A friend of mine ingeniously described Frank Miller’s Sin City series of comics rather succinctly as we walked into the theatre to experience this sequel; It’s everything that your inner 14-year-old hopes to see when sneaking into an R-rated movie. Very well said. As much as Sin City, both the movie and the comic, aims to be a dark and gritty tale of misery, hedonism and general human scum, there’s something oddly juvenile and almost darkly silly about the whole affair.
Sin City is quite unique in terms of this kind of style, taking a very dark story and giving it a sleek comic book edge. It made for a movie quite unlike any other when the original Sin City hit the big screen in 2005, and only now, almost a whole decade later, have Frank Miller and director, Robert Rodriguez been able to get a sequel off the ground. Or is that a prequel? This movie kind of jumps around.
Frankly, this is a follow-up movie that seems to have been explicitly made for fans of its predecessor. If you didn’t already love the first movie, you’ll probably find little to love about the second one, particularly with all of the re-casting, and the especially messy anthology-style storytelling. Since everything about the first movie feels amplified in the second, you could make the argument that, as a sequel, it’s superior to its predecessor. On the flip side though, any flaws that the first movie had are even worse in the second one.
Of all the genre movies that hit the big screen this Summer season, Sin City: A Dame to Kill For definitely has the smallest audience. Despite the limited appeal though, it will entertain anyone who is actively seeking out the same kind of experience as the 2005 original.
Sin City: A Dame to Kill For unfolds from the perspective of four core characters; Dwight, Nancy, Marv, and Johnny, three of whom should be recognizable from the first movie. Well, two and a half. Dwight’s story is a prequel segment, and it’s before he has the plastic surgery that changed his face to resemble Clive Owen. Now, Josh Brolin portrays him, though Jessica Alba and Mickey Rourke reprise their roles of Nancy and Marv respectively, with Bruce Willis also returning as the ghost of Hartigan.
Sin City: A Dame to Kill For is still mostly an ensemble movie, though the character most worthy of being a lead is probably Dwight, whose segment revolves around the titular ‘Dame to Kill For’. The dame in question is Ava Lord, portrayed aptly by Eva Green, a vile seductress who gets her kicks from bleeding rich and powerful men dry, and, naturally, tormenting Dwight with her very presence.
Dwight is clearly a younger and more lost character than he was in the first movie, which is understandable, given that his story unfolds before the events of the original Sin City entirely. Brolin continues to convey the character’s unmistakable edge, but he nonetheless remains easily shaped and foiled by Ava, with Brolin and Green sizzling up the screen in even the most tense scenes that they share together. Green is a highlight in general in fact, since she’s no doubt who many viewers paid to see in the first place, and trust me, she doesn’t disappoint as the ultimate man-eater.
Rourke continues to impress as the gruff and violent Marv, even if he seems to have a lesser story than the other leads. Most of the time, he plays into Nancy’s plot, serving as a sort of protector to Alba’s character, and spending most of the movie drinking, busting heads, or giving cryptic advice to other characters. Nonetheless, Rourke does a little better with even Miller’s dicier lines, and his team-up with Nancy that was teased in the trailers is a particularly cool moment for his character.
Alba meanwhile is given much more to do in this second movie as Nancy, now a bitter and angry young woman who lusts for revenge after the death of Hartigan. Despite the unheard pleas of Hartigan’s ghost, Nancy nonetheless desires to exact revenge on corrupt Senator Roark, once again played by Powers Boothe. Her quest to avenge Hartigan is the largest chunk of follow-up events compared to the first movie, and it’s her story that makes for the violent climax of Sin City: A Dame to Kill For. Alba holds her own nicely, particularly towards the end of the movie, though she is undeniably overshadowed by most of the other actors.
Speaking of, Joseph Gordon-Levitt is an excellent new addition as Johnny, a young go-getter who is looking to make a name for himself in the movie’s setting of Basin City. Gordon-Levitt radiates charisma as the smooth-talking and ambitious wiseguy of the movie, still seeming smart and brave, even when he’s getting beaten up and humiliated for crossing the wrong people. It’s a shame that Gordon-Levitt’s story feels rather self-contained, simply existing to develop the character of Senator Roark, but at least it’s still a great story, thanks largely to Gordon-Levitt’s sharp performance.
The rest of the movie’s personalities simply exist to develop these core heroes and villains. The movie is equal parts dreary and overblown, with hokey dialogue and the strengths of the actors to make everything feel grounded and serious. Sin City: A Dame to Kill For clearly takes place in a very surreal world, even being a neo-noir crime thriller, but at least its personalities are fun to watch, particularly Ava, Johnny and Marv.
Sin City: A Dame to Kill For has a story that’s rather difficult to describe. This isn’t because the movie is complicated, but more because, like the first movie, the storytelling is still kind of a mess. In fact, it’s an even bigger mess in the second movie!
Sure, the anthology-style storytelling of Sin City worked well enough as a comic, but as movies, Sin City and Sin City: A Dame to Kill For feel scattered and needlessly confusing. Again, the sequel is a particular offender, since the movie fails to establish which events take place before the first movie, and which events take place after. Huge chunks of the story involve Dwight and Ava in prequel sequences, but then, the movie suddenly jumps to Nancy after the events of the first movie, and then somehow involves Johnny, and who knows where he fits into the timeline.
