Billed as a female empowerment movie, people landed pretty hard once they realized how much of the plot was made up of brothel scenes and panty shots. It’s not an un-empowering movie, there are certainly worse out there, but well, the male gaze in this movie is real and it’s hard to tell if it’s an intentional commentary or just straight up written and directed by males male gaze. I’m going to defend this movie, as it is seriously one of my favorite films, but I’m not going to try and gloss over the fact that it is flawed and deserving of criticism. I just don’t think it should have been written off as being terrible. Because I don’t think it’s terrible.
So this post has been in development for awhile, probably from the moment I watched a bootleg version on my apartment in the land of unenforced copyright, the Republic of Korea. Recently Manbeast and I acquired the blu-ray extended cut with 15 minutes of extra footage! Watch the extended cut. A lot of those 15 minutes are just the girls prancing around with their big guns, and it can get tedious, but an added two seconds in the first scene clears up one of the hugest plot holes in the entire movie.
Spoiling as little as possible, let’s just say that someone shoots twice, and that’s how someone ends up dead. Because the original one shot cut makes no sense because physics and ballistics and this isn’t Wanted (the movie) so bullets don’t curve.
The other added benefit of the extended cut is that suddenly Sucker Punch is all about symbolism. For a movie that takes place on three layers of consciousness these repeated motifs are really great to point out and remind us of the other worlds we’re not currently visiting. Everything just ties in better.
I believe that, at it’s core, Sucker Punch is a movie about sisterhood. Baby Doll ends up in her situation when she fails to protect her sister from their step-father, Sweet Pea (arguably the film’s true main character) has her co-dependent relationship with her sister Rocket, and ultimately Baby Doll is forced to make a very sisterly sacrifice for Sweet Pea. This all on top of the fact that the whole group is comprised of women trying to help each other achieve on goal.
One of the main complaints that I heard about the movie was that in the fantasy sequences there were no stakes. Well, based on the robot train scene, I would say that’s not a very well supported statement, but regardless there are clearly stakes overall, trying to escape the brothel/asylum. I think it was fun to have some fight scenes that were just plain fun and you didn’t have to worry about the characters dying. Except they do die, so it’s not as if actions are completely without consequence. The other complaint is that Snyder couldn’t decide what girl power movie he wanted to make, so he just made all of them. That’s a fair critique and I’m not going to counter it, because I’m pretty sure that’s exactly what happened.
I think Sucker Punch is a lot like Inception in that it forces you to question the movies reality. We know why Baby Doll ends up in the asylum but as for what really happens all we know is that she stabbed an orderly, started a fire, and helped someone escape. We don’t know if any of the other women in the group are real, and it’s my belief that they aren’t, which is why they are so easily disposed. Baby Doll helps Sweet Pea, because in saving Sweet Pea (half of the only other sister pair we see in the movie) makes up for her failure to save her real sister. The death of Rocket is merely reliving the death of Baby Doll’s sister in a different setting.
The movie has a decent amount of depth, if you allow it to. There is even nuance and subtlety. Yes, there are gratuitous panty-shots, and it’s not the second coming of great feminist movies (assuming there was even a first, although Sucker Punch does pass the imperfect Bechdel Test). It’s a film about camaraderie and sisterhood and is the only action movie I can think of where all the action is done by women, which really, even with gratuitous panty-shots and Game of Thrones level rape references, should count for something.