"Justice League": Exploring How Superman Returns (Again)
Film, Comic Books
One of the most fascinating elements at work in Zack Snyder’s Sucker Punch, the first movie the filmmaker developed and wrote as well as directed, isn’t even going to be evident to a portion of the people who see it this weekend and beyond. If you’re a gamer, you’ll find that — love it or hate it — there are many layers that can be peeled back and examined. If you’re not, these elements will simply pass you by.
Much of the story is structured like a video game: We see these five women, inmates at an insane asylum, primarily in a fantasy world imagined in the head of the protagonist Baby Doll (Emily Browning). They’ve hatched an escape plan, and to see it through they’ll need to acquire an assortment of items to which the facility’s staff has access. Each attempt to obtain an item plays out, for reasons made clear during the movie, as an action sequence that could easily double as a video game cinematic.
“I love video games,” Snyder told Spinoff Online. “What I was trying to do with this movie in some ways is use the … classic sort of Joseph Campbell-ian ‘heroes go on a journey, collect a boon, come back and get a reward.’ Once you set that in a world of combat, people make game associations with the movie.
“I would say that [the comparison] is undeniable — Sucker Punch is like a video game that doesn’t exist. It’s the game you want to play but it hasn’t been made.”
In that sense, what we see on screen is directly informed, not just by the ebb and flow of what’s popular in the gaming world, but also by the audience that dictates those patterns. One example that Snyder points to is the way the five stars are dressed during the fantasy-world brothel sequences and the fantasy-within-a-fantasy action sequences. While the film isn’t explicitly exploitative, such a read would certainly be understandable given the way the women are presented.
“I was asked, ‘Why did you put those girls in those provocative outfits?’ And I go, ‘I didn’t put them in them, you did.’ You the audience put them in those outfits and asked for that,” he said. “The audience in the brothel … are these men sitting in a dark room. The men sitting in the dark room in the broader sense are us sitting in the theater. That’s absolutely in the movie. The exploitative part of it is in the viewer, the viewer brings that.”
Snyder is a guy who understands games. He admits he was playing Gears of War 2 quite a bit when writing Sucker Punch, and even now uses his love for Call of Duty: Black Ops as a reward while he builds the new Superman. “I have the game on,” he said. “And if I can draw two pages of storyboards, I reward myself with one game of Black Ops.”
A Sucker Punch game was considered, but because of the heavy narrative element that complements the action and the relative lack of time, it never happened. In addition to his film work, Snyder is working with Electronic Arts on “a big universe game that could be a movie.” He sees the recent involvement of Hollywood players in the gaming world as a mixed bag; when it’s someone who gets the medium, great. However, when it’s little more than a big name being attached to a franchise for the marketing value, things tend to go wrong.
“I’m still waiting for that game that is transcendent — an awesome movie and an awesome game and an awesome graphic novel,” he said. “No one’s cracked it! It would be nice if it had been cracked once at least.” The reason for that, really, is the fundamental disconnect between the activity of playing a game and the passivity of watching a movie.
As Snyder explained, “The problem with gaming and movies is, for me, the game is … an athletic mental exercise in the sense that you have this sort of episodic moment that is going to be revealed to you through a series of athletic moves that you can either do or can’t do. You’re either going to make the shot or not, you’re going to live or die based on the skill set you bring to the game. So your adrenaline and your interest rides on your own involvement in the game.”
“It’s the interactivity. The outcome is not predetermined,” he continued. “Movies work on a slightly different level. You want to give up control in the movie, you want to be taken for a ride. You don’t get to decide. You are surprised emotionally by what’s happening. So it’s a quite different set of rules, but people tend to think they’re the same thing and they’re just not. The movie has to work on an emotional level or it’s hollow. We’ve seen it in so many movies about video games where it’s just flat. That’s because they don’t get the benefit of the adrenaline you get from the game.”
Of course, Snyder and I both knew that the interview couldn’t end without some question from me on Superman. This is a Comic Book Resources site, after all.
“That I’m saying the word Superman is crazy. I can’t tell you how secret we are,” he said, chuckling. “I think, in the end, our big challenge is making Superman relevant, making him relatable and interesting. Dimensional.”
“I want people to be able to go, ‘I would have done that if I were Superman. That’s right.’ In the sense that I can empathize with him as a personality, I can empathize with his decision-making in the same way that you can with characters in the movies that you love. Part of it is, you get why Superman feels the way he feels because you would have felt that same way.”
Sucker Punch opens Friday nationwide.
Don’t miss Spinoff Online’s earlier Sucker Punch coverage: