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Let’s say the two of us are looking at a Robert Mapplethorpe photograph. I like it. You hate it. The picture is of a naked man stretching with his back to us on some sort of table. After a few seconds, you walk away disgusted. I continue to stare. My visceral, gut reaction tells me it’s beautiful; yours thinks it’s nothing more than high brow pornography. At this point, neither of us are wrong. We looked at the same final product and had two totally different responses, but if you then tell me it’s exploitive, of little artistic value and essentially a retread of the work of great sculptors, and my response is well, I think it’s great, I’m the one who comes off like an idiot. It’s not enough for me to say it’s great. What the hell kind of rebuttal is that? In order to maintain pace in this fake argument, I must say I like the shadowing, the symmetry and that clearly too much thought and time have been put into this to merely be pornography. In the words of Will Ferrell, that’s how you debate.
Many people like to write off critical opinions by saying movies come down to taste. This is both true and misleading. There is no scientific algorithm to measure greatness, nor is there one to condemn failure. We like what we like, but that doesn’t mean you can’t effectively explain exactly why you think something sucks. I hate Zack Snyder’s Sucker Punch. I hated it while I was watching it, immediately after I watched it, and I still hate it just as much, if not more, two days later. It makes no sense. It’s easily the worst film I’ve seen this year. But that’s not good enough. You can just as easily say you think it’s awesome, and then we’re at an impasse of foolish, polarized and shortsighted opinions. Like Mapplethorpe’s photograph, too much effort went into Sucker Punch to simply call it violent pornography and move on. So, here is my explanation of exactly why it makes no sense whatsoever.
Warning: Sucker Punch spoilers follow.
Let’s start with the basic premise. Baby Doll’s parents have died. Infuriated over being left out of the will, her step-father has gotten drunk, attacked the girls and Baby Doll’s little sister has ended up dead. Why this douche bag assumed Baby Doll’s parents wouldn’t provide for their children is anyone’s guess, but let’s just take that at face value. Greed and strong drink have driven men to do reckless, illogical things before. So, the sister’s dead and this asshole decides to put Baby Doll into a home where she’ll get a lobotomy in five days because he “doesn’t want the cops coming around and asking questions”. That’s right. The police have apparently not interviewed her about the homicide of her sister which they know she either committed or was a witness to. Let’s just let that one slide too. Everyone gets a few stretches.
So, Baby Doll is being led through the home and her step-douche and one of the orderlies are openly talking about how much money will be exchanged for the lobotomy. They’re not hiding it. They’re not whispering. They’re just going about their business as if this information isn’t secretive whatsoever. Fine. I’d be willing to buy the patients and other workers are hip to what’s going on, except, the end of the movie tells us they’re not. Main therapist Dr. Vera Gorski blows the whistle after she finds out her signature has been forged on a lobotomy order. Just so we’re clear: the main therapist, the woman in charge of the counseling at Lennox House, has no idea who’s given the order to permanently alter one of her patients’ brains. She’s apparently just assumed it was someone and never bothered opening Baby Doll’s medical records. Wait... what?
All this underhanded tomfoolery passes at the beginning, of course, and Baby Doll adjusts to her new surroundings by elaborately fantasizing it’s actually a brothel. Not a real brothel, of course. There’s no nudity, sex or clientele beyond one high roller. That would have required an adult imagination and an R-rating, neither of which Sucker Punch has, but hey, traumatized people cope in different ways.
This is the fantasy Baby Doll chose, which is strange because she hates it. In fact, our protagonist invents another fantasy just to escape the original fantasy. Every time she dances, the PG-13 strip club melts away for an elaborate video game world where her and four friends battle hideous people, creatures and robots. It’s like Baby Doll’s take on Happy Gilmore’s Happy Place, except she doesn’t go to the same place every time. Once she’s fighting Nazis, another time giant statues come to life and another time harmless dragons just trying to mind their own business. Wait... what?
That’s right. During one of these imagined sequences, Baby Doll and friends break into a castle, find a sleeping dragon and slit its throat to receive two crystals. This awakens the firebreather’s mother who attacks and is also slain. Imagine for a second you’re a traumatized girl creating a dream world to maintain sanity. Clearly, you’re going to be the hero, the main character, the one who saves the little children from the burning school bus. Now, let’s say, for whatever reason, you decide you must fight a dragon to claim your prize. Why in God’s name would you make the creature docile and sleeping? And why would you then give it a mother to get upset after you callously slit her baby’s throat? What kind of sick, vicious antihero do you picture yourself as? Are you even angry or surprised the mother is attacking you? You can’t be.
Nonsense like this is why people join PETA, but no one here seems upset in the least. They celebrate themselves like conquering heroes, just like they did stealing a map from mutant zombies in another fantasy sequence. There’s no rhyme, reason or cohesion to any of it. Sometimes what Baby Doll does directly affects or mirrors what’s happening in the fabricated brothel which affects what’s happening in the insane asylum. Then again, sometimes it’s as if Baby Doll’s just at Dave And Busters, unable to jam another token in during the allotted ten second gap Resident Evil gives you to continue. Game over. Guess it’s back to the brothel. Wait... what?
Whatever. So, we’re back in the MPAA-approved peep show, and the girls’ plans of escape have gone up in smoke after Blondie has informed Blue and Dr. Gorski of their escape scheme. Blue storms in all mad as hell about the Hogan’s Heroes shenanigans, and he proceeds to murder Amber as a lesson for the rest of ‘em. They freak out for a few seconds until he then shoots Blondie because he "doesn’t like snitches". What the hell warden or boss wants to let the inmates know if they come forward with proposed schemes they’ll be shot on the spot? I’d complain more, but that’s not even the most idiotic thing happening at that moment.
There’s a show about to start. The high roller is in attendance, and apparently, Blue thinks nothing of firing two gun shots in the next room. That’s a quick way to clear out business immediately. Maybe they were in some kind of bulletproof vault though. Technology was a marvel in the fifties, and besides, two of the girls needed to be axed so ultimate vindication could come for not the main character. Wait... what?
When redemption finally comes for the tormented and incarcerated girls, it’s given to Sweet Pea alone. The most annoying and frustrating of the five who wasn’t even on board with escaping to begin with walks out the front door while Baby Doll sacrifices herself. Then she boards a bus, gives viewers a happy little send off and disappears into the distance. The ladies thought they had a brilliant plan. They started a fire, crept their way through the unlocked doors and ended up outside. Unfortunately, everyone outside is calm as a cucumber. The fire hasn’t panicked them in the least. In fact, they’re very surprised to see girls outside. This is where the trick comes in. You’d think Baby Doll would simply reiterate the fact that there’s a fire inside and cause a distraction, but she decides to continue with the dancing sequence. Might as well give viewers more allusions to slutty stripping without ever showing it. Wait... what?
There’s no actual dancing in Sucker Punch, just as there’s no point, purpose or direction. It’s a circle jerk of half-conceived ideas, sophomoric fantasizes and idiotic musings. Its final voiceover is incredibly anti-climactic. It’s costuming is third rate steampunk. Its characters are hollow and stupid. Its dream worlds are frequently without consequence. In short, it makes no sense whatsoever. It’s two hours of repeated wait---what’s, and while I can’t tell you for positive it sucks, I can certainly argue my case.