(2011) director Zack Snyder
Lustrous video game-like action/fantasy nonsense. With a dose of sexist, maybe even misogynistic pedophilia.
From director/co-writer Zack Snyder, of 300 (2006), Watchmen (2009), and the somewhat unlikely Legend of the Guardians: The Owls of Ga’Hoole (2010), Sucker Punch may be his purist vision to date. Certainly it’s the first one that he’s produced that is not adapted from another original source. That said, it could easily have been a comic book or a video game or any number of things.
It’s the story (sort of a story) of Babydoll (the striking Emily Browning), who is put in a mental institution by her abusive step-father. But like the trials and tribulations that her character in Lemony Snicket’s A Series of Unfortunate Events (2004) faces, she’s in some far-out fantasy land of reality, in which the girls at the institution are forced into semi-prostitution, at least forced to “perform” dances for clients. But when Babydoll goes into a strange dream state in order to dance, she enters a further series of worlds in which she and her gal pals battle a plethora of video game-like villains, from samurais to a dragon to some semi-demon-Nazis.
There is, in a sense, an attempt at portraying these battles and this escapist dream ass-kicking as a form of female empowerment. But while they swoop and slash and kick ass in fantasy, Babydoll (in her schoolgirl mini skirt and pony tails), apparently dances a beguiling, mesmerizing performance. Actually, maybe most interestingly, we are never shown these performances and only can imagine them.
Perhaps, one could posit that this is not meant as a girl-power empowerment, but rather a critique of that. These scantily clad, exotic dancer mental institute internees only escape in some imaginary space while they act in degrading performances in “real life”. But Snyder’s potential criticism remains grossly undercut by his one great strength as a director: the ability to craft wild, fantastical action set pieces with powerful aesthetic panache.
Are we not supposed to enjoy watching the diminutive mini-skirted blond leap and bound, kick and kill, slash and weave? What is the point of watching all this wonderfully crafted, digitized, fantasy action nonsense if it’s not for our visual pleasure? Are we not supposed to be titillated by Babydoll?
It’s the crazy thing about this film, which looks really cool, is that it feels like pedophilic voyeurism. Maybe it feels that way because that is what it blatantly is. Maybe the only ones of us who are affected by the potential criticism are the ones of us who sit through the film both impressed with the scene but vaguely disgusted as well.
As a film, it’s high-action nonsense. It doesn’t make sense, really. Looking closer at the general narrative it becomes less and less of anything sensible or logical. It’s a pure visual experience, crafted by a talented team of craftspeople, evoking anime, manga, video games, and more…but a level of disgust.