Zack Snyder’s Sucker Punch isn’t the worst-reviewed movie of the year, but it may be the most misunderstood. Condemned by critics as fanboy pap, it nevertheless failed to connect with the viewers it supposedly spoon-fed. With few exceptions, Sucker Punch’s negative notices followed the same pattern: Construct a hypothetical audience to which the film purportedly panders, and then damn movie and audience in one fell swoop. What didn’t seem to enter the equation is that Snyder might be sincere—that Sucker Punch could be a lavish, idiot-savant version of what critics call a film maudit, a project cursed by circumstance or out-of-control instincts that’s nonetheless revealing in a way successful films rarely are. It goes down in flames, but it burns beautifully.
For those who missed the film—which, given its piddling box office, is almost everyone—the VOD, DVD and Blu-ray release Tuesday 28 offers a second chance. But first, you have to persuade your friends, roommates or a dubious spouse to watch what they’ve doubtless heard is a pile of dung. We’ve isolated the most persistent criticisms, along with handy rebuttals to help you win control of the remote.
Isn’t it just geek porn?
Sort of. In a post-flop interview with The Wall Street Journal, Snyder admitted he’d dressed his heroines in schoolgirl outfits and body-hugging leotards because “that’s what pop culture demands.” But he went on to say the film deliberately underlines the absurdity of that archetype. “I love that when confronted by the exact formula they request, they get all freaked out by it,” he said.
That’s a cop-out, right? Snyder doesn’t seem smart enough for subversion.
Yes and no. Snyder’s not his own best advocate—in the same interview, he repeatedly uses the nonword “de-constructivist”—and the notion that the costume department was taking orders from the zeitgeist is disingenuous at best. But next to the leering glance of movies like Fast Five and the Transformers saga, Sucker Punch’s outfits seem practically prim. We saw more of Malin Akerman in Snyder’s Watchmen and a lot more of Lena Headey in 300 than of Sucker Punch’s young women, who are too busy firing machine guns to unbutton their blouses.
It seems absurdly over-the-top.
Yes, and gloriously so. Even if Snyder hadn’t cited Moulin Rouge! as an inspiration, the fact that the movie opens with the parting of curtains foreshadows its theatrical excess. Is mixing Apocalypse Now and The Two Towers absurd? Or staging a World War I battle sequence with steampunk Jerries? Sure. But if you’re going to create your own world, as the movie advises its characters to do, you might as well give it everything you’ve got.
I’m not convinced.
You can argue that Sucker Punch is ludicrously excessive, that its CGI landscapes are an affront to the eye, that Skunk Anansie’s version of “Search and Destroy” should never have seen the light of day—and you’d be right on that last point. But one thing it’s not is impersonal. Snyder has reached into his soul, a dusty trunk filled with Victoria’s Secret catalogs, disassembled action figures, and a worn-out VHS of Brazil. That’s what artists do, even when they ought to know better.