by Jeff Reichert and Farihah Zaman
On Mondays, two Reverse Shotters wipe the weekend from their bleary eyes and engage in a postmortem on the multiplex trash (good or bad) they took in.
As I settled in for Zack Snyder’s Sucker Punch, I realized that, thus far, I hadn’t had the pleasure of experiencing any of the action auteur’s previous films. His latest comes from a story of his own invention—what better introduction to one of the allegedly visionary cinematic talents of our time (at least if one occasionally trolls Entertainment Weekly or fanboy message boards) than his debut as a true writer/director?
Oh, would that we never devised this column so that I could have those two hours back. This lugubrious spectacle, in which Snyder sets five fetish objects to run amok in a computer-manufactured video game playland (did I spy the bridge from the penultimate level of Ninja Gaiden?), represents an offensive nadir of large-budgeted studio action filmmaking. It exists at the intersection of overwhelming poor taste (lobotomized versions of classic pop songs “Where Is My Mind” “Sweet Dreams [Are Made of This]”), retrograde sexual politics (has there ever been a film so simultaneously titillated and terrified by female sexuality?) and a disinterest in the fundamentals of storytelling and character (try following this puppy’s Xbox demo logic, extra credit for caring to distinguish between the female leads). Snyder's visual palette and style are coherent, his filmmaking tics (regular camera motion slowed down then slammed into shock cuts, the placement of the lens either as far away or as close as possible to its subject suggesting he’s elevated his disinclination towards narrative clarity to the level of an aesthetic tactic) are repeated enough to suggest that nothing here happened by accident. I’m sure nothing happens by chance in the painted worlds of Thomas Kinkade, either.
Once upon a time Steven Spielberg turned a cheesy-looking shark puppet into an excuse to experiment with the filmic frame; he’s an image-maker from a time when invention happened in a physical, as opposed to digital space. The difference is clear: Spielberg’s films (even recent CG-enhanced efforts) exhibit an earnest sense of wonder at the possibility of what can be put on screen. Snyder, with his battery of digital effects, can do anything he likes, knows it, and cynically piles it on. If we don’t like it, he’ll just go bigger, louder, more. Even an ignoramus should know that if a film’s only passing moment of humanity comes during a fleeting interaction between a digital dragon and its dead offspring, there’s trouble afoot. —JR
Like you, Jeff, I was a Zack Snyder virgin before this terrifying odyssey began. As a genre film fan, I was led by the trailer to expect a certain level of ridiculous fun if nothing more; some cheap gems floating in a sea of mediocrity, like Drive Angry 3D’s shot of Nicolas Cage drinking beer from the skull of his enemy. Instead Sucker Punch was aggressively boring, almost shockingly so considering how strenuously this rancid stew of cleavage, eyeliner, and poorly shot action sequences aims to titillate.
Snyder’s unwillingness to actually engage with the dark nature of his own story is particularly problematic. It may seem perverse to call for more sex and violence, but in a film that is about barely legal girls living in indentured prostitution—an allegory for the continued exploitation of women—keeping things on the lighter side borders on offensive. Furthermore, in order to believe the protagonist, Baby Doll, is in a state of such despair that she dissociates herself from reality twice, it should be made clear that working in a dirty whorehouse against your will is soul crushing—not just kind of a drag because your comically mustachioed pimp keeps whining to everyone about how bad they’re gonna get it. Like Snyder, the pimp is all bark and no bite, so the stakes are never very high.
There has been some debate regarding the potential value of this insipid grindhouse wannabe as a piece of feminist filmmaking. Yes, these women are taking nontraditional roles as warriors who must rescue themselves, but only in Baby Doll’s fantasy and even then in a limited, highly sexualized manner. For example, Baby Doll’s primary skill is performing a striptease described by another inmate as “gyrating and moaning.” (This brand of feminism was achieved by B movies back in the 70s, and usually with far more panache.) Usually in this kind of masturbatory, attempted mind-fuck (see Inception), one can at least recognize the mechanism ruling the film, however flawed. The construction of Sucker Punch, however, is so infuriatingly devoid of logic, it inspired me to dissociate myself—from the reality of watching it. —FZ