In the second installment of director Robert Rodriguez’s adaptation of Frank Miller’s comics, slick visuals reign as the streamlined glory of the first film is muddied by a jumbled storyline. Its release delayed for nearly a year, Sin City: A Dame to Kill For flickers across the silver screen with only tepid excitement.
It was an enjoyable watch, but I’m not sure it does justice to the franchise as a sequel. The neo-noir thrills of the first Sin City film (2005) seem less spectacular and more like gimmicks. Green screens translate actors again into a world of flat black and white, but the stabs of color do less to highlight, instead acting as glaringly obvious tells. Gorgeous stills snagged from the source material do only just enough to capture attention. But if the promise of sex, leather, and blood spray are enough to get you off, then Sin City: A Dame to Kill For might still be worth the trip to the theater for a quick, back alley romp.
Synopsis (If You Don’t Mind Spoilers)
Sin City: A Dame to Kill For draws from four stories in Frank Miller’s screenplay: the titular “A Dame to Kill For” and the brief opening “Just Another Saturday Night” are adapted from his comics, while “The Long Bad Night” and “Nancy’s Last Dance” were created specifically for the film.
Some of the returning characters are notably replaced with new faces: Jamie Chung stands in as deadly little Miho due to Devon Aoki’s pregnancy, Dennis Haysbert replaces the late Michael Clarke Duncan as Manute, and Josh Brolin is a welcome addition as pre-reconstructive facial surgery Dwight Carthy (Clive Owen in the first film). Most other roles are reprised, with some pleasant additions like Christopher Lloyd, Lady Gaga, and Joseph Gordon-Levitt.
“Just Another Saturday Night” – Bruiser Marv (Mickey Rourke) struggles to remember his evening without his medication; he killed four frat boys after he finds them setting hobos on fire for fun.
“A Dame to Kill For” – Before “The Big Fat Kill,” Dwight McCarthy (Josh Brolin) is trying to put his past behind him with a sober life as a private detective for hire. Ex-flame Ava Lord poses herself as a damsel in distress who found her new rich husband to be abusive, and seduces Dwight. Dwight falls for her setup and finds himself a pawn on Ava’s continued climb to power, dragging Marv along for the ride.
Nearly beaten to death by Ava’s henchman Manute, Dwight recovers in the Old Town, the realm of the prostitutes, under the care of the deliciously brutal Gail (Rosario Dawson). With the help of Gail, Marv, and Miho, Dwight is able to break back into the Lord Estate and destroy the woman whose power had corrupted him once more.
“The Long Bad Night” – Lucky Johnny (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) wins big in a poker game against Senator Roark (Powers Boothe), but Roark comes after him, shooting him in the leg and mangling his fingers. Rourke reveals that he recognizes Johnny as one of his many illegitimate sons. Johnny swears revenge, gets fixed up by Kroenig (Christopher Lloyd) and returns the next night to wipe out Rourke’s poker game again.
“Nancy’s Last Dance” – Nancy Callahan (Jessica Alba) falls into a deep depression and alcoholism after the death of John Hartigan (Bruce Willis), going crazy as he haunts her. After years of tearing her own life and face apart, she swears revenge against Roark, who had ordered Hartigan wrongfully locked away, and claims it with Marv’s help.
An Uneven Narrative
While we delve a little deeper into some of the characters from the stories in the first Sin City, for many it’s more like just poking holes in them. Nancy’s transformation in the aftermath of Hartigan’s suicide in the first film is intriguing, but Jessica Alba doesn’t have the acting chops to carry the role. In the first film, Nancy represents a victim, a damsel in distress, and it’s okay that Alba’s portrayal relies on sympathetic doe eyes and undulating abdominal muscles because every man who lays eyes on her act in Kadie’s Saloon has already put her on a pedestal as a pretty thing to be protected. It was okay that she was just playing a role.
In this one, as Nancy goes crazy, mutilating herself through alcohol abuse and facial scars, but scars can’t cover up that she’s just another pretty face. I wanted to root for her to destroy the icon she had become for everyone else, but there just wasn’t enough substance in the portrayal.
However, Gail, the militant dominatrix and a controlling power in Old Town, shows a touch of depth, revealing why she would always support Dwight: that he was the only man she would ever love, no matter how he felt for her.
Eva Green is a fabulous femme fatale as the Dame to Kill For, Ava Lord. Her gleeful manipulation of men in power and comic boredom with what they offer outside of power is exciting. Ava barely puts up with playing the role of the damsel; she is in this entirely for her own ends. Even the detective’s partner comments on how obvious her wiles are, while Mort falls for her husky voice and flashing green eyes anyway.
“The Long Bad Night” is the only story in the film that succinctly follows a noir story line. Cocky gambler Johnny claims an eternal victory against Rourke and lets him know that everyone will know his story, even as Rourke tries to silence him.
The narrative draws from the titular “A Dame to Kill For” storyline in the source material and is supplemented by original additions by Frank Miller to his screenplay. Perhaps this is part of the problem with this film as a whole. The seamless back-and-forth between the short stories in the first film works because it’s a true blend. This sequel weaves itself throughout the first set of stories in a really rudimentary manner, like “A Dame to Kill For” is a novella and the other stories are some bits stitched on to give it the film a feature run time. It’s not the pinnacle of anyone’s filmmaking career.
If you wanted to flesh out your impression of the underworld of Sin City, Sin City: A Dame to Kill For might add some additional dark silhouettes and bullet holes to your skyline, but it doesn’t touch the quality of the first film.
Sin City: A Dame to Kill For is in theaters now.