It took nearly a decade, but Robert Rodriguez and Frank Miller have finally made a sequel to Sin City. The original was a visual tour de force that looked like nothing we’d ever seen before on this scale, and handily fused elements of film noir, action, mystery, and humor. It was loud, and it was fun. With Sin City: A Dame To Kill For, the duo of directors have upped the ante in terms of visual flare but lost a great deal of the fun.
The film tells three short stories (and one tiny micro-story to start things off), with the titular “A Dame To Kill For” getting the most screen time. Your enjoyment of the film will depend on which of the stories resonates with you, because they’re all truly a mixed bag. The “Dame” storyline is the one that captivated the bulk of my interest- anchored by strong performances from Josh Brolin and Eva Green. It’s the only one of the main chapters that actually came from Frank Miller’s books, and- not coincidentally- it feels the most fleshed out.
All the chapters follow the neo-noir tone of the books, with dark, brooding characters cloaked in shadows while their voice-overs fill us in to what’s making them tick. One of my favorite lines can be found in “Dame” when Brolin’s Dwight McCarthy perfectly captures what’s wrong with his love affair with Green’s Ava Lord. She asks to meet, after being gone from his life for some time, and his VO says “I should’ve told her to go to hell. Instead, I was 20 minutes early.” I know the feeling, Dwight. Of the four actors tasked with providing noir voice overs, which also includes Mickey Rourke and Joseph Gordon-Levitt, it’s Jessica Alba’s that falls flat.
In fact, her entire storyline falls flat.
Miller has stated in interviews that he loved what Alba did with Nancy in the original film. So much so that he wrote “Nancy’s Last Dance” just for this movie. But that’s not all, it’s Nancy’s story that serves as the film’s final chapter. The problem is: There’s nothing to it. It’s a very by-the-numbers tale of a stripper “with a heart of gold,” seeking revenge. It gets visited several times throughout the film, and is given the final 20 minutes of screen time, which is sad because it’s the least interesting story. It relies almost entirely on your investment in her story from the first film (“The Yellow Bastard”) and, if you’re like me and you haven’t seen that film since it’s original theatrical run, you’re going to have trouble feeling anything but apathy.
The other all-new entry, “The Long Bad Night” is carried nicely by Gordon-Levitt. About a gifted gambler that seemingly never loses, who pushes his luck and makes the wrong kinds of enemies, it’s a good showcase for the actor. And how can you dislike anything that includes a juicy little Christopher Lloyd cameo?
The film needed more of the kind of fun that Lloyd instinctually brings with him to the screen. Rourke’s Marv is another highlight, as he has a bit of the “Yeah, this is ridiculous, but it’s exciting, ain’t it?” tone that’s just right for this kind of movie. More of that sense of levity would’ve gone a long way, I feel, in holding everything together and creating a more cohesive whole. Instead, the film peters out towards the end- just as Nancy becomes the focus.
Still, you’ve got to hand it to Rodriguez and Miller. The visual storytelling here is top notch, and they use their hyper-stylized aesthetic in exciting ways. The images pop, spin, and transform in all the ways you would expect while reading a Frank Miller comic, which is still an impressive feat to see in live-action.
In all, the film is extremely watchable and, as long as you’re into the particular chapter that’s being highlighted, you’re going to have a good time at the theater. I know “watchable” doesn’t sound like high praise, but I’m being literal here. You could cover your ears and still enjoy the movie (in fact, that may be worth a try during Alba’s story). With a more captivating final act, and a stronger sense of fun, it could’ve been much better but it’s still a decent way to spend an hour and forty minutes.