The thing is, on paper, Sin City: A Dame to Kill For has some pretty good stories on offer. The stories of Dwight, Johnny, Nancy and Marv are all great by themselves. Most of them could have sustained an entire movie by themselves in fact. The problem isn’t the foundation, it’s the execution. Sin City: A Dame to Kill For is really wanting for structure and cohesion. It’s not impossible to figure out, but it’s harder to figure out than it should be.
At least the movie has the sense to begin with a prequel story, and end on a sequel story, but frankly, Rodriguez and Miller should have decided to make a prequel or a sequel to the first movie, and then just overall stick with that direction. I can see why they sort of tried to do both at the same time, since Sin City: A Dame to Kill For was practically doomed to bomb at the box office (and it did), and it could well be a whole other decade before they scrape together enough resources to do the planned third and final Sin City movie. Still, the haphazard timeline of the Sin City movies creates more problems than it solves.
So, while these aren’t bad plots, they feel sloppily tied together. The compelling characters will pretty efficiently carry fans through proceedings, but it’s a shame that Rodriguez and Miller present even less justification for the anthology-style storytelling in the second Sin City movie.
As much as Sin City: A Dame to Kill For sometimes suffers from its messy storytelling, it’s tough to argue that Robert Rodriguez still gave this movie his all, and still did a very good job of bringing a rather challenging comic to the big screen, again. Like the previous movie, Sin City: A Dame to Kill For is absolutely oozing with style, and it really does unfold like a black-and-white comic leaping off of the screen before the viewer.
Everything is framed and presented very effectively and cleverly. Whether it’s a character moment, an action scene, a sweeping pan of the city, or whatever else, Rodriguez still injects loads of polish into Sin City; A Dame to Kill For. It’s very evident that Rodriguez has spent the many years of this movie suffering in development hell plotting every shot to a tee, and the result is a follow-up that feels even more well-presented and compelling than its predecessor.
Rodriguez continues to work well with the ensemble cast of actors as well, even those that have been recast. Even when Miller’s dialogue sometimes gets pretty hokey, Rodriguez directs the actors well, and gives Sin City: A Dame to Kill For more credibility as a character piece than it probably deserves.
Sure, some of the comic book-style shots still feel a bit superfluous, and some may chuckle a bit at how almost intentionally overdone the second movie is, just like the first, but this isn’t an easy directing job, and yet, Rodriguez makes it look easy.
Considering that most of the movie was filmed with green screen backdrops, you can imagine that Sin City: A Dame to Kill For remains a very engrossing visual piece. Indeed it does, and given the nine years since the release of the original, Sin City: A Dame to Kill For has taken the familiar visual style of its predecessor even further as well.
Like the first movie, almost all of Sin City: A Dame to Kill For is filmed in black-and-white, with certain coloured objects, faces and attire highlighted when they present heavier bearing on the story. The novelty of these visuals was definitely more exciting when it was pioneered in 2005, but even in 2014, this is a very visually ambitious and well-presented helping of eye candy. It continues to create this dank, surreal aura that really accentuates even the shakier story elements as an effective noir tale, one that feels unmoved by time.
No doubt the most exciting element of the second movie’s visuals however is that Sin City: A Dame to Kill For was released in 3D, and I did make sure to see it in that format. Thankfully, the 3D works in service to the movie as well as you would expect, making everything seem all the more suffocatingly immersive. The comic book splashes and stylistic flourishes really pop better than ever in the 3D cut, which makes Basin City really come to life in a way that it never could in the 2D-only first movie.
Needless to say, I highly recommend watching Sin City: A Dame to Kill For in 3D if you have the means. It offers a sharp 3D presentation, made all the better by the movie sporting the kind of style that feels tailor-made for 3D viewing as it stands.
This may be a refinement of a groundbreaking visual style that was already debuted nearly a decade ago, but at least the strengths of that style still feel valid and engrossing today, especially with 3D behind them now.
Sin City: A Dame to Kill For just feels like an extension of its 2005 predecessor for the most part. At least it takes its strengths further, namely the visuals and the directing, but at the same time, its issues with storytelling are worse than ever. This ultimately evens out to a visually engaging movie that feels alienating to anyone who isn’t an established fan, and will just confuse and frustrate a regular viewer, and that’s before the onslaught of disturbing and seedy content.
If you like the first Sin City movie and you want more of that, here it is. If you’re among the handful of people that were holding out for more Sin City, that’s the chief purpose behind Sin City: A Dame to Kill For overall. It’s a labour of love, and it took almost ten years to limp onto the big screen, but it’s respectable. It’s not exemplary, but it’s respectable. More often than not, it does end up being a better sequel too, albeit just barely.
Who knows when or if we may see the planned conclusion to this saga, but Sin City: A Dame to Kill For at least aptly demonstrates that Basin City hasn’t been fazed by time, for better or for worse.
- Characters remain compelling
- Rodriguez's direction
- Sharp style and 3D
- Story is a mess
- Re-casting is distracting
- More of the same