Sin City stormed onto the scene nine years ago unlike anything anybody has seen before, leaving an array of blood, bullets and unsavory characters in its wake amid it’s gleefully noir scenery. A sequel would seem like a sure thing, but much has changed since then including expectations. While A Dame To Kill For is visually striking with devious characters aplenty, it doesn’t strike the same awe-inspiring tone as before.
The look, feel and attitude of creator Frank Millers Sin City is present here, but it didn’t get me riled up when the first ended. The returning directors Robert Rodriguez and Frank Miller set an impossibly high bar to equal, let alone top since it was so perfect in so many ways. So my expectations weren’t as high as they should have going in. it just falls short in so many places where you feel that something is missing. It’s noticeable and it’s not as fun as it should be. The black and white style is gorgeous once again with the graphic novel coming to life, sparse color popping out of the screen to give more resonance with certain characters. While the visuals were nice, it wasn’t enough to draw me in. The gross amounts of sex and violence only got me by so far but certainly not enough. It has it in spades here, very graphic violently and sexually adding to the aesthetic, but nothing we haven’t seen before.
The four individual stories which are a mix of prequel and sequel tales were original and well written but not as good as the first. Whereas the stories in the first were all taken from the graphic novel, only two (Just Another Saturday Night, A Dame To Kill For) were taken from it. Marv’s (Mickey Rourke) story, Just Another Saturday Night, entails why he is surrounded by dead men on the highway with crashed cars around him. It’s short like The Customer Is Always Right from the first film and offers a brief glimpse in the life of a sordid character like Marv. I liked it because it was painted like any other night for Marv but horrifying to regular people, unaware of corpses around him and struggling to find out why. Rourke is so in tuned with this character that I cannot envision anyone else doing it. He adds so much to the movie with just his mere presence but shines when he talks in his distinct gravely tone.
The Long Bad Night centers on a hot shot gambler named Johnny (Joseph Gordon Levitt) with intentions of bleeding the powerful and dangerous Senator Roarke (Powers Boothe) dry in a game of poker, with dangerous consequences. While the story was enjoyable, it was the weakest of the four since the implications seemed to be only minor in the long run. Levitt seems right at home in this setting as a dashing cocksure fellow, albeit a little too naive about his surroundings, he has the gusto to go up against the most powerful man in town. This added a new shade to the despicableness of Roarke which I found interesting. He’s such a great character that it’s always entertaining to see him on screen. Powers Boothe chews scenery like no one else and is the perfect veteran role for a film like this. Christopher Lloyd has an entertaining cameo as a crabby back door doctor but Lady Gaga wasn’t really worth mentioning.
The titular story has the most weight where Dwight (Josh Brolin), before he got plastic surgery and looking like Clive Owen, becomes embroiled in murder with a former love Ava Lord (Eva Green) who deceives, lies and sexually commands any man who gets in her way. This one had the biggest payoff not only for the adapted story but the combined acting and characters of Brolin, Green and Rourke who take control whenever they’re on the screen. Brolin does a great job as Dwight, bringing his tough guy persona on screen but lacks that debonair panache that Clive Owen would later bring. Dennis Haysbert as Manute, Ava's body guard, does a very good performance replacing Michael Clarke Duncan, where you can’t even recognize sometimes that a casting change was made. Eva Green, who had trouble finding a scene to not be naked in not that I’m complaining, was spectacular as the sexually charged femme fatale. One moment she’s desperate, worried and fearful, the next moment she’s dangerous, powerful and commanding. The change in tone and demeanor was palpable, providing an immensely engrossing dual performance and the most believable villain in the entire movie. You can’t wait for her to come back on screen, not just because she’s beautiful but such a joy to see her command the scenery.
