As soon as Sin City came out in 2005, audiences were clamoring for a sequel. In the mean time, many Hollywood films jumped on the graphic novel bandwagon in an effort to capitalize on the success and aesthetic of co-directors Frank Miller and Robert Rodriguez. 300 (2006), The Spirit (2008), and Watchmen (2009) are the most immediate heirs, though arguably the only success of the bunch was 300 as the other Miller vehicle. After nine years, audiences have finally been given the Sin City sequel they craved. Yet Sin City: A Dame to Kill For is a pale shadow of the original Sin.
Much like the first film, A Dame to Kill For weaves together four stories of some of Basin City’s most morally ambiguous heroes. Two of the stories follow Miller’s content from his corresponding graphic novel, while Miller added two additional narratives to the mix to round out the film.
The two arcs from the graphic novel play the best on screen. The flow between Marv’s (Mickey Rourke) bloody confrontation with some yuppie frat boys and the larger narrative of Dwight’s (Josh Brolin) tangled love affair with Ava (Eva Green) feels more natural than their counterparts.
Rourke was perhaps made to play Marv with his innate brawler’s swagger. Brolin is less successful as Dwight; his attempt at cold-killer eyes yields an overall flat performance. But the real star of A Dame to Kill For is Eva Green, or more specifically her breasts. As my friend Marissa so blithely pointed out, Green’s breasts get more screen time than either Christopher Meloni or Jeremy Piven. They’re marvelous breasts, but was that really necessary? Green’s performance was striking above and beyond her nudity. She firmly stakes her claim as ruling neo-noir femme fatale.
In contrast, the two brand new story lines come off as disjointed and keep the film as a whole from fully gelling. While Johnny’s (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) arc of a gambler determined to outwit his famous father is a tad sparse on back story, JGL gives a knockout performance that elevates an otherwise lackluster plot point. He also delivers the best line of dialogue in the whole film, “I’m ambidextrous.” This line further proves JGL’s skill as, typed out, the words are nothing special, but his witty, minutia-driven acting make it an explosive line.
On the other hand, the additional Nancy (Jessica Alba) arc feels lackluster and drastically disrupts the chronology of the series. Miller reportedly added the extended Nancy story because he was so compelled by Alba’s first performance. And undeniably Alba was fantastic in Sin City. While she still gyrates like a pro, Miller’s new piece seems forced for both writer and star. Considering that Alba factors in to a high volume of the promotional material, her story tacked on at the end is even more of a let down.
According to comic book canon, the events of A Dame to Kill For are meant to come prior to the events in the original Sin City film. This concept is now extremely confusing as Nancy’s story hinges on the death of John Hartigan (Bruce Willis). Willis’ presence in this film as the loving specter was superfluous. His absence would have allowed Alba to stand on her own, something her character as well as her acting desperately needed.
Then there’s Old Town. There will never be enough Old Town screen time for me. That being said, even Old Town seemed to have lost some of its grit. In a world where every single woman is a professed slut, whore, or bitch there is no strength, reclamation, or pride in these words for the women who speak them. More so than before A Dame to Kill For makes its women the victims of its men in word and deed. The powerful, sexy women of Old Town could not even begin to pass the Bechdel Test and that is a damn crime.
The signature Sin City style that seemed groundbreaking just a few years ago now seems too slick and heavy handed. The genius of the first film was it’s stylized restraint–the graphic novel feel without ever becoming too literal. A Dame to Kill For has a classic case of sequel-itus. Miller and Rodgriguez went too far in the right direction so that the aesthetics seem overblown and suddenly wrong.
For example, more color is not better. The original film had specific splashes of color in red or gold that enhanced the dramatic grey-scale feel of the rest of the world. The second time around color is used too liberally–Eva Green’s lips are red in one scene, her coat blue in another, and then her lips are red and her eyes green. Suddenly Juno Temple’s teddy is pink. And Jaime King is in full color for no good reason. The use of color here often lacks a purpose. The pops of color lose their sense of thematic consistency and more importantly they lose their value as narrative devices.
Maybe it’s just another casualty of high expectations, but A Dame to Kill For isn’t worth the slaughter.