when the status quo frustrates.

Sucker Punch Review

A couple of weeks back, Hubby and I went to go see “Sucker Punch”. The movie has a pretty involved plot line for something that is at its heart an action fest. For the people who haven’t seen the movie, this trailer does a pretty good job of explaining the feel of the movie. I don’t normally do this, but heavy trigger warnings.

The rest of this post after the fold is going to be heavy on spoilers, so it goes after the fold.

The movie starts out much as the trailer does. Before the opening credits, we see the main character (as yet unnamed character) lose her mother to some unknown disease. The main character cries while her little sister clings to her and her Stepfather smiles, implying somewhat that the mother’s death was his fault, or, at the very least, he didn’t care about the mother as much as the mother’s money. After the funeral, the girls try to sleep, while the stepfather opens up the will and discovers that the mother left everything to her daughters. Enraged, he goes to the girls, and it heavily implies that he is going to assault the main character, because he rips open her pajamas. She scratches him back, and the stepfather realizes that she might not be so easy to abuse, so he instead decides to hurt her by locking her in her room and going after her little sister. The little sister, demonstrating the fact that both of these girls probably never trusted the stepfather in the first place, flees to the closet while the stepfather tries to break down the door. The main character climbs out the window, and walks along a narrow ledge in the rain. She grabs the stepfather’s gun in the library as the camera goes to the stepfather breaking down the door. The main character aims the gun at the stepfather, while he begs her not to shoot. The little sister is behind the stepfather, lying on the ground. The main character shoots, and since she has more than likely never fired a gun before, misses by a mile and hits the light in the closet. The stepfather leaves, as the main character realizes that her little sister is dead (killed possibly by the ricochet, but it’s ambiguous if the girl was dead before). She then stalks off to find the stepfather, points the gun at his head, but then puts it down sobbing. The stepfather takes her to Lennox House, a mental institute. Then the title card comes up. This whole beginning is done with minimal dialog.

At the Lennox House, an orderly says that for money, they will give her a lobotomy so that the Stepfather doesn’t have to worry about any pointed questions from any detectives. After passing through the security at Lennox House, the main character is introduced to the “theatre” where the girls act out their abuses. The orderly says it is “very intense” with a creepy smile on his face. We are said that the main character will get a lobotomy in a week, and we are then treated to watching her get strapped in. Suddenly, the girl in the chair yells stop and it is an entirely different character strapped to a chair at a lavish (in a bordello sort of way) theatre. This character is called Sweetpea and she says that lobotomies aren’t sexy, and that this play needs to be re-written because “She’s the star of this show”. The choreographer is the same person who played the psychiatrist in the Lennox house scenes. The main character is now an orphan being brought in by a Father (played by the same actor as the stepfather) so that a “high roller” can be brought in to enjoy the new blood. She spits in his face, and the orderly is now the owner of the brothel and goes by the name of Blue. After being shown around by Rocket, Sweatpea’s little sister, the main character is brought in to dance. At first she doesn’t want to, but after the choreographer basically tells her she either dances or she’ll be killed. She starts to dance, and is transported to a temple where she is introduced to a mentor and told that if she wants to escape she needs five items: a map, fire, a knife, a key, and a mystery. She is then given weapons and told to defend herself against three giant samurai warriors.

Back in the “real world” of the brothel, people applaud her dancing and nickname her “Babydoll”. She is then sent to wash a hallway, and in doing so, here’s Rocket getting attacked by the chef. Babydoll goes and puts a knife to the chef’s throat and rescues Rocket. Later that night, in their bed, she says she’s going to escape before the high rollers can get there, and with Rocket’s advocacy, convinces Sweetpea, Amber, and Blondie to help her. Babydoll will dance to distract whomever they’re taking the item from, while the other girls get the four items. Sweetpea agrees, but only with the stipulation that everyone will stop when she says so.

In the interest of brevity, I will skip each of their escapades, but suffice it to say they get the map and fire (in the form of a lighter) without too much trouble, represented by them going up in a Steampunk-esque World War II scenario and then against a dragon. But Blue gets suspicious and gives the girls a speech about how he’s on to them and they should stop if they don’t want to get killed. Sweetpea wants to pull the plug, but Rocket won’t stop, which leads to a some tense moments, especially since it’s revealed that Rocket ran away and Sweetpea is the one who followed her. Babydoll says that they are going to continue the plan, and they need to get a knife from the Chef. Blondie is supposed to bring in the recording equipment, but the stress of the situation causes her to break down. The choreographer hears her, and asks her what’s wrong. Blondie is about to spill the beans when Blue comes walking around the corner.

