March 15th, 2011 | Published in General
Zack Snyder’s Sucker Punch releases in theaters at the end of this month. Racebending.com was lucky enough to catch an early screening of the film. Below are our thoughts on the film. We assess its entertainment value, but also look into the deeper social messages of the film.
Walking into Zack Snyder’s Sucker Punch, I wasn’t sure what to expect. I’d seen the trailers. I knew that Snyder was looking to do a female-led action flick, opposite what he’d done for the testosterone-heavy 300.
Snyder’s described the film as “Alice in Wonderland with guns.” The film could easily have been another standard, Hollywood-stamped popcorn flick, heavy on explosions and titillation, light on story and plot.
I admire Sucker Punch because it dared to be more. The story has heft, tackling serious topics such as child molestation, rape, and the sex trade. The lead actress, Emily Browning, carried the film well and when she had her triumphs, the audience (mostly male) cheered as hard as I’ve heard any audience cheer. If nothing else, the film defies the notion that women can’t carry movies – something Warner Bros. firmly believed, as recently as three short years ago.
I also enjoyed seeing Vanessa Hudgens and Jamie Chung in supporting roles. I hope the work they did for the film helps them find more work in the future.
The action in the film – choreographed by Damon Caro (of the Bourne series) – is dynamic and novel, without suffering from the melee confusion that afflicted pictures like Batman Begins. Combined with the fantastic elements of the story, and Snyder’s unique cinematography, the picture becomes wholly unforgettable.
There’s a definite anime influence here, and with the talent that Snyder’s production team brings to the table, the overall effect is nothing short of stunning. Dragon-slaying with automatic rifles? Pistol-whipping steampunk Nazis? And with a layered, compelling story? This is the sort of film that deserves every penny of its $85 million budget.
As much as I loved the film, I realize it’s flawed – but probably not for the reasons most people expect.
Are the women sexualized in the film? Yes. Absolutely. You just have to look at the makeup used (exquisitely long fake eyelashes and perfect blush) and the costuming (schoolgirl skirts and fishnet stockings) to see that the sexuality of these women is wholly on display.
But I would argue that the display of sexuality in the film is muted. It’s nothing compared to the raw, sweat-slicked displays of ab-ripping masculinity from Snyder’s 300. Even more generally, their sexuality is never casually flaunted.
It’s not as groundbreaking a portrayal as, say, Uma Thurman in Kill Bill, where her sexuality was completely secondary to her role as a powerful, skilled killer. But the characters have depth as something more than romantic interests and simple eye-candy and I think that’s something to applaud.
The fact is that misogyny is at the root of the film’s story. It’s one girl’s struggle against misogyny in every aspect of her life, explored through the lens of her unstable psyche, laid out in dreams and visions of dragon-slaying. The men in the film are, almost without exception, vicious and brutal. The film attacks the naked form of misogyny: the sex traders, the rapists, the child molesters.
It’s not perfect. Near the end, there is a monologue that smacks of things a frat guy would say trying to get laid. I think an opportunity was lost there to emphasize that misogyny is rarely as blatant and obvious as when found within the walls of an underground brothel. It feels like the writer hesitated to put a film out without one male character to redeem the gender, at least a little. Something unnecessary in the grand scheme of a Hollywood machine where 90% of lead roles are given to men.
I was also slightly disappointed by the real-world ending. There was a chance to translate some of the women’s empowerment of the fantasy world into the real one (especially with Carla Gugino’s character), but instead things ended on a somewhat weak note after all the sturm und drang of the visions.
Is the film less groundbreaking because the dragon-slaying heroics were imagined?
I don’t think so. It was amazing to witness an audience so engaged with female action stars, and feel more excited by the explosions than by the short skirts. And the way the visions are implemented, like short love letters to different action genres, allowed for the actresses in the film to play several kinds of action hero. If making the visions imaginary is a “cheat,” then it’s one that allowed for the exploration of women in a diversity of roles that are rarely open to them in modern media.