Note: this review is featured on the Phoenix Film Festival’s website.
The original Sin City was a defining mark of modern film noir, combining comic book stylings with a genre heaped in black-and-white cinematography and seedy individuals. The elements meshed perfectly and created one of the most visually stunning films of the past decade. Now, after a nine-year hiatus, Sin City: A Dame to Kill For enters the cinematic landscape as one of the most unnecessary sequels ever made, a convoluted, immature spoof of the original. Frank Miller picks up partial directing credit and writing credit for this entry, having written the graphic novels but also creating two new narratives for this feature: “The Long Bad Night” and “Nancy’s Last Dance.” Due to these additions, the film features multiple storylines that are set in different time periods without warning the viewer, creating an off-putting sense of thematic inconsistency. The stories feel held together by expired glue and remind us that when an anticipated sequel arrives, it needs to deliver what it promises.
The story has four central episodes, cut together to form a single narrative: “Just Another Saturday Night” follows Marv (Mickey Rourke) regaining consciousness on the side of the highway surrounded by dead bodies, wondering how he got there; “The Long Bad Night” focuses on Johnny (Joseph Gordon-Levitt), a lucky gambler who beats Senator Roark (Powers Boothe) in a game of poker that changes his life forever; “A Dame to Kill For” looks at Dwight (Josh Brolin), a man struggling with keeping himself in order especially when his former lover, the titular Ava (Eva Green), returns; and “Nancy’s Last Dance” centers on Nancy (Jessica Alba) dealing with Hartigan’s (Bruce Willis) suicide and turning herself into an alcoholic, vengeful dame aiming to take out Roark once and for all. Returning characters include Gail (Rosario Dawson) on a visit to Old Town along with newcomer detectives Mort (Christopher Meloni) and Bob (Jeremy Piven).
Sin City is full of jealousy, revenge, lust, love, and a whole lotta sex and violence. Ava is the dame the title refers to, acting as one of the most sexually charged characters I’ve seen on the big screen. She’s a character that never falls in love and manipulates men with her sex, whether that be Dwight or a married detective like Mort. She’s venomous and purely evil. When the camera moves over her naked body, it’s not signifying a lust for her so much as her raw sexuality acting as such a hypnotic force over the male characters. Most females in Sin City seem to embrace their sexuality and use it as a means of power. Men, on the other hand, use their brute force and occasional cunning to outmaneuver brutes, which creates an uncomfortably simple dichotomy. Everyone knows that Nancy strips and Marv will kill anyone with his bare hands, so does there have to be countless scenes that show those particulars happening over and over again? At a certain point, the storytelling grows lazy and monotonous rather than inventive and revelatory.
Much like the first film, Robert Rodriguez not only directs but also edits and cinematographs this adventure. It makes for a rapid-fire, blazing whirlwind of comic frenzy. The first ten minutes are belligerently paced and never let up, confusing the audience by re-introducing a character thought dead (in Marv, who was seen executed in the first film). The problem with this idea is that the narrative never comes together cohesively; by having multiple stories that do not cross time-wise, many of them lose meaning and don’t provide context for the first film. Rather, they feel wholly unnecessary. The 3D is well framed and deliberately used, perfectly captured for a world as visually arresting as Sin City. The performances are committed all-around, but Eva Green proves that if a long-awaited sequel needs a powerful, sexualized woman (after her work earlier this year on 300: Rise of an Empire), she’s the one. Yet Sin City: A Dame to Kill For fails to make much sense in its relevance to the overall story, feeling like mish-mashed vignettes that aim to capture the spirit of the original but fall flat.
Grade: ★★½ (out of 5)