Let us here at PoP! guide you through a minefield of projects that seem full of win from the word go, but which once you delve into them have you shouting… It’s a Trap!
Directed by Robert Rodriguez and Frank Miller
Starring Josh Brolin, Mickey Rourke, Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Eva Green, Jessica Alba, Powers Boothe, Dennis Haysbert, Rosario Dawson, and Bruce Willis
Like most comic and movie fans, I was a great admirer of Robert Rodriguez’s 2005 movie adaptation of Frank Miller’s Sin City comics. Up to that point, no other film even came close to Sin City in faithfully translating the look and overall feel of a comic book story that well. Even with the many fine big-screen comic book adaptations that we’ve been treated to in the nine years that followed, none have been quite as dead-on. When word got out that Rodriguez and creator Frank Miller were working on a follow-up, I was ready to return to the grimy, noir-inspired cinematic world of Basin City, only to be more than a little disappointed in the final product when I finally saw it. Sin City: A Dame To Kill For is successful in once again bringing Miller’s unique stories and characters to life, but this time it rang a little hollow and seemed more like a contractual obligation than an affectionate homage to the comics.
Like the original film, Sin City: A Dame To Kill For is comprised of a series of interconnected stories, all taking place within the fictional, film noir-inspired title city where crime, violence, and corruption run wild and justice is hard to come by. Rodriguez once again films the sequel entirely on a green screen in black and white with intermittent colors showing up once in a while, and the overall effect looks just as great as it did in the original film. Several cast members from the first Sin City return for the sequel, including Mickey Rourke as the psychotic but noble Marv, Powers Boothe as the corrupt and vengeful Senator Roark, Jessica Alba as Nancy the never-nude stripper, and Bruce Willis as the ghost of Detective John Hartigan, putting Denis Leary’s disapproving ghost dad from The Amazing Spider-Man 2 to shame. Some of the new faces to this world include Josh Brolin (reprising Clive Owen’s character Dwight from the original film), Joseph Gordon-Levitt as a hotshot gambler, and the bewildering Eva Green as the woman that could effectively convince someone to take someone else’s life. The central story of the piece is the one that the film is named after, in which Dwight is persuaded by his former lover to kill her husband, only to find himself on the wrong end of a double-cross. The other stories deal with Marv hunting down and killing a gang of obnoxious frat boys, the gambler’s unfortunate run-in with some of Sin City’s elites, and Nancy’s attempts to avenge Hartigan’s death.
The latter two tales were written by Miller exclusively for the film, while the former were adapted from the comics, which contributed to this film’s inferiority to the 2005 original for me. While the two original segments were well-shot and well-acted, they definitely stuck out from the two segments based on older scripts in terms of tone and pacing. The pre-title sequence with Marv and the “Dame To Kill For” segment each seemed like complete stories, while the original pieces seemed more hurried and undercooked, as if Miller and Rodriguez were just trying to fill up time. There are some great moments within these two segments, to be sure, such as a gorgeous-looking fantasy sequence in which Booth’s character cuts a miniature version of Gordon-Levitt’s hustler into pieces by throwing a hand of cards at him, but overall they left me unsatisfied and generally unimpressed, which isn’t helped by the fact that they take up most of the latter half of the film. Even the two adaptations, while closer in tone and structure to the original, don’t quite have the same bite that the tales from the 2005 film did. What made the first Sin City film so good was in how each played around with the conventions of the film noir genre in fresh and unexpected ways, while the tales in Sin City: A Dame To Kill For seem a lot more conventional and much less surprising. It also doesn’t help that the final tale in which Nancy enlists Marv’s help to finally take down Roark completely messes up the internal timeline of Miller’s world, as Marv should have been dead around the time this story took place.
The original Sin City film was a lovingly-rendered tribute to Frank Miller’s unmistakeable visual style and use of language by an innovative and fearless young director, but nine years later, the pre/sequel seems more like a halfhearted attempt from both Rodriguez and Miller to reclaim some mainstream success after a few years of less-than-stellar work. The lack of overall enthusiasm shows in the faces of the actors, many of whom just don’t seem to be having any fun. One of the few exceptions is Eva Green, who plays what is basically a cliched femme fatale with the perfect mix of sultriness and menace. Miller’s scripts don’t help the proceedings, as they are mostly devoid of much of the wickedly dark humor that was found in nearly every frame of the original. The only real attempt to inject some humor into the film comes more than an hour in, when Gordon-Levitt’s character visits a dubiously-credited street doctor played by Christopher Lloyd, but it only sticks out as an odd scene among the majority of the film which is played more or less straight. While it’s never a total bummer to revisit this setting and these characters, Sin City: A Dame To Kill For plays more like a series of footnotes than as a true expansion of this extraordinary world and all it did was point out just how much better the original film was in terms of storytelling and character. It’s not a complete failure by a long shot, but in a year that gave us superior sequels like Captain America: The Winter Soldier, Dawn of the Planet of the Apes, and even 22 Jump Street, Sin City: A Dame To Kill For just seems uninspired, which is an adjective I never thought I’d ascribe to Frank Miller or Robert Rodriguez. 3 out of 5 CGI Arrows