Sucker Punch is a bizarre phenomenon. In a delightfully misguided attempt at storytelling and a twisted take on female empowerment, director Zack Snyder has managed to create a sugary sweet confection that’s as soulless and empty as the characters themselves. While this may seem lik e a bold claim, Snyder’s dalliance with Sailor Moon-esque young women, who are simultaneously infantilized, such as the lead character Baby Doll, as well as hyper-sexualized. All of the components combine to form an impossibly contradictory glance into Snyder’s interpretation of the female psyche.
Then again, that may be one of the first issues with Sucker Punch. Although visually, considering its cast, and thematically it is clear that we are supposed to identify with these girls, there is no genuine effort to establish them as their own characters. When they are involved in one-on-one scenes, which is a rarity, they read as male=projected fantasies of what women should do or want. However, this isn’t nearly as problematic as these women’s inability to function on their own. True, Snyder tries to sell the angle of teamwork, but it is abundantly clear that all of these women are not created equal. They must come together in order to achieve their ultimate goal of escape, but in the film’s conclusion, their unity is compromised by the actions of one of their own and even more so, a number of them work towards this goal at great personal expense. Rather than empowering, their attempts to liberate themselves are often bold, but poorly executed through extended fantasy sequences that do little else but showcase the skimpy costume design and Snyder’s own bloodlust.While the fact that these women are sexualized could be seen as a source of empowerment, such as taking control of their own bodies in order to get they want, it is the way in which they are sexualized that is most problematic. In the “real world”, they are forced to dance and live out the erotic fantasies of club owner, Blue Jones. Snyder clearly sets this up as an act of exploitation and demonizes Jones’ as well as his actions. However, when the girls retreat into their fantasy world, which is supposedly their own terrain, the hyper-sexualization and glorification of the infantilized sexual form remains constant. It is moments like these that director zack Snyder’s convictions and claims of “female empowerment” seem to be revealed. Soon they seem as artificial and insincere as the green-screen background that surrounds his young heroines. The one-note women are exposed as artificial constructions of male making, where personal motivation or back story are given a few lines, if any, but it doesn’t matter as long as the girls look pretty.
What is slightly more understandable, if not still troubling, from a film standpoint is the treatment of male characters as well. Considering the film operates under the guise of female empowerment, it is no surprise that the men are treated with some skepticism. However, by the end of the film, i felt as if I had as much of an understanding of the villains as the main characters, which is to say that I knew nothing of either of them. Although such generalized character development as “men = bad” is always dangerously lazy, Snyder’s flare for storytelling and character development is clearly lacking. This isn’t to say that I enjoyed such generalizations, but throughout the film’s excessive running time, clocking in at a little over 2 hours, I was forced to accept it. Still, how a film manages to employ misogyny and misandry is utterly beyond me.
In the end, Snyder put on a brave face for the public. He sold his film as a tale of young girls who are forced to come into their own with a brutal blend of violence and sexual assault. Unfortunately, as previously stated, Snyder doesn’t seem to have the courage of his convictions. he makes the young women into unstoppable killing machines to appease “girl power” fans, but also manages to stunt them emotionally and sometimes physically, to appeal to the male demographic. In the end, men are treated similarly with no more success. What Sucker Punch ends up being is a visually stunning, if not overly long, film with nothing meaningful to say. Instead, it’s desperate desire to please everyone forces the film to peddle and perpetuate the very stereotypes it claims to be combatting.