Delayed Reactions: Why Sucker Punch Sucks


I’m about two years late to this party.

I watched Sucker Punch recently as part of a film club. I was a little hesitant – I didn’t enjoy Watchmen and…I’ve just realised that’s the only film of his I’ve seen. None of the others grabbed my attention or had pretty terrible reviews so didn’t seem worth the price of the cinema ticket.

Source: wingwingwingwing on Deviantart

Back in 2011 I remember reading a few articles about how Sucker Punch was sexist, and so I stayed away. But watching it, Sucker Punch was a whole other level of misogynist bullshit than I expected. I clenched my teeth at certain points, and was made so uncomfortable by various aspects. Combined with the fact that Snyder obviously patted himself on the back, thinking this was an empowering film because girls are fighting, and it left a very bad taste in my mouth.

Zack Snyder states that Sucker Punch mirrors The Wizard of Oz (he wishes) in that “the fantasy world serves as a metaphor for what’s going on in the real world” He goes into further detail on why he thinks it’s “more than just the girls looking sexy and kicking ass” (source for all quotes from this io9 article):

Everything in the movie is about a show within a show within a show. Someone asked me, “Why did you dress the girls like that, in those provocative costumes?” And I said, “Well, think about it for a second. I didn’t dress those girls in the costume. The audience dressed those girls.” And when I say the audience, I mean the audience that comes to the movies. Just like the men who visit a brothel, [they] dress the girls when they go to see these shows as however they want to see them.

But my hope was that they would take those things back, just like my girls hopefully get confidence, they get strength through each other, that those become power icons. They start out as cliches of feminine sexuality as made physical by what culture creates. I think that part of it was really specific, whether it’s French maid or nurse or Joan Arc to a lesser extent [laughs], or schoolgirl. Our hope is we were able to modify them and turn them into these power icons, where they can fight back at the actual cliches that they represent. So hopefully by the end the girls are empowered by their sexuality and not exploited. But certainly that’s where they come from, the journey is asking, “What do you want to see? Well, be careful what you want to see.

Let’s rip that to shreds, shall we?

So, Zack, pushing the responsibility away is bullshit. You put them in those costumes and wrote it in. Yeah, people filled the cinema tickets, but it was still yours and the costume designer’s choice. It is rare for a girl character in Sucker Punch to be fully clothed. In the first scene, the protagonist Baby Doll is wearing pyjamas, and then her clothes get smaller depending on how far down the rabbit hole we go.

Practical armour

They’re deliberately provocative costume choices: Baby Doll’s schoolgirl outfit is reminiscent of Sailor Moon and the standard “naughty schoolgirl” fantasy.  They make sure to state that Baby Doll is 20 (she’s of age, people!) but she’s wearing blonde pigtails and a headband and looks much younger. In the brothel world, the girls are wearing lingerie, and then in the steampunk Nazi fantasy world they’re all wearing cutesy soldier outfits that are impractical for fighting. But their hats are jaunty!

Nice jumpsuit

Now, I’m not a prude by any means. Women can wear whatever they want, and objectively, a lot of those outfits are rather cute. I would wear some of them. What I have a problem with is that 100% of the men are sensibly clothed 100% of the time. Even zombie steampunk men may have limbs rotting away, but none are topless! The constant lingering camera angles on the girls’ asses and crotches is also wearying. Yes, it’s a fantasy and so theoretically they could wear whatever they want when killing dragons and mecha-Samurai and robots and what have you, but by the same token you can still have them wearing more practical clothing for fighting and still looking sexy, if that’s the aim. Kill Bill did a better job at that (even though that film was very much not my cup of tea, either).