Nancy's Last Dance has Nancy (Jessica Alba) four years removed from the suicide of Hartigan (Bruce Willis), now a depressed, vengeful alcoholic who strips full time at Kadie’s. She aims to avenge Hartigan against Roarke while battling her own demons and hallucinations of him. The story itself is a logical continuation of what happened in the previous film but too similar to what Marv did before. Avenging for a person you love against the most powerful man in town. The climax is more of the same and the continuity doesn’t make much sense. Marv is alive in this story but during this story, Roarke talks about his dead son Roarke Junior who would later become The Yellow Bastard and killed by Hartigan. This would be impossible since in The Hard Goodbye from the first film, Marv sees Nancy and she looks vastly different from what she eventually becomes. She is cheerful and happy with long blonde hair, not one to be seen as a suicidal drunk with facial scars and messy black hair. Marv then later kills Cardinal Roarke, going to prison, getting the death penalty. So it would be impossible for him to live in the same continuity as everything else where he’s involved in two separate stories at the same time. I love Marv and don’t mind him cracking skulls but only when it makes sense. It was too much for me to get over and made the impact of the story less than credible. Alba does a fine job of portraying a damaged, unhinged woman on the brink and a stark contrast from the damsel in distress from before.
While there was nothing inherently wrong with the stories, it lacked the electric confrontations from Sin City. Everybody seemingly had a problem and a faceoff with everybody, from Dwight and Jackie Boy, Marv and Kevin, Hartigan and The Yellow Bastard and Marv and Cardinal Roarke. It didn’t feel as special and lacked those certain qualities. The same goes for the characters overall which looked like to be overflowing with them. Not much of the characters that we haven’t seen stood out in A Dame To Kill For. In Sin City, Kevin was amazing without even saying a word, Cardinal Roarke was as creepy as can get, Jackie Boy, The Salesman, Lucille, The Yellow Bastard all had great moments, while lesser known characters like Stuka and Klump provided some comic relief. Those characters had big and small parts but equally provided something meaningful to the overall story. Ray Liotta and Juno Temple had a good brief scene together while Christopher Meloni and Jeremy Piven didn’t do much as a pair of detectives. I wish Wendy (Jaime King) had a bigger role. Hartigan's role was understandably short since he’s dead but nowhere near the top billing as it ended up to be. I could never tire of seeing Gail (Rosario Dawson) tear up the scene. She also had a mildly brief but entertaining involvement.
The script by Frank Miller and Robert Rodriguez is just as crackling as before but not nearly as quotable as Sin City. The dialogue at times just didn’t grab my attention as I thought it would. I find Sin City to be endlessly quotable from any number of characters but here it just feels like too much of recreating a good thing. It doesn’t capture that same cool demeanor and epic confrontations as before, instead of having a feel of running on auto pilot. It’s easy to get into these people inner monologuing about the dank scenery and sordid characters, but it’s clearly not as effective. This may sound like small potatoes, but the way Sin City started and ended was perfect, seamlessly concluding in a logical circle of beginning and end. It doesn’t have the same powerful meaning as it does here, it just ends. I wanted a little bit more, something like an exclamation point. Similar to Marv calling the guards pansies after being electrocuted then getting the fatal shock, Hartigan proclaiming his love to Nancy before killing himself or Becky getting her long awaited comeuppance in the final moments. The action and set pieces were also a step down, not providing the same amount of fun thrills but were entertaining nonetheless.
Sin City: A Dame To Kill For is back like it never left with the dazzling artistic style, colorful characters, engrossing stories and gratuitous sex/violence anchoring it. But along the way, it doesn’t provide what made Sin City such a joy to watch in the first place. Sure it’s fun but at times it’s rather forgettable. The set pieces were done well enough but it needs much more than that to compensate. The stories are good and engaging for the most part but not as memorable as before. I never thought I’d say a visit to the most lurid, corrupt and sexually charged city imaginable was rather tame in comparison. While the trip was overall worth it, it’s not something I would visit anytime soon. The first go around is just too appetizing to not give another look. Three romps in Old Town out of five.