Let’s get something out of the way upfront. I was unapologetically blown away by 2005’s Sin City. It was visually arresting and innovative, not to mention much more faithful to its source material than many other comic book movies. Many people didn’t relish the first movie’s hyper-violent ways. In terms of innovation, Sin City was a breath of stylized fresh air. Even the rain in Basin City was gloriously brutal and beautiful at the same time. The technological novelty wore off sometime in the last nine years, but co-directors Robert Rodriguez and Frank Miller do their best to resurrect the same monochrome magic. They succeed on some counts and fail in others. I’ll also pretend that Miller didn’t shit the bed while
directing ruining Will Eisner’s The Spirit six years ago. Nope, The Spirit never happened.
Viewers would do well to re-watch the first Sin City to avoid disorientation. Why? The chronology of the sequel is pretty whack. This movie isn’t just about A Dame to Kill For as it exists in graphic novel form. True, Dame is the most arresting chunk of the movie. The most important thing to know is that this second film is half-prequel and semi-sequel. Confusion may abound. Dame takes place before The Big Fat Kill part of the first flick. The protagonist of both stories — a PI named Dwight — ends up needing a new face, so it’s perfectly okay that Clive Owen has been replaced by Josh Brolin. Although, I do miss Clive Owen sticking someone’s head (that of Benicio Del Toro) in a toilet and making faces like this.
Like the first film, A Dame to Kill For is an anthology of various stories from throughout the Miller comic series. Parts of this second movie stick to a more conventional timeline and take place after the events of the first movie. Take for instance Jessica Alba’s character — the non-stripping stripper named Nancy — who inhabits the weakest portion of this film. Rodriguez has some inexplicable need to include Alba in all of his movies. So he popped in a little story about how Nancy goes crazy with grief for losing John Hartigan (played by Bruce Willis, now in ghost form), who died in the That Yellow Bastard portion of the first film. Nancy wants “revenge” for her savior’s death (a motive that is sketchy if you know how Hartigan died). Nancy gets what she wants, but Alba is wholly unconvincing in her attempt to be gritty. She can’t even swig properly from a bottle of booze.
Then there’s the tale of gambler Johnny (Joseph Gordon-Levitt), a card shark who makes trouble his business with corrupt Senator Roarke (Powers Boothe). JGL wears his suit well, and I’m not just talking about his clothing. Johnny is different from the other boys, and JGL’s presence is strongly welcomed in this male cast of largely indistinguishable thugs.
Rightfully, this movie belongs to Eva Green, who plays the titular dame, Ava Lord. Green inhabits the sociopathic Ava with relish, which is no surprise. She’s also mostly naked (or damn close to it) for most of the film, but her appeal would burn through any clothing anyway. She’s a hardened femme fatale, a siren for the ages. Her green eyes and red lips bewitch, and she uses her sexuality to force men to do her bidding. Forget the sex though (if you can). Power should be the true seduction in A Dame to Kill For. That was the message put forth by the comics, and it worked in the first movie. In this sequel, the meaning is there if you really dig for it. But as viewers, we head into a movie like Sin City to escape our the need to make sense out of our real-life rotten cities. So I guess the film doesn’t succeed in delivering the power theme. Sex is the main event of the film, which is a shame. Further, Dwight’s inner monologue as gets busy with Ava really isn’t necessary. The dialogue worked in the comic. On the big screen, it comes off like some 50 Shades version of the inner male goddess. All of this contributes to an atmosphere too jokey to qualify as true noir.
This sequel is still a good time, but it doesn’t wholly live up to the 9-year wait. Many criticized the first Sin City for being all style and little substance, but I believe a tentative balance was achieved. In the sequel? Rodriguez and Miller have attempted to go bigger and better, and they’ve lost sight of creating vaguely sympathetic characters and exploring hidden themes instead of emphasizing the importance of f*cking. These two bros are just having fun, man.
At least the cast is fantastic. There’s so much talent here. I haven’t even mentioned Marv (Mickey Rourke), who pops up in multiple stories. He is still ridiculous, imposing, and indispensable in this world. Gail (Rosario Dawson) is still as fierce as they come in Old Town. Deadly little Miho (Jamie Chung replaces Devon Aoki) remains as deadly as ever. Chris Meloni makes a brief appearance as one of Ava’s many admirers. His street-smart attitude plays well in this world. Lady Gaga has one scene, but pay no attention. She’s simply a latter-day example of Rodriguez’s stunt queening.
Ultimately, Sin City: A Dame to Kill For will appeal to those who stan for the first movie all these years later. The nostalgia is heady. Even if the visuals aren’t as starkly surprising as they were nine years ago, the second film looks just as good. The characters and their stories get shafted, but the actors’ performances make up for any losses. I doubt Rodriguez and Miller will be able to mine the comic for any further anthology-type movies, so this is probably the end. Which is just as well. Sin City is a kick-ass place to revisit, but you’d go crazy if you lived there.
Bedhead lives in Tulsa, Oklahoma. She can be found at Celebitchy.