Friday, 1 April 2011



This is where the wheels fall off the Zack Snyder wagon. He started out well with his Dawn Of The Dead remake which was fine (no mean achievement considering Romero's original is my favourite film of all time), and followed it up with 300 which I confess I rather enjoyed, but then dropped off with Watchmen: far too long and strangely uninteresting. And this is the least successful of his films to date. There's a hell of a lot wrong with it: its meaningless title, its sexual politics, its ridiculous notions of female empowerment, its BBFC classification, its needly overstylised visuals and its narrative bleakness. Certainly the CGI fantasy sequences are done with panache, but that's scarce compensation for the film's rotten core: the effects should be phenomenal, given the massive budget, but they've been shoehorned into a story that's fundamentally depressing and has a questionable, nay worrying, view of sex and women. You almost get the impression that Snyder, having made one of the great homoerotic movies of the last few years with 300, wants desperately to convince the world that he really is genuinely interested in girls, honest. Well, it hasn't quite worked out that way.

Sucker Punch has the otherwise unnamed Baby Doll (Emily Browning), supposedly 20 but, like most of the films' female characters, little short of jailbait, placed in a mental hospital by her wicked stepfather seeking to claim an inheritance. With five days to go before she's lobotomised (the old fashioned way, with an icepick through the eye socket), she reimagines the drab asylum as a kind of burlesque fantasy brothel in which her fellow patients are prostitutes, the doctor in charge is their pimp and their therapist (Carla Gugino with a Polish accent) is their dance instructor. But Baby Doll has an escape plan, and when she dances, she slips into a further level of fantasy in which she and the other patients take part in ridiculous action missions, to get the keys, knives and so forth with which they can all escape....

The threat of rape and sexual exploitation runs throughout the film: from Baby Doll's evil stepfather, to the asylum's head, the customers at the brothel, and even the asylum's cook - bad enough even if the girls weren't so young-looking. They're all dressed in either miniskirts or hotpants, midriff-exposing croptops and fishnets, and military-style fetishwear in the fantasy sequences: either that or daft fashion creations with a hint of slutty schoolgirl or even sailor suits! As a depiction of women it's nothing more than either snivelling waifs and strays or hot chicks in tight pants kicking ass and firing massive guns. Does that count as female empowerment? I'm really not sure, if for no other reason than that the girls' mission ultimately gets them nowhere. Indeed, their great quest for freedom and empowerment leads to death or a lobotomy: it's a film with a grim, bleak conclusion in which, although the villains may get their comeuppance, they still win (and the just desserts is dealt with in a single line of dialogue at the end).

So with the constant perving, the frequent threat of rape, the huge monsters and the horrors of the real-world mental hospital, what on Earth possessed the BBFC to grant it a 12A? This is clearly 15 territory at the outside. Would you take your ten year old to this film? It's going to give boys a pretty warped idea of girls, and it's not going to do much for the girls either, depicting them as feeble crybabies or sex objects. I honestly think the BBFC were too lenient with this one: it's absolutely not a kids' film (which is what the 12A amounts to while it's advisory).

Stylistically it's all over the place, veering from the drab horrors of the asylum to the demented CGI excesses of the fantasy sequences - yes, the effects are terrific and the dragon is probably the best yet seen, but they ARE just fantasy sequences. The opulent brothel sets and the use of old songs almost make the film feel like The Ward as directed by Baz Luhrmann. But ultimately it's a very uncomfortable film: it's been made to give middle-aged pervs something to leer and drool over. That's fine. It's called pornography and if that's what you ultimately want, go ahead. Knock yourself out. But don't then try and tell me it's about female empowerment, because it emphatically isn't. It's a grubby, gloating sex fantasy by and for dirty old men. It gains its second star for the effects work but really that's all the film has in its favour. I remain uncomfortable about the whole thing.


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