suckerpunch6Snyder states that “Our hope is we were able to modify them and turn them into these power icons, where they can fight back at the actual cliches that they represent. So hopefully by the end the girls are empowered by their sexuality and not exploited.” But the issue is, they’re not power icons. Over and over, the women are exposed to pervasive, sexualised violence: it begins with an implied, threatened rape against Baby Doll and her sister. It’s suggested that because what happens in the fantasy world happens in another way in the level before it, that a lot of the girls in the mental asylum might be sexually preyed upon. All of the girls in the brothel are sex workers against their will, plus Rocket is nearly raped by the chef. There’s not as much threatened sexual violence in the third fantasy world, but Baby Doll even straddles a baby dragon in a weirdly sexual way when she cuts open its throat. It’s as relentless as the rather boring action scenes (which are all filmed like video games, but since you’re not invested in the avatars fighting, it quickly becomes so much mediocre CGI).

I watched the extended version, which has the scene with Jon Hamm as the high roller who has purchased Baby Doll’s virginity but was cut from the cinematic release (so that it could remain 12A/PG-13). Emily Browning, who plays Baby Doll, was upset by it, stating: “I think that it’s great for this young girl to actually take control of her own sexuality. Well, the MPAA doesn’t like that. They don’t think a girl should ever be in control of her own sexuality because they’re from the Stone Age” (source). But the thing is, that whole scene has a long speech from the High Roller saying how he doesn’t just want her body, he wants to possess her mind too and wants a “true moment.” So he asks her to have consentual sex with him and then he’ll offer her freedom (though he never states how this will happen or what he means by freedom). She makes the best of a bad situation and goes with him willingly. But that is not complete free consent, in my opinion. She’s not free to say “no” and walk away – he won’t let her because he paid a small fortune for her virginity and he’s going to collect. Also, after that, she’s knocked back to the real world to be lobotomised.

Happiness is a warm gun.
Happiness is a warm gun.

For though Snyder might think it’s about female empowerment, the power only comes in dreams and nightmares, and that power is systematically taken away. The women in the film are imprisoned in a mental asylum and abused, locked in a brothel and abused, one by one Baby Doll’s comrades Blondie, Amber and Rocket are murdered for daring to fight back. Baby Doll is left comatose, and a very traumatised Sweet Pea is allowed to survive, but only if she’s wearing a sedate white, non-revealing dress and is at the last moment saved by a man again (the bus driver, who was also the mentor in the Nazi-dragon-robot world and gave the girls their orders). Sweet Pea survived because she transitioned from Whore to Madonna.

No more lingerie for you!

As a final point, while Sucker Punch is unfair to women, it’s also pretty unfair to men. All the men (except for maybe Wise Man Scott Glen) are despicable rapists, would-be rapists, murderers, and a fair amount also have poor hygiene. They can’t control themselves when Baby Doll does her sexy dance and stare vacantly. So, basically, Sucker Punch had no characters I liked or rooted for, with the possible exception of the poor baby dragon who had its throat slit and its mother, who was stabbed in the head.

This movie failed for me on every possible level.

The end.


Recent Links

I had an interview for the YA Debut Author Bash hosted by YA Reads over at Book Bandit‘s blog. She also wrote a nice review of Pantomime here.

My agent, Juliet Mushens, has a great guest blog entry at Windmill Books about what she actually does as an agent.

Reminder: Pantomime‘s ebook is still on sale for super cheap, but I’m not sure how much longer the deal will be on. The highest I saw it get on Amazon was ranking #2,446, hitting #22 in Social Issues for Children and #74 Childrens SFF, Mystery & Horror!

A few months ago, Pantomime was reviewed by the American Library Association’s Booklist online, which I missed. A nice review: “At around page 90 in Lam’s impressive debut fantasy novel, there’s a reveal so stunning that it makes it difficult to discuss without spoilers. Still, difficult hardly means impossible, especially as Lam’s memorable characters and rich world building stand tall in their own rights. Using a flashback structure to show both why noble-born Iphigenia Laurus runs away and joins the circus and how she changes her identity to become trapeze-artist Micah Grey, Pantomime does feature standard YA elements such as parental estrangement and problematic romance—yet marvelously transfigures them.”

