging and socially-relevant mainstream movies and then fail to see the relevance of this challenging movie. It is no coincidence that Universal chose today to announce that it is finally moving ahead with a movie about... um... Candy Land. Reap what you sow, moviegoers.
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