When the original Sin City debuted in 2005, it was like nothing that I’d ever seen before. With its stylized black and white palette interrupted by the occasional burst of color and its other visual effects, the film was like being fully immersed in a graphic novel. Add in its dark, film noir story and it’s no surprise that I was immediately in love. It was a totally different way to make a comic book movie and its slavish dedication to detail from the source material and its visual style has made many people cite it as the best adaptation in the genre. When someone mentions that they like Sin City, my radar is immediately up; I may have just found a potential friend. When I heard that they were finally making a follow-up nearly a decade later, I was excited – I still wanted to spend some time in Sin City after the original film and I was curious to see what they would come up with for the next installment.
My best guess is that if you liked the original Sin City that you’ll also enjoy Sin City: A Dame to Kill For, though to a lesser degree. While the signature look of the films is still utilized effectively and the second film boasts an all-star cast, the stories told the second time around just aren’t as compelling as the original. There’s a lot to like about the new Sin City, but in the end it does feel like a slightly faded copy of the original. It’s worth seeing and enjoyable, but not as impressive as their first attempt.
Of course, a lot has changed in the movie landscape since the original Sin City debuted; the style that was so fresh and innovative in 2005 has now been imitated in many other films. It’s still aesthetically pleasing and visually stimulating, but it isn’t as cutting edge as it once was. The addition of 3-D does help punch things up a bit – if there ever was a movie that was built to play with 3-D, it’s this one – but there is a familiarity to Sin City: A Dame to Kill For. If all there was to the film was the shock and awe of its cinematic style that might be a problem. But beyond the film’s visually dazzling presentation, there were interesting stories to be told and characters to meet in Sin City. That is still the case in Sin City: A Dame to Kill For, though the fragmented narrative and the slightly less beguiling plot points hold the film from living up to the achievements of the first film.
Sin City: A Dame to Kill For is a mix of the old and the new – while there are several familiar faces from the first film, there is also plenty of fresh blood. This is partially a necessity, since so many people from the film are no longer with us – either their characters were killed off or the actor portraying them passed away in real life (R.I.P. Brittany Murphy and Michael Clarke Duncan) – and partially artistic license to take the stories in new direction. Mickey Rourke, Jessica Alba, Rosario Dawson and Powers Boothe are all back, reprising their roles from Sin City; even Bruce Willis is back, though he is a ghost of his former self (literally). These are all welcome returns, especially Rourke who really is fantastic as psychopath Marv. In most other movies Marv would be the bad guy, but in the world of Sin City a big lug that generally tries to hurt people that deserve it makes him one of our heroes. Plus he doesn’t hit girls, which is an admirable quality in these parts – not just accepted behavior. Alba is given a slightly larger role in this film, but for those of you who are only interested in her dance routines at the club, she still does those in spades. There is plenty of gyrating and writing around on the stage to make you happy. Alba’s an undoubtedly beautiful woman and seems like a nice person, but I’m not convinced that she’s really that good of an actress; in Sin City: A Dame to Kill For, they expand her role just enough to what she can handle. Powers Boothe is rarely not the bad guy and he’s as evil as ever in his second turn as Senator Roark. We spend less time in Old Town in the second film than we did in the first, so there isn’t a lot of screen time for Rosario Dawson. She still makes an impression however.
Joining in on the fun this time around are Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Josh Brolin, Eva Green, Dennis Haysbert, Ray Liotta, Jeremy Piven and Christopher Meloni (yay!). While all of these people are fine actors, Brolin and Green acclimate themselves the best to the style of the film; they take to Sin City’s noir landscape like ducks to water. Brolin has the right hardened look and gravelly voice to immediately feel like he’s been part of this series since the beginning and Green is perfect as the femme fatale Ava. Green is stylized and filmed in such a way that you’d be forgiven for thinking that she stepped out of a 1950s gritty crime novel. You see a lot of Green in this film, both physically and screen time-wise; she’s nude a LOT in this film. Like – a lot, a lot. I’m actually not all that comfortable with how familiar I now am with her body after watching it projected on the big screen for much of the movie. It’s a little excessive, but it honestly didn’t feel all that exploitive given how it was shot; if I looked like she did and was shot as lavishly as she was, I’d have no problem with doing all that nudity either.
Gordon-Levitt does not fit in quite a seamlessly; he does a nice job and he can sell the dialogue but he’s not hardened enough to not stick out in this world a little bit. He’s just too pretty – a fact that they acknowledge since he’s referred to as “handsome” throughout the film. In a world like Sin City, the men all look like they’ve lived a life and his baby face betrays him. It’s not necessarily a distraction, but compared to Green and Brolin he is more of an outlier. Liotta, Piven and Meloni all do well in their supporting roles and Haysbert is a new face but playing an old character, filling in for the deceased Michael Clarke Duncan. No one can quite live up to the physical presence of Clarke Duncan, but Haysbert does a more than admirable job filling those (very big) shoes.