And lastly, Pantomime had another lovely review on the site Fantasy Faction: “Micah is one of the most sympathetic, well-realised and bravest characters I’ve read about in a long time. . . Well-written and intelligent fantasy with characters I loved and a wonderful protagonist, in a fascinating world. I really enjoyed Pantomime and I can’t wait to re-enter Ellada and continue to unravel its secrets.”

Step Right Up: London Launch, My First Blurb, and some links!

[] First order of business: Pantomime has an official London launch & venue: February 7th at the Forbidden Planet megastore, hooray!


Thursday 07 February 2013 18:00 – 19:00
London Megastore, 179 Shaftesbury Avenue, London, WC2H 8JR

More information can be found in the press release on FP’s website.

I will also be having a book launch closer to home in Aberdeen: details to follow.

Please come, one and all! I won’t have the stage presence that R.H. Ragona, the Ringmaster of the Circus of Magic has, but I’ll do my best. If you’re London-based and free that day, please feel free to bring anyone you think might be interested, or pass along the relevant information to Londoners. Fun for all ages!

Second order of business: I provided my first blurb, for Amy McCulloch’s wonderful desert fantasy debut, The Oathbreaker’s Shadow. Think YA Dune meets Avatar: The Last Airbender, and that gives you a good flavour of this rich world.

In The Oathbreaker’s Shadow, Amy McCulloch weaves an intricate coming-of-age tale of the consequences of broken promises and betrayal, set in a rich world of magic, desert sands, and hidden cities. A page-turning debut from a talented new author.

And lastly, I have a few Pantomime links to share (there’s been a fair amount of reviews as we get closer to release, so here’s a sampling. For more, see my Facebook author page:

Niko on says: “Laura Lam makes the circus magical once more, and I was captivated from the first page.” (Note: this one has a spoiler in the last paragraph but it’s clearly marked)

The Twins Read say: “Pantomime is an impossible reality, it’s like watching every whimsical and eerily beautiful dream we’ve had about the circus come to life. Dreamlike and surreal, Pantomime manages to evoke visions and paint images in the reader’s mind that make it easy to believe that a world like this could actually exist.”

Becca @ Lost in Thought says: “Why did this book have to end? Seriously, why? As I came to the last page I felt as if I was coming to the end of a whirlwind romance and I would never feel the enjoyment and amazement that I experienced at first sight again. Pantomime blew me away, under, over and afar, and is most definitely a contender for my favourite book of the year.”

I have also featured on a few bloggers’ best of 2012 lists, even though I’m not out until 2013! I had to pinch myself a fair few times.

Jana’s 2012 End of Year Survey

Andrew’s Best and Worst of 2012

Clover’s Top Ten Books in 2012

Jim’s Top Ten ‘New To Me in 2012’ Authors (of non-contemporary YA)

Raimy’s Top Ten Books in 2012

If I missed any, let me know and I’ll add it.

Definitely helps me end 2012 with a big ol’ smile on my face.

Recommended Read: Seraphina by Rachel Hartman

I’ve become tired of dragons in fiction. Most of the time, they’re pretty similar. They’re loyal companions, a la Anne McCaffrey’s Pern dragons. They’re lofty ones who see humans are being to use and tolerate, a la Tintaglia from Robin Hobb’s books. Or they’re savage beasts that can lay waste to the land and must be vanquished. Seraphina’s initial premise therefore appealed to me—dragons that could take human form out of a vague fascination with petty human lives. Dragons in Hartman’s world are like the Vulcans of science fiction—emotion is dangerous, and the dangerous of all emotions is love. Goredd was once at war with the dragons, but they now have an unsteady treaty and a tentative peace that could easily turn into an all-out war.

