Or the complete lack of it, anyway. I considered calling this post !Irony but that irritated me as soon as it came to mind. In any case, this post contains spoilers and a review of Sucker Punch. Short version: it doesn’t really have characters as much as models. It doesn’t have a story as much as it has scenes, well, images. The closest thing to a narrator is unreliable. The gender issues addressed by the movie are to femininity what 300 was to masculinity only less subtle. There isn’t artistry as much as craft on display. A hot mess of disappointment with about 15ish minutes of stuff that looks really, really cool. Major Spoilers after the cut. Major spoilers for One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest for good measure.
The movie exists on three different levels. There’s the “real world” which we see for 5 minutes at the beginning and for 5 minutes at the very end. The main character, “Baby Doll” (seriously) has been committed to an asylum for girls. We see the wicked stepfather bribe the head orderly to arrange a lobotomy and we see the head orderly agree. This sets the stage for the fantasy world in which we spend the majority of the film where the asylum is really a theater/brothel and the head orderly is really the head pimp. The rest of the movie takes place in the fantasy within the fantasy where you’ll find the worthwhile 15ish minutes. This is the portion of the movie where “Baby Doll” (seriously) and her cadre of action models (“Rocket”, “Sweet Pea”, “Amber”, and “Blondie” (seriously)) do such things as fight steam-powered zombies, dragons, mirror surfaced robots, and samurai golems (those last ones were my absolute favorites).
One of the first things I thought of when watching the movie was Moulin Rouge but Moulin Rouge had a sense of humor (or at least a sense of irony). Sucker Punch does not have this sense of irony/humor about itself. It is dreadfully, dreadfully earnest. I suppose that that makes sense, on one level… there are two ways to fight steampunk zombies and one is winking and laughing and breaking the fourth wall while you do it and the other is to be all business. They go for all business.
The problem, however, is that we don’t spend the entire movie in the hyperfantasy where the chicks are all tough as nails with katanas, handguns, jet packs, and mecha. We fall back down into the fantasy where pretty much everybody who isn’t one of the five girls is a menacing violent threat. One of the shortcuts the movie takes is not bothering to give us characters we care about but instead giving us bad guys that we know we should hate. Giving us people to boo is almost as good as giving us people to cheer, right? Well, when it’s this gratuitous, it’s not. The best setups involve us wanting to see the good guys win and not just see the bad guys lose.
In failing to give us characters that we care about, we’re left with little more than spectacle. While the spectacle is spectacular, there’s nothing underneath it. An example from the movie: We’re told that “Baby Doll” (seriously) has an absolutely entrancing dance. We never see it. The dance is what happens in the fantasy world when she slips away (and us with her) into the hyperfantasy world. When we fall back out into the fantasy world, the dance has just ended and we see the looks of rapture on the faces of the viewers.
We don’t see this. We are just told that it happened. We are never given a connection with anybody in the movie, we’re just told that we should have one. At the end of the movie, she’s given a lobotomy. In my real world, this would be cause for me to be upset (hey, I was upset when Murphy got one). In the movie, however, we’re told that she’s pleased with this outcome. It’s what she, apparently, wanted. Like with everything else in the movie, we’re not shown this, we’re just told it.
Which is the ultimate flaw that pervades everything in the film. We’re not shown anything as much as just told it.
In that, I suppose, the movie is a metaphor for itself.