The UnPopular Opinion: Sucker Punch
THE UNPOPULAR OPINION is an ongoing column featuring different takes on films that either the writer HATED, but that the majority of film fans LOVED, or that the writer LOVED, but that most others LOATHED. We're hoping this column will promote constructive and geek fueled discussion. Enjoy!
****SOME SPOILERS ENSUE****
When Zack Snyder burst onto the scene with his remake of DAWN OF THE DEAD, I was immediately surprised. As an avid fan of the George Romero original, there was no reason for me to like a remake that not only eschewed the standard slow-moving zombie. But, from the opening montage set to Johnny Cash's "The Man Comes Around" through the Richard Cheese cover of "The Sickness", I knew that Snyder had something up his sleeve. His career has gone on to divide fans and critics as superficial, glossy movies with no depth and a music video mentality. Oh, and lots and lots of slow motion. Much like Michael Bay, Snyder didn't shy away from his trademark style but instead embraced it. Through his films 300, WATCHMEN, LEGEND OF THE GUARDIANS, and MAN OF STEEL, Snyder has embraced his technical trickery and given us visually breathtaking cinema. While critics may still lambast the man for his shortcomings as a director, he delivered his ultimate movie reply to critics and fans with his 2011 film, SUCKER PUNCH.
I loved SUCKER PUNCH. Not because it revolutionizes movies or does anything that has never been done before, but because it is a fun eyegasm that you can take and leave after a couple of hours. It does not require subtext or deeper analysis nor should you attempt to tie the title of the film to any specific plot point. SUCKER PUNCH is an all out arsenal of movie magic that plasters a big smile on your face. From the over the top performances from Scott Glenn, Jon Hamm, and Carla Gugino to the sexy leading ladies, SUCKER PUNCH never pretends to be a contender for the Cannes Palm D'or. It is content to just be.
Pigtails do it for me, every time.
Snyder described SUCKER PUNCH as "ALICE IN WONDERLAND with machine guns" but I think a more fitting comparison would be to THE MATRIX. Both films have the Lewis Carroll sensibility, but SUCKER PUNCH and THE MATRIX share a lot more. Both create an intricate universe that requires very high amounts of suspension of disbelief for them to work. If you want to enjoy SUCKER PUNCH, you have to give yourself over completely to the world being laid out for you. Also, like The Wachowski's CLOUD ATLAS, you have to give yourself time and multiple viewings before all of the pieces fit together. I previously said that SUCKER PUNCH is a movie that you can leave as is without analyzing it, but that doesn't mean that you cannot. Terry Gilliam's THE IMAGINARIUM OF DOCTOR PARNASSUS is a similar surreal film that I have not returned to after my initial viewing. I still like it despite being left with questions as to how the story ties together. I am sure if I rewatched it, I would enjoy it more. The same goes for SUCKER PUNCH. You can flip it on basic cable at any point in the movie and enjoy segments of the film without worrying about plot continuity, but sitting down and watching the entire movie yields more enjoyment as you find it does work.
Some might say that a movie should make sense the first time you see it without much effort. Okay, so let's look at SUCKER PUNCH. The story centers on Babydoll (Emily Browning) who is sent away by her cruel Stepfather to an insane asylum where he has bribed an orderly (Oscar Isaac) to have her lobotomized. It is here that Babydoll falls into a fantasy world where the asylum is actually a brothel and she is forced to dance. Here she falls into a second fantasy world that pits her against giant Samurai warriors in feudal Japan and meets a Wise Man played by Scott Glenn. He tells Babydoll she must find five items which will set her free. This is followed by disparate set pieces set in a steampunk World War I, an Orc infested castle, and a train swarming with robots. It is not until the conclusion that we finally learn what the fifth fantasy is.
Oh, the humanity!
The criticism of Synder's film has never been the visually stunning movie itself but rather the incoherent plot. While I agree that the film is full of plot-holes and nonsensical events that contradict each other, that should not distract from the overall enjoyment of the movie. If it weren't for "errors" in plot and narrative, those guys at Honest Trailers would have nothing to spoof and Internet trolls would have nothing to blow out of proportion. I am aware that I am the same guy who nitpicked THE AVENGERS for similar contrivances, but SUCKER PUNCH was never trying to be the benchmark for a genre. SUCKER PUNCH is a visual experiment from Zack Snyder to showcase some visual magic rooted in an exploitation style story.
Which warrants discussion of the so-called misogyny that SUCKER PUNCH has been accused of. The primarily female cast has been said to be stereotypical women in distress who fail to rise above their torment. It is also said that Snyder fails to empower them in any way and therefore the movie becomes exactly what it was trying to not be. I disagree. SUCKER PUNCH is nothing more than an exploitation film. When Robert Rodriguez makes MACHETE, critics gave it mostly positive reviews calling it shallow, tasteless, and over the top. The underrated Clive Owen action flick SHOOT EM UP similarly got good reviews and critics called it the same words and added the phrase cartoonish. SUCKER PUNCH is a cartoon as well. It is cheesy, messy, nonsensical, but above all fun. If you want female empowerment, go watch a movie that is trying to send a positive message. SUCKER PUNCH's message is have fun watching shit explode and see some babes in skimpy outfits. In no way is it trying to be an analytical diatribe on the modern oppression of women. Nor is it trying to be a satire of how the public health system works for underprivileged women. SUCKER PUNCH is about tits, ass, and guns. Who needs more than that?
Dang, I figured Vanessa Hudgen's hole was wide, but not THAT wide!
SUCKER PUNCH is also a kitchen sink type movie. Snyder throws absolutely everything he has to see what sticks. Hell, there are multiple musical numbers in the film! Luckily, this movie was made with relative unknown actors and before Snyder became the director of MAN OF STEEL. That means that it is looked on differently than if it were to have been made by James Cameron or Michael Bay. Both Bay and Cameron have been criticized for weak screenplays and sacrificing the visual over the story, but does that stop us from praising AVATAR or THE ROCK? Snyder is able to temper himself as evidenced by the remarkable lack of slow motion in MAN OF STEEL, but SUCKER PUNCH was his opportunity to cut loose and do whatever the hell he wanted. Most mainstream directors do not get that opportunity with a big budget. If this movie had been made by Quentin Tarantino, I doubt we would have heard such an uproar about it.
We don't often get rewarded with pure fun at the movies anymore. The studios are not willing to take the risk and the filmmakers are forced to fund their passion projects themselves. When we do get to see their dreams realized, it is often at the expense of the critics of the world. SUCKER PUNCH made back it's budget and has become a cult favorite on DVD and cable. I truly believe that Zack Snyder's name carries a stigma from fans intent to hate his films. I have not hated any of his movies and truly enjoyed both MAN OF STEEL and WATCHMEN. Could they have been better? Absolutely. Were they bad? Not even remotely. SUCKER PUNCH was an original idea and stands as something that should be immune to criticism because it doesn't give a f*ck what the critics think. It just wants to entertain you. Give it a chance and it will.