Zack Snyder's critically panned, commercially disappointing mess of a film represents the nadir of female-centric action movies
I saw Sucker Punch under the best possible circumstances: With absolutely no expectations that it would be good. For a lover of the Strong Women Who Blow Things Up genre of entertainment, the appeal of Sucker Punch had nothing to do with whether it got favorable reviews (it didn't), or whether its plot made any kind of sense (it doesn't), or whether it had memorable and well-crafted dialogue (oh, Lord, no). It had to do with the goofy, thrilling payoffs promised by its trailers: Strong Women with dragons! Strong Women with robots! Strong Women destroying robots and dragons, with swords! Indeed, all of these things were present. But Sucker Punch still managed to disappoint. It has the dragons, the robots, the steampunk zombies; it has everything. Except for the Strong Women.
By my count, there are at least ﬁve attempted rapes in Sucker Punch. When its female characters aren't fending off rapists, they're being lobotomized, stabbed, imprisoned, sold, shot in the head, forced to strip, or blown up on trains in outer space. Sucker Punch has been pitched as a girl-power epic, but it feels like watching a little boy tear the heads off his sister's Barbies. After dressing them up in their sexiest outﬁts and making them ﬁght GI Joe, of course.
Zack Snyder's gooey mix of fetish gear, rape fantasies, and girls-with-guns action sequences represents the nadir of a long, slow, steady decline in action films starring women: from the genre's heyday in the 1980s with Alien and Terminator to the confusing mess that is Sucker Punch. But the mixed messages of Sucker Punch—girls are powerful! Resistance to male abuse is ultimately futile and you will die! Being reduced to a sexual object is terrible! You can take charge, using your sexuality!—are weirdly compelling, as a statement on our cultural cluelessness about what "female empowerment" means.