It wasn't until I got to the end of the movie that I really started to hate Sucker Punch (2011, directed by Zack Snyder). I mean, I was irritated by it already, but the credit sequence, in which the filmmakers stage a big production number in which Oscar Isaacs and Carla Gugino sing Roxy Music's "Love is the Drug" and then completely fracture the frame for the requirements of the credits such that you can't actually see much of it was salt in the wound. The movie already wants to be a musical, and if the filmmakers were willing to go that route, it might have ameliorated the appalling sexism inherent in the movie, so say nothing of its other narrative flaws.
I have no doubt that the filmmakers view what's onscreen as some kind of half-assed empowerment of women. By dressing its mostly female cast in fetish outfits and having them slay dragons, they're indulging in the Strong Female Character fallacy that makes reading comics or playing fantasy games of any sort kind of an ordeal if you're not, y'know, an adolescent male. Don't get me wrong: I like looking at gorgeous young women in fetish outfits as much as anyone (I wear fetish outfits myself from time to time), but seriously, don't pretend that this confers any kind of empowerment on these characters. They're dolled up for the male gaze. The fact that the internal fantasy of the film's central character is a nested Russian doll in which she's alternately a stripper/whore trapped in a club owned by slavers and a videogame super-heroine who kicks ass in heels should be a giveaway. This is not a film about women taking control of their own sexuality for themselves. This has all been suitably derided elsewhere, though, so I'll refrain from piling onto this point, and even though it's annoying, it's not the MOST annoying thing about this movie. But I'm getting ahead of myself.
The story here finds our heroine, Babydoll, committed to an institution in retaliation for resisting her stepfather's designs on her inheritance. Her stepfather pays off one of the orderlies to make sure that she's the victim of a trans-orbital lobotomy, and as she waits for that to happen, she escapes her situation into a dual-layered fantasy world. In the top level fantasy, she's been trafficked into the service of a high-end brothel/strip club, where the girls dance for and service the rich and the powerful. It's Madame Gorski's task to train the girls to dance, and Babydoll is special. During her dance sequences, she escapes even further into a fantasy world in which she is on a quest and needs to brave dangerous missions to retrieve the items necessary to escape from her predicament. The women who are patients/inmates with her show up in these fantasies, too, and they form a kind of elite ops squad, who go up against armies of clockwork zombies and fire-breathing dragons. Unfortunately for her, the final item of her quest is something she needs to determine herself, and the answer derails everything...
Okay, the most annoying thing about this movie is that whenever one of Babydoll's fantasy sequences has ended and she returns to the main layer of her fantasy world, all of the characters are agog with amazement at how she dances. This is all well and good, so long as you eventually show her dancing. SHOW HER FREAKING DANCING! This isn't rug pulling, or sucker punching if you want to take the title literally (more on that in a second), this is making a huge fucking promise to the audience and then completely reneging on it. I mean, maybe Emily Browning can't dance and they're working around her, but that's a limp excuse in a movie where she's asked to perform elaborate action choreographies. There's not a lot of difference between dance sequences and martial arts sequences.
I almost hesitate to go off on the narrative shift at the end, when we learn that everything we've seen so far is a sham, that the Maguffin doesn't even have any meaning to the end of the movie. The narrative structure cheats the audience as much as the film's aversion to dance. For a while, I thought this was going to end the same way John Carpenter's much more economical The Ward ended, or Scorsese's Shutter Island (which is more or less the same thing). But no. This has ideas all its own as to what constitutes a narrative sucker punch. It indulges in a non sequitur. At this point, I should probably give the movie it's due, though. The opening sequence, largely silent, knows how to tell a story, and I won't say I don't like watching Carla Gugino done up in dominatrix drag while channeling Marlene Dietrich, cause I totally do. For that matter, I don't necessarily disapprove of the way Snyder films his action sequences. Overwrought, perhaps, but comprehensible. Better this method, where the geography of the scene is almost always clear, than some dumb run and gun style that would make an already indigestible movie nigh unwatchable.
I dunno, maybe Zack Snyder is taking his lessons from Sam Raimi, who discovered to his sorrow that fanboy culture won't put up with dancing in its entertainments. Instead, he's provided "awesome" set-pieces, where the stakes are ever escalating and the action ever more absurd. Hot babes in fetish outfits fighting dragons? Cool! This is the trouble with the poisonous virus of fanboy culture: it values shock and awe over actual, y'know, quality. Everything these days is awesome. Special effects are at a zenith. What kind of praise is it that a movie has great special effects when everything has great special effects? The new frontier in this kind of filmmaking isn't how astonishing the things are that can be filmed, it's how beautiful and artful they are. Sucker Punch seems awfully derivative on this point. Its grimy slowmo music video aesthetic seems as second hand as its dragon, who is another descendant of Vermithrax Pejorative and even has the exact same moment of pathos over her dead offspring. Awesome at second hand is more draining than inspiring. Show me something new, motherfucker. Show me Emily Browning dancing to make my jaw drop. Now THAT would be awesome.