In 2005, directors Robert Rodriguez and Frank Miller brought Miller’s own graphic novel to theaters in a beautifully realized, noir-ish adaptation that was simply breathtaking to ingest. Featuring a washed-out color palette, visuals and characterizations ripped straight off the page, and omnipresent monologues – Sin City was a film one urgently needed to ‘experience’.
Flash forward nine years and that same team brings us a sequel in the form of A Dame To Kill For, with the same washed-out palette, the same characterizations, and what feels like the same omnipresent monologues. Much like the overbearing theme of Dame itself, not much in Sin City ever truly changes outside of a few new denizens populating this pulpy ‘burg.
This time around, Sin City features three inter-locking stories (plus Marv’s opening rampage) told over vaguely defined time frames: A charmer of good fortune (a fully vested Joseph Gordon-Levitt) decides to test Lady Luck against Sin City’s own personal Diablo, Senator Roark (a venomous Powers Boothe, each word dripping from his lips like poison from a viper). Soul-crushed stripper and wannabe-vigilante Nancy (Jessica Alba, surprisingly filling the harshness the role requires) slowly plots her own vengeance on Roark for the death of her beloved Hartigan (Bruce Willis once again playing a grizzled version of himself).
Lastly, Dwight (Josh Brolin confidently sewing up the threads left by Clive Owen in the previous film) is forced to go up against the aforementioned Dame To Kill For in Ava (Eva Green). A classic noir dame, Ava uses her body as the temptation and her words to gain the submission necessary for whatever sadistic purpose she currently serves.
This last story is easily the most prominent, and by the conclusion you will once again encounter fan favorites like Marv (Mickey Rourke, chewing scenery like he’s in a schlocky drive-in movie), Gail (Rosario Dawson), and Manute (Dennis Haysbert, attempting all the charm he can muster to compete with the memory of the late Michael Clarke Duncan). Marv is especially fun to watch, even while his own punishment ensues as every character on-screen seems to abuse his crusading nature for their own selfish benefit.
Nine years is a long time for a sequel to gestate, which is clearly evident here. Where Sin City was a masterful achievement of the senses in 2005, 2014 has witnessed this visual canvas far too often to sustain any hint of originality. The look is still visually stunning, yet no longer has that freshness, that ‘WOW’ factor, to stand apart from the cinematic smorgasbord chock-full of comic representations currently playing at your local cineplex.
Rodriguez and Miller’s biggest mistake with the sequel, though, is the complete abandonment of the fantastic narrative structure they perfected the first time around. Where the original film painted the interconnected stories almost as separate films, Dame instead offers no such pointedness. This is one continuous film and that simple change in focus is confounding enough to mold many in the audience into their own versions of a Yellow Bastard. With such a distance from the last film, as well as several notable cast changes, Dame desperately needed to retain that coherence and semblance of time to keep the film on track. Instead, we are left feeling like Marty McFly on Prom Night.
Even with a few missteps, what does work flawlessly in A Dame To Kill For is Eva Green. Almost as if trying to save the film single-handedly, Green storms into frame and fiercely dares anyone to divert their gaze from those piercing green eyes. Shifting from coy to manipulative to vindictive at the light of a match, Green’s Ava is the character that will stay with you long after her reel has ended. The boys (Brolin, Rourke, Boothe and Gordon-Levitt) all do an admirable job offering up their own versions of noir archetypes, but it is the Dame that slaps this film on her back and takes it for a stroll about town. Green simply IS noir incarnate. Give this woman her own monologue.
The bottom line is Sin City: A Dame To Kill For is too little, too late. Sure, there is still much to see here if you are a fan of the previous film or Miller’s work. Unfortunately the narrative changes, sluggish pacing and mind-blowing lack of established time keep the film from achieving the lofty goals the original attained. Thankfully, Rodriguez found a talented cast and one powerhouse Dame who will leave you with just enough belief that ultimately, there is a little life left in this City.
2.5 stars out of 5.