Here’s how it probably was expected to go down: superstar director Zack Snyder (300, Watchmen) would bring his first original screen story to life with the willing assistance of production company Legendary Pictures and studio Warner Bros., a phalanx of digital artists and a pop culture nerd’s wish list. The combination of live-action Japanese anime tropes, steampunk design and young Hollywood starlets seemed like an easy puzzle to put together, a precise “flap A into slot 1” procedure.
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Cut to opening weekend where Snyder’s Sucker Punch receives just that from underdog sequel Diary of a Wimpy Kid 2, a movie made for a fraction of its competitor’s costs. To add insult (many of them, actually) to injury, critical drubbing rightly classifies the film as a big-budget exploitation flick without the charm of lowbrow, low budget grindhouse trappings. It was pegged as an excuse to have young women firing guns in panty-baring outfits while blimps and mecha storm about.
Having been a fan of behind-the-scenes sorts of books for many years, I enjoy reading about all the aspects of fantasy filmmaking and was under the impression Sucker Punch: The Art of the Movie by Zack Snyder (Titan Books) might offer similar information. Unfortunately it appears I was wrong.
The movie focuses on the character of Babydoll (never a good sign when your teenaged heroine’s name is more like a stripper than an action character) and her mental flights from reality into a realm that is part Lord of the Rings, part 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea, and mostly Sailor Moon if it had been re-imagined by babes-and-bullets impresario Andy Sidaris. She has a gang of equally young and provocatively named cohorts. Together they go forth to blow up stuff.
The moviemakers went out of their way to posit all this as a big screen, girl-power manifesto, but what it winds up being is the exposed inner monologue of a wallflower at the beach leering at the girls and wondering how hot it would be if they enjoyed shooting up robots and Nazi zombies.
The book doesn’t reframe the argument. As a matter of fact, it does more to damn Sucker Punch than to dig it out. Two-page spreads of the actresses in pin-up-styled advertisements, meant to evoke wartime propaganda, sketches that would indicate the girls were intended to be more exposed than they already are, and a dearth of the background information I was hoping for, leave the offering as an elaborate picture book without a purpose.
Granted, the volume is called Sucker Punch: The Art of the Movie, but in most cases with books of this nature, there is enough text included to justify the presentation’s binding. Three better examples of the all-inclusive film-related art book are The Art of Sleepy Hollow and Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street (from the Tim Burton films) and Princess Mononoke, which provided a thorough tour of the work of animation studio Ghibli, the process of filmmaker Hayao Miyazaki and also luxuriated in the images from the production. Recognizing these films had as much to say as they did to show, the creators of the books provided detail and insight.
The subtext from this can easily be interpreted that Sucker Punch as a movie really has nothing to say, that it is all about eye-candy of many persuasions, but not much more. Whether that was the intention of the makers of the book or not can only reside in speculation. More likely, everyone was so sure the conglomeration of fan-boy daydreams was a winning combination that no one considered people would be put off by the violent objectification of girls, the assertion of style over substance or the explosions-versus-ideas cynicism that radiates off the screen. In short, tie-ins would be a sure thing. This is not a “think-piece.”
The story is not really over though. As we’ve seen again and again, films like this tend to find their audience later, on video, or cable, or any number of new media streams. Sucker Punch may yet have a resurrection after the fact, but does it deserve it? If you’re looking for the answer to that question in Sucker Punch: The Art of the Movie, you’re going to need to dig deep because it has very little to say.