Babydoll, Rocket, and Amber decide that they can no longer wait for Blondie and decide to use a radio with a short in it instead. At the last minute, Sweetpea comes in, saying that this is for Rocket and not for Babydoll. We’re treated to another fictional universe fight, this time in a cyberpunk world, but something goes wrong. The radio shorts out and the Chef becomes distracted and throws Rocket to the ground. Sweetpea comes to steal the knife, but the Chef stabs toward her. Rocket jumps in the way and the knife goes into her gut while the one that Sweetpea wanted goes clattering to the feet of a terrified Amber. Rocket tells Sweetpea to get out and to tell their folks that she’s sorry. At this time, Blue and his guards break down the doors, and start beating up the Chef; showing no sympathy for Rocket, just made that he has damaged one of the goods. He drags Sweetpea away for some time in the “closet” and tells Blondie, Amber, and Babydoll to get ready for tonight’s performance.

Everyone gets ready, and Blue comes in all smiles and clapping, while everyone else (including the choreographer) jumps around like kittens wandering around the 38th parallel. Finally, Blue calls everyone in, and the evil “I loved you so much and you betrayed me” evil villain speech starts. He kills Amber, and Blondie, and sends everyone else except Babydoll out. The choreographer tries to protect Babydoll, but to no avail. He tells her that he’d kill her, except that she’s too valuable, and then begins to sexual assault her. Unluckily for him, he chooses to do that right over the hiding spot where she has her knife. He stabs Blue in the shoulder, and runs to grab Sweetpea and starts a fire in a broom closet. But, as they go outside, the realize that the group of men that they were supposed to “entertain” are milling around. Babydoll realizes that this was the “mystery” she had to do, and told Sweetpea she was going to distract them while Sweetpea escaped. Sweetpea resists, but Babydoll says “This has always been your story”. Babydoll goes right up to the “Highroller” and kicks him in the groin, while Sweetpea slips out of the place and runs to the bus station. She makes it to the bus station, but just before she gets on, a cop grabs her shoulder and wants to ask her some questions. The bus driver (played by the same actor who plays the mentor) tells the cops that he has a schedule to keep, and lies and says Sweetpea has been on the bus for at least an hour. Sweetpea gratefully gets on the bus, and as the door slams, we’re brought back to Babydoll.

Babydoll has just had the lobotomy, and the lobotomist, played by the Jon Hamm, the highroller, looks shocked as he tells Dr. Gorski (the choreographer) that in the end, it looked like she had wanted him to do the lobotomy, and he asks about why Dr. Gorski recommended the procedure as the orderly takes Babydoll out. Dr. Gorski says she never recommended to procedure, and when the lobotomist shows her the forged signature, she realizes that something is up. The orderly, and two other guards, take Babydoll to a disgusting bathroom, where there is a stained mattress. The two guards make a token resistance to the orderly, but he tells them that he’ll have them fired and arrested if they don’t leave. They give up, and the orderly kisses Babydoll to no response. He gets enraged by her lack of response, but then the door is busted down with Dr. Gorski bringing the cops in to arrest the orderly. We end with Babydoll smiling a completely blank smile as the cops shine a flashlight on her face.

This is a complicated movie, and I still don’t really know how I feel about it. When it was good, it was really, really good. The soundtrack is probably the most awesome thing I’ve heard all year and I hope it gets awards next year. The fight scenes are awesome- tight, full of good action, and strong tense moments. The acting is superb- I did not recognize the actress as any of their former rolls at all. It passes the Mo Movie Measure with flying colors, and the visuals are stunning, and I really felt that the transitions between worlds were seamless.

Of course, when it was bad, it was pretty bad. The characters never seem to have a chance to be characters. I had to look up the names of Blondie and Amber six times writing this post because they felt so interchangeable to me, which is sad because the characters look nothing alike. The Stepfather/ Father character never gets a single redeeming characteristic, and Blue/ Orderly is a little over-the-top for villainy. The characters are more like stereotypes- the innocent finding inner strength, the bond between sisters, the weak character breaking down, et cetera. They don’t really have a ton of depth, yet, for some reason the characters of Babydoll, Sweetpea, and the choreographer still had a lot of emotional resonance for me. The movie also felt truncated somehow. It was already two hours long, so my guess is that there’s a director’s cut floating around out-there, and that might explain some of the lack of characterization.

