I discussed in an earlier post some of the storytelling shortcomings of Sucker Punch, but that wasn't the only thing missing. Like Sin City, it had sexy and scantily clad girls. What didn't it have? (Well, nudity, but that's not my point.) Tough, macho men.
I'm probably going to get attacked for this, but I'd guess that Sucker Punch held little appeal for a male audience because it was SO sold as a female-driven piece. I thought Warner Bros. sounded like fools a few years ago when they said they weren't going to make female-driven movies anymore, but stuff like Sucker Punch shows you the justification for their thinking.
Look at Sin City. Sure, it had Jessica Alba as a stripper, who's still one of the hottest screen strippers in history despite not actually appearing in the buff. It had Jamie King, Rosario Dawson, Carla Gugio and about a half-dozen other girls all in fairly skimpy outfits I'm sure every straight male in America could find some girl in the cast list that they'd love to see in various states of undress. But would they have turned out for a film that starred stripper Nancy and the gun-toting hookers of Old Town taking back the streets from slimy guys? I doubt it.
The other half of the equation: Mickey Roarke, Clive Owen and Bruce Willis. The male heroes of the Sin City segments. And interestingly, they're all a breed of character we don't see as often in films these days - men's men, macho types. In a release slate dominated by Paul Rudds and Jesse Eisenbergs (both of whom I enjoy, it should be said), those three actors really played to the "tough guy" that a lot of male viewers probably idolize on some level.
What guy doesn't want to calmly kick-ass like Bruce Willis, prove how tough he is in a fight, all to save the girl? Yeah, I'm sure that the actresses who got to wield swords and shoot guns in Sin City were all about the "empowerment" aspect of it, but I don't think that was a selling point.
Because take a look what happened the next time Robert Rodriguez was involved in an action film that had female empowerment as one of its main themes. Grindhouse had two segments: Planet Terror and Death Proof. Rodriguez's Planet Terror segment had Rose McGowan in the lead, though it was a fairly gender-balanced ensemble. Quentin Tarantino's Death Proof had nearly a dozen fetching young actresses, half of whom really got to kick ass by the end. The macho character - played by Kurt Russell - was the villain, and the film ends with his brutal beating at the hands of the women.
Grindhouse didn't do so well at the box office either. Part of that might have to do with the fact it was three-hours long, and that it was paying homage to a particular kind of film geek. Still was the male audience turned off by the fact they had no one to either identify with or aspire to?
The male action hero is in a sorry state these days, too. We live in a world where Seth Rogan was the action lead in Green Hornet. Seth Rogan! I could beat that guy in a footrace! Sure, guys go to the movies to see people the identify with, but they REALLY go to see guys who they wish they could be. There's neither in Sucker Punch. The three main guys are the mysterious mentor, the skeevy pimp/orderly, and the lobotomizing doctor.
I'm not necessarily saying the women had to be more overtly made into damsels in distress or that male characters needed to be added to those films specifically to overshadow them. I am saying that I think the lack of such a presence did reduce the appeal for a significant percentage of the audience.
I wanted to like Sucker Punch, and to be honest, I liked Death Proof (though the leaner Grindhouse cut was WAY better than the uncut solo version.) But then, I like most of pop culture's kickass women, from Sydney Bristow to Buffy Summers. It's probably safe to say that Tarantino, Rodriguez and Snyder are also fans of that archetype.
But clearly there aren't enough of them in the ticket-buying public.