Sucker Punch: Such a Waste of Potential

Trigger warning on this post for mention of sexual assault.

Dear Director Zack Snyder,

I saw your film Sucker Punch today. Based on the premise and the posters, I had decided not to go. Then I saw the trailer, and it didn’t strike me as badly as I’d thought it would. I didn’t see as much cleavage as I had feared, and I saw a lot of young women doing extremely fun stuff like sticking a sword through the head of a dragon. I had heard some bad shit about your movie 300 (Jehanzeb Dar on racism in 300, Grace on ableism in 300), but I enjoyed Watchmen aside from the incredibly wrong ending. So I thought I would give Sucker Punch a shot and try to keep an open mind.

First, let me say, you made a very pretty movie. The music was also phenomenal. Stories about female resistance can be fantastic, and I particularly appreciate films that show the strength of young women. You had the raw material to make a truly cool film.

But this is where you failed: You care more about yourself than you do about who your characters really are.

Let’s talk about Baby Doll (Emily Browning). When her mother dies, her evil stepfather tries to sexually assault her, then turns his attention to her little sister. Baby Doll tries to kill him but accidentally kills her sister. This works fine for the stepfather, who commits her to a mental institution to be lobotomized so he can grab all her cash.

That would all be heartbreaking if Baby Doll were a person. But she’s not. She’s a cardboard cutout of a little girl, though you make sure to establish her age as 20. She has a little girl name, a little girl voice, and wears her hair in little girl pigtails. Her complete lack of personality allows you to create whatever scenes you want to create, without any regard for her backstory. Under great stress, Baby Doll either creates or retreats to two separate fantasy worlds. In the first, the mental institution is a front for a bordello. Baby Doll’s power is to dance sexier than any of the other girls and distract the menz so her friends can steal the items they need to escape.

How does this make any sense for this character? How does this come from anything aside from your desire to dress up girls in skimpy clothes and show them being hurt by men?

If you instead created characters you actually care about, they might be more than cardboard cutouts. They might be interesting. The film might reflect how young women who have been hurt actually think, feel, and act. And yes, one of the things they do is fight back. But they don’t always fight back by dressing up in your male fantasy lady-combat outfits of the second fantasy world Baby Doll creates. Strangely, some of them even feel uncomfortable in that kind of clothing. Some don’t, and put it on as a way to feel strong. Again, this is you creating the visuals you want, treating your characters as you want to and ignoring who they are. As a result, they feel like paper dolls. They are all form and no substance.

Can you please think about that for a while?

While you’re at it, you also might want to work on your racism. White girls in this film have the choice of valiant sacrifice to save friends, or escape to live a long and happy life. Brown girls are support staff, betrayers, and victims. It’s ugly and predictable and it’s so backwards that I don’t even know what more to say. I would also caution you that if you’re going to set a film in a mental institution, you might want to know more about the history of mental health treatment in this country instead of just using it as a dramatic backdrop. It’s true that women considered troublesome by their families have been “disciplined” by forcible committal, but there’s a much bigger picture here and it’s callous to use the bit you want and throw the rest away.

My husband is part of your target market, and he was also pretty disgusted. He’s in his thirties, plays a lot of video games. He said he would rather see a film by the creators of D.O.A., notorious exploiters of women, since then he wouldn’t have to deal with the veneer of respectability you tried to pull over the film with the drama and torment aspect. If you’re going to make a film of young girls running around video game fight scenes wearing their underwear, then just do that and stop pretending it’s something else.

I am 100% certain that you’ll be able to find a lot of white women, and maybe even some women of color, who will embrace Sucker Punch as a girl power movie. That’s very sad. I guess as a starting place, it’s better than some, but the disrespect for female characters that oozes from almost every scene just breaks my heart. It’s not even the clothes for me, it’s what the clothes say about how much you just don’t give a damn about these girls you created and brought to life. They’re not real people, but fictional characters can be inspiring to real people, and you threw away your chance to make that happen.


A woman who is not as radical fringe as you’re probably telling yourself she is

p.s. I noticed when you switched out Baby Doll’s shoes in the temple fight scene. If her shoes keep the stunts from working, then why is it so important that she wears them?

