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Sucker Punch (Zack Snyder 2011) – a misunderstood classic? Er, no

January 13, 2012 by Simon Kinnear in At Home with 1 Comment

Just because I’m in the process of uploading unpublished reviews of 2011 films, doesn’t mean they have to be good films.

Sucker Punch 2011 Zack Snyder

Sucker Punch
(Zack Snyder, US, 2011)

An avant-garde anti-blockbuster? When it’s so indistinguishable from any other disjointed, distasteful dreck, who can spot a satirical masterpiece?

Zack Snyder would have you believe that Sucker Punch is a feminist manifesto, an artistic statement on behalf of appallingly treated actresses everywhere, and a provocative blurring of the line between mainstream Hollywood and pornographic objectification. The weird thing is that, actually, he has a point. Conceptually, Sucker Punch is all of these things. The problem is that the director is Zack Snyder, a director whose well-worn stylistic handbook results in a film that is dangerously, irresponsibly close to the kind of filmmaking it purports to satirise.

The story is certainly bravura: a nosedive into a narrative rabbit hole structured as fantasties-within-fantasies. But Snyder is no Christopher Nolan. There’s too little here to distinguish from layer from another. In his head, Snyder believes that swapping the titillation of a brothel for the empowering spectacle of girl power action sequences is a daring intellectual conceit: the sucker punch of the title. But this is a director who is too one-note in his imagery – the processed colours, fetishised costumes and self-conscious comic book framings travel from one reality to another. Even ‘real life’ looks like a music promo.

What he has failed to grasp is that cinema needs subtlety to deliver the kind of shade and ambiguity this material needs.  Withour, Sucker Punch is propaganda in search of a message. The juxtaposition of the grim brothel sequences, salivating with the prospect of rape, with the video game ultra-violence against hordes of anonymous samurai/zombies/robots is incredibly distasteful because there isn’t even a hint of a joke to let on that this might be operating as satire. The film simply moves from one sphere where women are helpless victims, to one where they kick-ass in skimpy costumes without noticing the irony.

The problem is that girl power needs more than attitude, it needs character – but Snyder gives them nothing but fantasy outfits and nicknames, and a cast of supposed up-and-comers take that at face value. With the exception of Abbie Cornish’s Sweet Pea, these girls have less personality than the Spice Girls. Cornish suggests damage, vulnerability and fire…but lead Emily Browning is like a porcelain doll encased in rubber, so that she won’t break no matter how hard Snyder hurls her about.

Oh, and it goes without saying that the action sequences are incredibly boring, weightless as narrative and unoriginal as spectacle, with lazy steals from Brazil, The Matrix and many other better films. Again, there’s the faint possibility that Snyder is making deliberately bad set-pieces, flimsily integrated with the movie’s quest-structure and totally interchangeable…but anybody who has seen 300 will realise that he’s incapable of making a movie any other way.

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One Comment

  1. RoJan 13, 2012 at 3:45 pmReply

    Perfectly surmised Simon.
    I tried to get my thoughts down on this film (see link) a while back too but it hurts just to relive the experience.
    Keep up the good work!

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