Like the last film, Sin City: A Dame to Kill For is made of a series of stories that don’t necessarily intersect other than in location and theme. While the events in the first Sin City all appeared to take place around the same time, they play a little fast and loose with chronology in A Dame to Kill For. This is a little confusing, since there is no explicit indicator that at least one vignette takes place before the events of the original Sin City and other take place afterward; I found myself having to work to put some things in context. I don’t mind non-linear story telling – I actually quite enjoy it as a narrative device – but since there is such little connection between all these stories it is easy to briefly lose your place in the space time continuum. Or maybe I’m not as smart as I think I am (high unlikely). The end result is not only confusion, but the feeling that the whole movie is a little disjointed.
If I were renaming this film, I’d call it Sin City: The B Sides since the film feels a bit like using the leftover stories that weren’t quite good enough to make it into the first film. I don’t know that there was enough meat on the bone from the source material for a second full length feature. The stories are not evenly represented either; wisely, a lot more time was spent on the Brolin/Green story than the others since it is easily the strongest of the bunch. The Gordon-Levitt story isn’t fully developed enough and suffers from being bookended around the Brolin/Green story; I’d kind of forgotten about it by the time we returned to it. The Alba story also felt a little rushed and tacked on; perhaps with more attention or better pacing it would have been better, but by the time that story finally kicked into gear the film was kind of running out of steam. None of these stories were uninteresting, but they didn’t live up to the slick execution of the first film’s narrative.
I also felt that the writing wasn’t as tight in this film as it was in the second; perhaps because I was less overwhelmed by the appearance of the film, I paid more attention to the dialogue this time around, but there were instances where the noir banter and one -iners felt a little forced. The actors make the most of what they are given, but tonally there are a few scattered moments where it all feels a little too aware of itself and its genre – even bordering on campy. It’s a fine line between being authentic to the style and feeling like a parody of it and this film doesn’t quite walk that line as well as the previous installment.
Some other thoughts:
- Lady Gaga has a very small role as a diner waitress and unsurprisingly she fits right into this world.
- Not only have the upped the sex and nudity in this film, but there’s a lot more violence this time around. Sin City definitely was a violent film, but the second time out they decided to kick it up a notch. It’s more graphic (no pun intended) and while it didn’t bother me, it may turn some people off.
- I was bummed that I did not get the teaser for The Hateful Eight, Quentin Tarantino’s new film, before A Dame to Kill For as promised. I don’t know if that was because I saw the early screening last night, but I had been looking forward to it even though there is no actual footage from the film. Leaked footage of the trailer appears to be online (for now), so I was able to see it. If that’s the actual trailer, I’m pumped.
- I re-watched Sin City this week to prepare for the new film – it had been a while since I saw it – and it still holds up well. You can see A Dame to Kill For even if you didn’t watch the first film and you won’t be too lost, but there are definitely nods to the first film that you won’t pick up if you haven’t seen it. They don’t do as much work on the returning characters either, so you may not get the best sense of some of them without doing the homework.
- You guys – I actually sprung for 3-D for this movie. Like, I paid for it out of my own pocket! That a testament to how much I enjoy the Sin City movies. They employed it well in this film; I think it helps that it is already a dark film with a limited color scheme so that the 3-D doesn’t darken the visuals.
- I know that the first film wasn’t a mainstream hit, but I thought it did pretty well. Apparently not as many people were looking forward to second movie as I was since there were less than 20 people at my screening last night.
- True story – during a particularly creepy trailer for Annabelle (that movie looks crazy), I was suddenly aware of movement out of the corner of my eye. It was some dude who was slowly lumbering down the stairs – presumably to go to the concession stand or use the rest room. In any other circumstance that wouldn’t have even registered, but he inadvertently looked so eerie that it almost made me jump. Now that’s a trailer that can set a mood!
The second film in a movie franchise is usually weaker than the original and that is certainly the case with Sin City: A Dame to Kill For. I still enjoyed it, but the fragmented storytelling was too unconnected to fully work and the stories were just not as interesting as the previous film. It’s a pale imitation of the first film, though I think fans will still be pleased to spend a little more time in the seedly underbelly of Sin City. Brolin and Green are especially welcome new additions and it is still a visual masterpiece, but it can’t hit the same heights as the original movie. I’m glad that we revisited this territory, but without an uptick in the quality of the stories I think that this is franchise that has exhausted its potential.
Sin City: A Dame to Kill For opens nationwide today.