Back in March I wrote about Sucker Punch as being a feminist movie. Apparently I'm one of the very few people who saw it that way - aside from Zach Snyder, Emily Browning, and of course my friend David. Everyone says it was horrible and most feminists deem it actually ANTI-feminist because of the panty shots and attempted rapes in the movie.
First of all, I'll admit it's not a quality film. I do predict it will be nominated for an Oscar in Visual Effects, but it may not win even that. The plot IS simplistic and lacking in any real depth or complexity, but you can't say it's not there. The plot does exist on a very basic level. The characters aren't all that well developed either, the writing isn't top notch, it's not exactly Avatar or The King's Speech or Black Swan. But I like it, I think it's fun to watch.
Now, to address the anti-feminist things in it. Yes, the girls are sexualized. They have names like Baby Doll and Sweet Pea, they're decked out in skimpy clothes (like every other comic book character out there, mind you), there are panty shots and yes, some girls are almost raped. Those parts are bad. But for the love of God, can we look at these elements in context? Maybe the panty shots are fan service, but all in all, did it cross any of these people's minds that the sexualization of the girls is part of what they're trying to escape? They're being oppressed, and in fact their oppression itself is in Baby Doll's mind, as though it's a metaphor for the male domination she's internalized through recent events in her life - it's a dream world created by her involuntary subconscious rather than a actively manifested fantasy as most people assume. She doesn't want to be in a brothel, what she wants is to escape. Notice that when one of the girls does escape, the first thing that happens is she finds a normal, modest dress and puts it on. Though that's not really emphasized in the original cut, unfortunately. But that right there should illustrate the escape from a sexualizing atmosphere, rather than a transition from voluntary self-sexualization, again, as most people assume.
Now, let's take a step back and look at the bigger picture. The girls are fighting against male oppression. It's the men who put them in that situation, it's the men that tell them what to do, who keep them prisoner, who sexually abuse and exploit them, and in the fantasy sequences, all the enemies are male with the exception of the mother dragon. While the way they're treated isn't feminist, the fact that they're fighting back and reclaiming their freedom from oppressive men IS the main feminist theme of the movie.
I should address the fact that the girls are briefed on their missions by a man. Yes, it's a man giving them instructions. I'm not entirely sure how I feel about it, but my gut says it's not explicitly anti-feminist. I mean, women who have fought for their equality have typically learned what they need to do from men, either sought their advice or literally learned from male teachers and professors, even if they attended women's colleges.
I also noticed recently that with the exception of one, maybe two songs, the entire soundtrack is made up of female artists. They may be doing renditions of songs originally performed by men, but they're the ones singing, and putting their own styles to the songs. And I personally love the covers, especially White Rabbit and Search & Destroy.
Whether it passes the Bechdel Test is sort of up in the air. It depends on whether you can call names like Baby Doll and Sweet Pea "real" names. They're not their real names, but we never learn what the real names are. The only woman with her real name in tact is the Polish therapist. But the women do talk to each other, and about something other than a man, so if their names "count," then yes, it passes. I mean, the movie is about women, so clearly they have a profound presence in the movie, which is what the test is meant to measure. What they're called in the movie doesn't really negate how much the movie revolves around them.
Whether the movie, or any movie, is perceived as feminist relies on a few things. 1) What one considers feminist or empowering; 2) Which theoretical lens(es), if any, one uses to analyze it (I instinctively watched the whole movie through the lens of Marxist Feminism, big surprise there); and 3) whether one sees the big picture or main concept of the movie, and/or whether one looks at the smaller details - ideally, one needs to see both, and look at the smaller details in the context of the bigger picture.