And the complicated is really complicated. I put a trigger warning on, something I don’t normally do, because this movie triggered ME, something I didn’t know was possible. The assault scenes are mild by most movie standards- there is some unwanted touching and kissing, but it doesn’t show any real skin or actual rape. But they are terrifying and intense. They do not come off as titillating at all (or, at least not to my husband and I) and I think the director goes out of his way to make them terrifying. For instance, the sexual assault scenes do not come after moments where they think the person is “sexy” but rather after moments where the male characters want to assert power. The Stepfather did not pursue Babydoll because she was attractive- they in fact go out of the way to make her look childish and she is wearing completely unsexy pjs- he assaults her because he’s mad at the fact that he’s not getting any money. When Sweetpea stops the lobotomy play on stage, she even flatly states “How is this sexy? I understand the school girl thing, I even understand the trapped and vulnerable in the mental institute, but how is a lobotomy sexy?” It almost feels like she is asking this of the audience instead of the choreographer. It is almost as if it is challenging the audience to think about how scenes that are normally portrayed as “sexy” are actually horrifying when taking to their logical extension. When Blue assaults Babydoll in the end, it is not after one of the times that she dances, when in theory she is the most sexual, but after she defies him, again making the point that the assault is not about sex at all, but about power. In fact, one of the scenes I didn’t describe is the choreographer telling Blue that Babydoll wasn’t ready for a performance, and Blue starts kissing her and telling her what her place is- under him, so it isn’t just the dancers that get put in their place with sexual control. Even when the characters are dressed in “sexy” attire in versions of “reality” there is really very little arousing about the dancers- we feel their despair even underneath their supposed sexiness. I also think it was a really smart idea to never show Babydoll or any of the other characters dancing: the dancing is just for themselves, not for the audience. On the other hand, they characters are complete gun bunnies in their alternate world. While it was a lot better than a lot of comic-book writers I’ve seen (*cough* Frank Miller *cough*) these parts were portrayed as being enticing. But the enticement was supposed to come out of them kicking ass and taking names, not just looking hot. But it is still very much a “male gaze” portrayal.

Is this a feminist movie? Kind of. I find it very interesting that the only male character to actually be helpful is almost never there in the “real world”, that of the mentor. All of the other males are actively or passively damaging to the women- even when they make a token defense it is quickly cut down. The other interesting thing is how Blue describes himself- he is a terrible person that abuses and profits off of the rape of women, but he puts himself up as a protector, and in some weird ways, he kind of is. He “protects” his property against the Chef, and the orderly counterpart describes himself as “protecting” Babydoll against her Stepfather. He sees himself as a savior of these lowly creatures, only getting his due, as opposed to the monster the audience sees him as. It was also interesting that the choreographer describes her role as “protecting” these girls- teaching them to be enticing with their sexuality- but ultimately does not protect anyone. In the end, it was the girls banding together and protecting each other, and would have worked even better if they could have kept the up the charade. But ultimately, Sweetpea was saved by one guy not really putting himself at much risk but doing an action that without Sweetpea would have been screwed.

I think I might have to watch this movie again, now that I’m prepared for how intense it is. Thoughts? Anyone else see it?

5 Responses to “Sucker Punch Review”

  1. bzzzzgrrrl says:

    I haven’t seen it, and was surprised to read your review, based strictly on the other reviews I’ve read. Now I’m intrigued.
    Did you see this:
    http://io9.com/#!5785590/sucker-punch-goes-beyond-awful-to-become-commentary-on-the-death-of-moviemaking
    or this:
    http://www.afterellen.com/movies/2011/03/sucker-punch-is-girls-disempowered
    ?
    Any thoughts on the points raised by either of those (very different) sources?

  2. m Andrea says:

    I would never have watched this but wow thanks for the most excellent plot summary! Might see it now though. Would love to see both the script-writer and director get additional projects of this nature.

    My primary suggestion, as benefiting a bossy feminazi with an agenda however, is not to refer to movies of this type as a “feminist” movie — outside of feminist spaces — it’ll turn off a lot of people who would watch it otherwise since it apparently has lots of action. It’s really just “non-misogynistic”. I can see a lot of boys and men (and yes the funfems) watching this expecting yet another action flick with T&A, but then maybe they’ll have an “aha” moment or it’ll give them something to think about other than the usual.

    Anyway, cheers, hope you’ve been well. Think you were looking for a job last time you posted something? How’s it all going?

  3. The story is too intricate, but it saves a lot the movie soundtrack.
    There are too many references and elements from all kinds of styles (video games, manga, Gothic, steam-punk, sexploitation)
    I believe that men will appreciate this film :D

  4. Antigone says:

    I’ve got three jobs right now- I drive a kid to and from work, I do laundry at the same household, and I drive around thrift stores looking for gold to sell. None of these jobs are terribly well-paying, and not a one of them required a college degree. Right now I’m in the “treading water” stage of loans- I can only afford to pay the interest. So, still pretty sucktastic.

  5. Antigone says:

    I hate saying this, because it gets leveled at me a lot, but I think people are missing a very, very important part. The bordello stuff? That is NOT Babydoll’s world- it’s Sweetpea’s. It says straight-up at the very beginning of that part that “I’m the star of this show”. And when people say it was boring I’m kind of curious what movie they were watching. Some parts were so intense for me that they made me flinch, but I was never BORED.

    Everyone is right that the characters lack development. But, in some ways, I think this movie is more of a send-up of action movies then an actual action movie. And I find it really interesting that everyone’s harping on their lack of characterization in this film, and nobody does that on movies like say, Die Hard, where the characters are just as cardboard cut-out, if not more so.

    I’ve already given my defense on why I think this movie is not supposed to be titillating, and I really have a hard time seeing why anyone would. But I feel sort of ambivalent about the “empowerment” thing. I don’t think this movie is supposed to be “empowering”. This is more of a “This is the worst part of the world women live in”. I would compare it to the movie “Taken” if only told from the point of view of the women instead of the father.

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