oyceter: (bleach sting like a bee)
[personal profile] oyceter
Things I knew about the movie going in: 1) It was directed by the same guy who did Watchmen and 300, neither of which I had watched, but both of which had vids with amazing visuals. 2) Feminists were decrying it as misogynistic and exploitative. 3) The Disney Princess trailer mashup is awesome.

Captain Beautybeard had wanted to watch it despite its supposedly terrible politics, largely for the pretty, and after watching the Disney Princess trailer mashup, I decided that my expectations were low enough that I would go in and watch some girls kicking ass in exploitative outfits and probably while playing hookers (no, Sin City, I have not yet forgiven you). CB and I also joked about making out in the movie theater, since neither of us had done so before.

Alas and alack, by the first few minutes of the movie, we had both realized that any sort of making out during the movie would make us feel even grosser and more exploitative, as I personally don't really find violence against women, infantilizing outfits, or mental institutions sexy, even in a mocking, ironic sort of way.

Here's the thing: there was actually a movie in Sucker Punch that I wanted to see, corsets and fishnets and sailor suits and all. [personal profile] sohotrightnow pinpoints (spoilers in link) my frustration with automatically classifying the movie as misogynist because of what the women wear; like [personal profile] sohotrightnow, I grew up with numerous fantasy books in which tomboy girls defeated evil with swords and magic while the girls who liked dresses and embroidery stayed at home and were shallow and not worth knowing. I have no problem with tomboy girls or action heroines who aren't sexualized, particularly given the way feminine action heroines are so sexualized for the male gaze, but I do have a problem with the lack of variety. The kickass woman set in opposition to the useless girly girl or the kickass woman subject to panty shots and tiny bustiers should never be the limit of what we get, and both extremes are annoying precisely because they are extremes instead of being two points along a broad spectrum.

Here's the other thing: I was willing to give the movie just about anything as long as I got to see women kicking ass.

My disappointment, let me show it to you (spoilers)

And honestly, my expectations, they were so low! Even though I was squicked out by Babydoll's rosy cheeks and deliberately childlike hairstyle in the opening sequence, I was totally rooting for her to triumph over the sketchy mental institution, kill her stepfather and take revenge for her dead sister. Alas, no.

I could go into all the issues I have with the movie kind of but not quite critiquing the idea of female hysteria, ablism, and locking people away in mental institutions (which is fine! As long as, you know, you're not actually crazy!). I also have aforementioned issues with the outfits and whatnot, but seriously, I just wanted to see women kicking ass, in whatever kind of outfits, in whatever settings, however they managed to do it.

And they do, for some of the movie. I wasn't as into the fantasy sequences as I think some other people are; I grew up on action movies and retain some fondness for them, but shounen and action aren't really the genres of my heart. That said, I'm okay with the women killing mechanical Nazis and dragons and robots, unlike some critique I read which I can't find again via Google, which notes that even though the women get to kick ass, they never really harm any of the men. A lot of my disconnect with the fantasy sequences were precisely because they were fantasy sequences; they were cool, but given the framing of the story, I didn't want to see Babydoll and company kicking Nazi ass, I wanted to see them tearing their way through the club and its patrons or through the mental institution and finally one-upping her stepfather. They do; I love the scene of Babydoll stabbing sketchy club owner guy, but it wasn't enough for me.

Also, though I think [personal profile] sohotrightnow has some interesting readings of the movie, the movie I saw didn't quite get to the movie I had in my head. Namely, THEY ALL DIE. Okay, not sweetpea and not the psychologist woman, but Babydoll gets lobotomized and then assaulted! While I am glad Sweetpea gets to get out, having the main character basically sacrifice herself so only one woman makes it out of that hellhole wasn't particularly empowering for me, and honestly, I would have taken so much more from the movie had it only ended with all five girls ALIVE and KICKING ASS and TRIUMPHING. Really, that was all I was asking for!

