On Sucker Punch, or Why I Liked It

I’ve read a huge number of reviews of Sucker Punch, and most of them have been pretty bad. I’ve been looking forward to seeing this film for ages, so I was a little nervous after the Geek vote came in and SP didn’t seem to cut it (non-Geek audiences seem to like it). Anyway, I went and saw it last night with some friends, and although it’s not a perfect film, I really enjoyed it. Here’s why.

The action sequences, taken individually, are awesome. I particularly loved the fight with the three giant demonic samurai warriors (live action anime!) and the Steampunk/WWI battle. These are the scenes in all the shorts, and they are good but actually get in the way of the drama a bit (which is one of the major criticisms I’ve read of the film). In short, I would have loved just a little more drama, a little more character development, a little more time spent in the ‘real’ world of the film, but ultimately what made the film work for me is that the fantasy elements come between the ‘real’ action in the asylum and the audience. That’s the whole point, really – they’re what the girls use to survive in there, and this is forced on the viewer. All of the ‘real’ violence is implied. It occurs off-screen in our imaginations, and this makes it all the more sinister. The frustration I felt at not seeing the real world effects of the fantasy bothered me at first, but after sleeping on it, I think it’s actually quite effective at synthesizing the effects on the girls of the violence we imagine is being inflicted on them. Part of the enjoyment I derived from the film was trying to work out what was ‘actually’ happening in the real world by trying to peer behind all the fantasy trappings. In other words, I was trying to peer through the girls’ delusions to get to their reality, and I found that process fascinating, even if at first I didn’t get it.

There’s also been a bit of negative press around the costume design. Baby Girl (one of the main characters) wears various sailor outfits throughout, just like many teenaged girls do in anime. I’ve seen this labelled as both a feminist statement and a sexist outrage. The truth, I think, is that it’s neither. On one level, it’s merely a representative of the anime tradition (and that’s a whole nuther conversation, but it’s not all about sexploitation). On another level, it symbolizes both Baby Doll’s abuse within the asylum and her self-actualization through her fantasies. If she’s victimized at all, it’s not by the film but the monsters within it, which is kinda the point.

Look, I’m not going to champion SP as the Best Film Ever, but I think it deals with some really interesting ideas, it made me think, it’s visually stunning, and the acting is pretty good. Doesn’t that make it worth seeing, even if it isn’t the Greatest, Most Important Geek Fest Movie Of All Time?

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