I hate titles with double meanings
by Jack Kentala
It’s easy to trash a film.
Sucker Punch (2011) has the misfortune of being director Zach Snyder’s first film not rooted in a different medium. Just look at his filmography: he remade Dawn of the Dead; copped the graphic-novel style for 300 and Watchmen; and even “that owl movie” came from somewhere.
Here are where the problems immediately surface. Without source material providing a narrative roadmap, Snyder and his team simply spin their wheels until they get traction and then run with whatever ridiculousness they can concoct. In Sucker Punch, the title is far too apt: it can refer, quite directly, to the fact that the fractured narrative of the movie – which is actually explained in greater detail in the many trailers than in the final cut – simply jumps from one over-CGI’d setpiece to another.
At best, it’s visually interesting (albeit many of the scenarios have been played to death in too many videogames to count), and at worst, it’s loud, tiring, and reeks of a narrative and emotional bankruptcy. Explosions are louder than dialog; girls in school-uniform fetish outfits sub in for meaningful characters; and instead of tying it together through a means far more coherent than is presented in the movie, it simply seems like a glorified clearinghouse of visual concepts.
But what I can’t stress enough is the total lack of exposition, which is a bold statement coming from me, who likes to dig into a piece and extract precious nuggets of thematic meaning without getting the hammered-over-the-head Bruckheimer treatment. Not more than five minutes into the movie does anonymous main character Baby Doll find out that the supposed mental institution in which she is imprisoned is actually some sort of brothel, though flipping between those two fudged realities and the all-out fantasy of the trailers is done even worse than Inception.
(An aside: I had a bit of a Nolan-fest the past week to give the man another chance, and a repeat of Inception yielded no added enjoyment. Intact is my continued disgust for the kind of “mindfuck” movies that never come full circle and just leave the audience hanging on a head-scratching sigh. Or, in Inception’s case, the massive rage many experienced at the abrupt end of the film’s final shot.)
Sucker Punch is, unfortunately, one of those movies with no clear story, no characters, no justifications for CGI abuse (a growing post-millennium, post-The Matrix problem), and, to be a little too cruel, no point at all. I say “unfortunate” because the marketing blitzkrieg certainly charged at cinema’s juicy 14-year-old-boy demographic (I’m not making this up; go look at some numbers) with the promise of fishnet stockings, miniskirts, push-up bras, and a lot of skin. If I were a betting man, I’d say that the crowd that made the also-PG-13 Battle: Los Angeles an early-spring blockbuster will migrate to Sucker Punch and net, let’s say, $40 million its opening weekend. (I’m including grossly-inflated IMAX ticket prices for Sucker Punch: The IMAX Experience, even though Sucker Punch was not shot in the format.)
It’s a bit unfair on the part of the filmmakers in that the girls aren’t there to further the sort of female empowerment first championed by Ridley Scott’s Alien, but to tighten the pants of every male in the theaters who isn’t thinking that girls in PG-13 movies are starting to look a little too young these days. I didn’t spot any dirty old men in trenchcoats at my theater, but they can wait two months for the DVD without missing much.