I do like that psychologist woman is the one who ultimately brings down skeevy mental institution guy, but there's not enough of that for me to read it as anything but an extremely, extremely Pyrrhic victory. I could take the message that fighting the patriarchy sucks and grinds down activists and it's hard to get out alive, except the end of the movie and the voiceover reads as though Zack Snyder thought it was all uplifting, which... NO. I do not find it uplifting that a single person escapes through the sacrifices of others! I find it tragic and a condemnation of the system!

Not only that, wtf was up with the bus driver? That was what really pissed me off. Yes, we get to see the five women kicking ass in the fantasy sequences, but ultimately, they're still under the guy's command. Before anyone says so, I do think women can take orders from men and still have the content be feminist, but given the framing of the rest of the movie, I rolled my eyes... even in their fantasy sequences, they are not independent agents! The short skirts are annoying, yes, but it's even more annoying that even as they're kicking ass, they are doing so under someone else's directive, even though the ultimate goal is their own freedom and escape.

I don't think I would have been so annoyed with this had it not been for that final sequence, when the bus driver mysteriously shows up and saves Sweetpea from discovery by the police. That was really the last straw for me. Not only does everyone except Sweetpea die, even in the very end the mysterious guy giving orders has to show up and take over the story! WHAT?!

The really annoying thing is, that character is so unnecessary! If he had only been a random bus driver at the end, I don't think his helping Sweetpea out would have had the same resonance, and I think the movie actually would have been better and tighter had the commander of the women in the fantasy sequence been the psychologist. Female empowerment! Directed and orchestrated by women! Of different ages too!

But no.

I also realize it seems a bit silly to get angry at this movie for cultural appropriation, buut I am. The sequence in the Japanese temple is ludicrous, especially given how we're introduced to the mentor/bus driver dressed as a Mystical Asian Master (he's white, of course), with really terrible calligraphy in the background. The movie is also clearly taking a lot of cues from anime and video games, and Babydoll's sailor fuku in the fantasy fight sequences and the random nurse hats and etc. seem like a call out to anime and video games. I am glad that there were two Asian women in the five, but I'm annoyed and angry that one of those women turned out to be the betrayer and that the other (Amber) is cool but basically spends her entire time piloting the others around. Don't get me wrong: Amber in a flying mecha is AWESOME. I am just annoyed because she obviously doesn't get the same narrative time and weight that Sweetpea, Rocket, and Babydoll (all white) do. Even her death and Blondie's death aren't given the same weight Rocket and Babydoll's are. In that light, I really hate the way the movie draws on anime and video game references while once again cutting out all the Asian people or relegating them to the background. (Yes, I also hate Kill Bill for the exact same reasons.)

I could say more about how each woman has very little personality, but seriously, I could have overlooked that if the women had just made it out alive and triumphant at the end.

I don't actually agree with reviewers saying that anyone who liked this movie couldn't possibly be feminist; I think women have enough trouble as is finding role models and seeing themselves on screen that it's not surprising at all that people are taking the movie and subverting it. But I also don't think the movie is anywhere near a feminist narrative, even if you squint and futz around with it. That said, I think it's a pity that the movie bombing will basically be read by Hollywood execs as even more reason to make white guy action movies in which women still have no personalities and are still dressed in scanty outfits, only this time sans guns and swords and giant mecha.

Just... ARGH! It is particularly annoying because my expectations were so low, yet the movie still managed to slip underneath them. I am also prepared to read against the text quite often! I don't mind awesome heroines in shounen manga who are ogled at! (In fact, I am currently watching CB play through Bayonetta, and despite the cheesecake and the blatant male gaze and crotch shots, Bayonetta actually does kick ass and presumably triumphs, and does so with the other primary character in the narrative being... another woman!) But I do mind reading against the text and the male gaze and all the ways the heroines are still sexualized and taken advantage of AND THEN finding out that there's a limit to how much against the text I can read because the movie in my head very clearly isn't the movie in the director's. (Kubo Tite, I am still pissed off at you too.)

AWESOME WOMEN TRIUMPHING. Hollywood, why is this so hard?!
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Oyceter

February 2017

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