Sunday, March 27, 2011

SUCKER PUNCHED BY SUCKER PUNCH: Exceeding my Expectations in the Wrong Way

I love movies. I love visual storytelling as a whole (as one can tell from reading just about anything on this blog, or talking to me for more than a few minutes, as I can't stop myself from making a reference to a film or TV show), and especially love sharing that experience. I love to watch things with people, observe their reactions, and talk about it afterwords; get their impressions. As much as I think the theater experience is slowly dying, I love going to the theater with a bunch of friends and enjoying a movie as a social experience.

Thus, the only time a movie actually fails in my point of view, is if it fails to entertain. A movie can be stupid, excessive, over-the-top, ever shocking or disgusting, as long as it entertains you. In fact, some of the best movies to watch with a large group of people are exactly those kinds of exploitative romps... some of my favorite times are watching stupid movies with people; shouting shit at the screen, pointing out mistakes, screaming at scares, laughing at ludicrous gags, etc. Movies like RIKI-OH: THE STORY OF RIKI, DOLEMITE: THE HUMAN TORNADO, BIG TROUBLE IN LITTLE CHINA, DEATHWISE 3, and more recent efforts like PLANET TERROR, MACHETE, or the latest (and probably most shocking and disgusting) HOBO WITH A SHOTGUN. Stupid, exploitive, and sometimes just disgusting, but all ENTERTAINING.

The thing that separates this kind of fun, enjoyable, and harmless exploitation from just straight, offensive, exploitation is the intent; the people making these movies know that they're not going to be invited to the Oscars, and in most cases they know they aren't being deep. That doesn't mean they aren't trying to communicate a message or theme, but they are conscious that their way of doing it is very blunt. They don't have any illusions about being cerebral.

That's what brings me to the subject of this review, Zack Snyder's Bad-Grrl Power opus, SUCKER PUNCH.

Having expressed my reaction to the movie since seeing it, either in person or on Twitter, people have questioned, "Well... what did you expect?" That's fair... from watching the above trailer, as I have, I imagine that most people would go into the movie have much the same expectations as I had; a fun, slightly stupid, visual rollercoaster with just enough plot to BARELY justify it's awesome, even revolutionary, visuals and action. The trailer features sexy girls kicking ass in various sci-fi and fantasy environments, all under the conceit of said action taking place in their imaginations, while they attempt to escape their horrify existence trapped in a Mental Institution. Harmless fun right?

SUCKER PUNCH is the most horribly exploitative and offensive thing I've ever seen, and not in a fun, harmless way. The film starts off with an extended, slow motion (it's Zack Snyder of course... there isn't a single motion that he can't slow) musical montage showing the tragic near rape of the films underaged protagonist, and her even younger sister, before she is framed for the death of her sister and institutionalized by her predatory Step-Father, and placed in the care of an even MORE predatory orderly. The stakes are firmly established early on; if the inappropriately named 'Baby-Doll' does not escape her unjust imprisonment within five days she will be LOBOTOMIZED and then RAPED. The film then transforms from the grim, dank, gray reality as 'Baby-Doll' escapes into a vibrant, prohibition era styled, MAD MEN inspired, fantasy land where she and her fellow victims (there are no female characters in this movie, only victims) are glamorous strippers, keep prisoner to serve the lusts of their male captors. Their solution to this; to use 'Baby-Doll's' underaged sensuality as a distraction to allow them to acquire the means to escape their imprisonment, before her virginity is sold to 'The High Roller' who arrives in five days, mirroring her grim reality.

That's right, those are the stakes in both her reality and fantasy; LOBOTOMY, RAPE, AND THE LOSS OF HER VIRGINITY.

The real disturbing conceit of this movie is that Zack Snyder thinks that this is a strong feminist message... I mean, the girls get to kick ass right? No, they only get to kick ass in their imaginations... where they are mentored by an omnipresent male savior, who it is implied from the beginning is their only chance to escape. In the grim reality, and the vibrant fantasy framing sequences between the even DEEPER fantasy sequences, they are all VICTIMS. Helpless, crying, sniveling, unsure, and cowardly. They easily compromise their resolve multiple times at the threats and ham handed abuse of their male captors, because they are only truly strong in their imaginations. The only power any of these women have in the real world, or it's fantasy reflection, is their ability to seduce or otherwise please men.

The final insult, though, comes at the end in the form of the films only survivors parting voice over, where she attempts to impart of deep message of taking control of your life after she's SAVED BY HER MALE SAVIOR, as a way of justifying all the heinous exploitation you the audience have just witnessed.

The thing is... I don't even think that Zack Snyder is aware of what he's made... I don't think he really intended this movie as a huge love letter to the exploitation of women. I think he really thought he was making some kind of feminist opus here. His way of justifying all the horrid shit he does to everyone is to make every single male character unforgivably horrible and a heinous predator of women. There is only one male character in the movie that doesn't exploit, abuse, or attempt to rape any of the female victims, and he's a figment of their collective imaginations.

So that's what you have to look forward too in this dark, cruel, world as Zack Snyder see's it, females of the species; you'll all prey to the lusts and desires of you male captors, who are all out to get you, and you are COMPLETELY POWERLESS TO DO ANYTHING ABOUT IT.

(Spoilers Follow if you really did want to subject yourself to seeing this visually spectacular turd)

Powerless like 'Baby-Doll', who, after all her heroic, sexy, efforts to titillate and seduce her way to freedom, she fails and is lobotomized. There's an attempt to play it off as a heroic sacrifice to allow her fellow victimized captive, 'Sweet Pea' (none of the female cast had real names... just sexy nicknames to further dehumanize and sexualize them), but this falls flat, as she herself is ultimately turned into a living sex doll with a blissful expression on her face as she is forcefully ejected from reality and into, what one can only assume, is her escapist fantasy land, while 'Sweet Pea' is helpless to cope in the real world, and saved by her 'Guardian Angel'. The films villains only get their comeuppance due to John Hamm (in what has too, in retrospect, be an embarassing cameo for him) 'noticing a glimmer in her eyes' which prompts him to look deeper into 'Baby-Doll's' case, and exposing both the predatory orderly and her predatory Step-Father... yet another case of the man coming to the rescue in this feminist action story (roll EYES... 9_9).

The real tragedy here is how fucking SPECTACULAR the visuals were, and how AWESOME the action was. The first foray into 'Baby-Doll's' fantasy land where she fights three giant Samurai with naught but a gun and a sword was some of the best, most original and visceral, action I've seen in a movie... it was like anime truly brought to life. Why couldn't he have made THAT movie? A group of ass-kicking female superhumans fight monsters and robots on distant planets to save the universe is much close to the feminist ideal he was going for, and far less exploitative. That's the movie I wanted to see! Instead I got SUCKER PUNCHED.

If you feel the need to be truly disgusted and offended while still being visually Wowed, go see SUCKER PUNCH. Just don't tell me about it, because then you'll get an ear full.