Seraphina is a half-human, half-dragon offspring of one such forbidden relationship. She looks human aside from the band of scales about her waist and on her forearms, which she keeps covered at all times. She’s a court musician, incredibly talented and passionate about music. She has a strained relationship with her father, a wealthy man who feels guilty at the death of his wife, and has a mentor in her draconic uncle Orma.

A member of the royal family is murdered, possibly by a dragon. Seraphina becomes caught up in the politics of Goredd, working with the bastard Prince Lucien and dancing a political dance with royalty and searching for a rouge dragon—who happens to be related to her by blood. At the same time, she learns that the strange people in her head that she’s protected herself from might actually be real and have something in common with her. And at all times, she must try to keep her secret safe, for fear that she will be shunned by humans and dragons alike.

Seraphina is one of my favourite fantasy books in recent years. Its prose is lush, its worldbuilding superb. Seraphina is a sympathetic character, and every character is richly fleshed out. While the book started a little slow for me as the world is introduced and layered, by halfway through I was smitten enough that I stayed up until 3.30 in the morning to finish, even though I had work the next day. This is a book I’ll re-read several times, and will buy the sequel the day it comes out. Very much recommended to people who like rich, secondary world fantasy with dragons that are different from the norm.

Recommended Read: Earth Girl – Janet Edwards

A few weeks ago, I managed to nab a proof copy of Janet Edwards’ debut from Janet’s editor. I’ve been Twitter friends with Janet for a few months and really liked the sound of her book. But there’s always a bit of trepidation when you finally read a book by someone you know, because you worry it’ll not be your cup of tea. But, luckily, that was not the case with Earth Girl.

I’ll try to keep the spoilers to a minimum, but the basic set-up is that, 700-odd years from now, humans have managed inter-planet portals and are scattered across the universe on various planets. However, a very small percentage of the population cannot portal offworld, and they are known as the Handicapped, sometimes called the more unsavoury names of a throwback, a nean (neanderthal), or an ape. These Handicapped have to live on Earth.

Earth Girl is interesting in that it’s sort-of a dystopia, but not really. Life as a Handicapped is not bad, but it is limited. Many children have been abandoned by their parents are are raised by ProMums or ProDads, psychologists carefully making sure their wards are mentally stable. They have limited career choices.

Jarra, an Earth Girl, is bitter at her lot and decides to join a non-Earth school, the University of Asgard, for the foundation history course, which is set on Earth. This has not been done before. She tells no one at the new school that she’s actually been on Earth all along, inventing a fake backstory as a child of Military parents. She anticipates showing them she’s just as good as the “exos” and then yelling at them and going back to her own life, smug at pulling the wool over their eyes. But then she realises that things are not going according to plan.

Jarra throws herself into this new life, rising to the rank of tag leader on the dig sites of the ruins of long-abandoned New York. She discovers more about her parents and grandparents and tries to ignore her attraction to a boy, Fian, whom she thinks would never accept her as just an ape girl.

Jarra is a strong heroine, though she is almost unbelievably good at everything–there are no challenges for her on the coursework and at times it’s like she’s teaching it, versus her teacher Playdon. Her main challenge is keeping her lies straight. She’s smart and capable and doesn’t take anything from anyone, but when she receives some shocking news, she’s thrown through a loop to an extent that she doesn’t quite realise.

The prose has a genuine teenage voice–it sounds like a long diary from an 18-year-old girl, peppered with slang terms and the blithe self-centeredness of youth. Sometimes, Jarra seems to skip over emotional points in the story where I would have liked to have seen more depth, such as her first kiss with a certain someone. It could just be that Jarra is uncomfortable discussing these things and this is why she remains vague.

Overall Earth Girl is a fun, quick science fiction read, with a well-realised world, lots of action, and some fun characters. It stands on its own quite nicely, and I do wonder if we’ll hear more from Jarra or perhaps another character in this universe down the line. Earth Girl will be published in August, 2012.

Rating: 4.5 stars

This review is crossposted to Goodreads.