In 2005, Sin City was, for all intents and purposes, a sublime event film. It had a red-hot cast, an impressive and innovative visual style and beloved source material. Nine years later, after many false starts, we have a sequel in Sin City: A Dame to Kill For. The follow up, however, has a less impressive cast, a jaded ubiquitous style and limping B-material which result in a disappointing and flat exercise.
The plot’s confusing structure picks up where the 2005 film left off, and before it started, and even more confusing while it takes place. It’s a prequel, parallel-equel and sequel all in one. The first segment Just Another Saturday Night sees Marv (the always superb Mickey Rourke) waking from unconsciousness on a hillside road surrounded by corpses. He must piece together the events of the night and get himself out of an unknown danger. The second segment The Long Hard Night sees slick gambler Johnny (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) taking on the Basin City underworld including Senator Roark (Powers Boothe) – the de facto kingpin in a game of very high stakes poker. The title segment A Dame to Kill For centres on private detective Dwight (Josh Brolin in a role previously played by Clive Owen) lured into a sinister murder plot by the seductive Ava Lord (Eva Green) – where like every film noir – nothing is what it seems. The final chapter follows stripper Nancy (Jessica Alba, reprising her role from the first movie) seeking revenge on the evil Senator Roark for the death of Hartigan (Bruce Willis).
Sin City: A Dame to Kill For follows the same structure of the first movie, with a prologue, an epilogue and three central stories. The results are an unfortunate mess. While the 2005 film had a uniqueness and freshness, A Dame to Kill For arrives in a time where the film market is bloated with comic book/graphic novel adaptations. Even the R-rated comic movie has become a less special thing with Watchmen, 300, The Punisher and others have all pushed the violence/sex envelope to sate the anti-kid friendly rabid fan base. A further problem is Frank Miller (creator of the Sin City books and co-director/writer) is essentially adapting his own B-material. The stories here are the material deemed not essential for the first movie. There is nothing essentially wrong with A Dame to Kill For; it’s simply just not good or interesting enough to be worthy of its place. The copious violence and nudity returns but is inserted into meaningless situations. The first film had its flaws, but featured some great character work performed by an impressive cast such as Willis, Rourke and Benicio Del Toro. Director Robert Rodriguez and Miller have given this film bland and stereotypical clichés who have little or no depth for audiences to latch on.
The cast is solid with Brolin and Gordon-Levitt making the most of their poorly drawn characters. The film is bolstered by a wonderful turn form the sublime Eva Green. She is decadently devious in the film’s best role. She is sexy, manipulative and dangerous. The characters are hapless in the tractor beam of her emerald green eyes (which are coloured in amidst the black and white) and Green’s presence and performance makes it believable that these idiotic characters are powerless to resist. Then there are the hammy performances of Jeremy Piven and Christopher Meloni (as two detectives) and Boothe. The latter is such a cartoonish pantomime villain one cannot even take pleasure in seeing his comeuppance. These are small roles, but are so spectactularly bad that they completely distract from the plot – which is a paint-by-numbers affair in itself.
Rodriguez, who has a career squandered in bad exploitation film despite his obvious talent, rushes to get to the beheadings, maiming, dismembering and eye-gouging without much time to spend with the characters. We are expected to accept the dimly-drawn characters (because we’ve seen them a thousand times in different iterations) and just go along with their bloody missions. The scope and potential with the Sin City universe should be something much more interesting, stylish or entertaining than this limping, by-the-numbers affair. This doesn’t feel like a high quality sequel more like a direct to DVD sequel with a brand new cast. The homage and pastiche of B-movie/exploitation cinema in an ironic twist makes this film just look and feel bargain basement.
Above all, Sin City: A Dame to Kill For is a disappointing follow-up to the 2005 hit. Rodriguez and Miller squander the vibrant characters and style of the original for a cheesy exploitation movie. The terrific cast have very little opportunity to rise above the flat dialogue and shady characterisation. The film’s tagline is: “walk down the right alley in Sin City and you can find anything”. The world created by Miller is fascinating, stylish and seemingly limitless with possibilities. However, the one thing you won’t find in this sequel is a film worth the trip.