(No stars.)

This post was originally published on Heroine Content, a feminist and anti-racist movie blog that ran from July 2006 to May 2012.

11 thoughts on “Sucker Punch: Such a Waste of Potential

  1. Elizabeth

    These are pretty much all the reasons I refrained from seeing this. I feel lucky that in my circle of reading, though, that I have yet to find any women who find this movie empowering. General consensus has revolved a combination of bitter disappointment and gross out at the exploitation.

  2. Skye

    I probably could have titled this post “Sucker Punch: Why You Were Right Not To Go.” I was saved from bitter disappointment by my wariness ahead of time, but there’s definitely a kind of dull achy disappointment. Films with more than one ass-kicking girl or woman are so hard to find. It’s just so depressing when they turn out to be trash.

  3. laloca

    thanks for affirming my decision not to pay for this movie in the theaters. (although i must admit that my initial reason for not going was a reaction to one of the trailers – “what young woman in 2011 is going to fantasize herself into glitter tights?!”)

  4. The Dreaded Rhubarb

    The terrible thing is, I know it will be rubbish and nonsensical and offensive and I’ll hate it and be infuriated yet I’m still going to go and see it. Worse, I’m somehow looking forward to it.

    More seriously, this is looking like it’s a flop so instead of blaming it on Zack Snyder, the executives will decide that the public have lost their taste for action heroines or films with all female main characters. The way that Catwoman has ensured it will probably be at least a decade before a black woman gets to headline a major Hollywood film again.

  5. Hotlord

    This director made the same mistake with the shoes in watchmen. When SS is fighting in the jail you can see the shoes so obviously switched. At leas in matrix they didn’t have this problem with Trinity, because i watched close. This director is just sloppy.

    Anyway, great review.

  6. Patrick

    Okay, I couldn’t resist seeing this. Man, what a horrible movie. I agree with everything you say, PLUS: it’s fucking boring. All the slow-mo shots and stills and the bad music enhances the feeling of these characters as dolls and cutouts because they move so slowly and rarely speak.

  7. Glitter

    “what young woman in 2011 is going to fantasize herself into glitter tights?”

    I am a young woman in 2011 who fantasizes about myself in glitter tights (in the movie they are actually rhinestones).

  8. Bonnie Norman

    After watching this for the first time tonight, I came here to look for your review. It addressed a lot of the things I had a problem with, but I have to say one thing.

    The dream-within-a-dream thing is annoying anyway, but honestly, the mental institution within a bordello within an RPG was so….unnecessary. The middle step of the bordello was obviously a scheme to parade them around in “dancing” costumes, and made no sense otherwise. It was unnecessary to the film itself, regardless of the way it portrays it’s characters. Ugh. And can I say, the last 15 or so minutes made me want to scream.

  9. Kyler

    I never had a problem with the dress. I thought it was beautiful that these girls were kicking butt and looking sexy. That the most plane cardboard cut out male fantasized doll looking women were not dolls, but were actually strategic thinkers who weren’t afraid to fight for their freedom.

    I thought it was quite interesting that Zach used sexist archetypes of women in order to grab male attention but at the same time trick them into thinking that these women are there for their pleasure but actually these women do not enjoy their set-out lifestyles and are practically enslaved.

    I think this part can be helpful for people to analyze their own sexism and the ways in which women are abused and objectified in this society.

    I saw the film as a commentary on how women are objectified by men.

    I’m not saying this movie is perfect, because there is racism in it. The fact that the white women die noble deaths and reach freedom.But the asian and latina characters are killed for no reason and for being backstabbers. Also the film’s only black woman is just a worker at the mental institution. Which is kinda of like saying black women aren’t hot enough to be dancers so they just need to labor behind a desk unnoticed.

    There was no black women in the institution honestly, everyone in this movie was light skinned.

    Which considering they have beautiful black artist Skin making a song for the movie, the least they could do was to represent her.

    So i like the film, the visuals, it’s a pretty movie, but it’s just racist as fuck

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