In 2005, Robert Rodriguez found great success with his effects-heavy, hyper-stylized neo-noir movie based on the graphic novel of the same name, Sin City. He remained so faithful to source material (basically using it as a storyboard), that the novel’s creator, Frank Miller, was given a co-directing credit. It was like no comic book movie ever seen on film, with face-melting visuals and flashy violence that moved something like a ballet.
It was essentially a cartoon film noir, made for people who don’t really care to understand the murky morality of the genre and would rather just cut to the sex and violence. All of the men are mugs and all of the women are man-eaters.
Nearly a decade later, Sin City: A Dame to Kill For delivers more of the same, with less of the original’s surreal horror elements (like the Yellow Bastard and talking severed heads). This one plays it more like a straight noir tale, narrowly balancing its comic fantasy and hardboiled narrative elements into a harmonious film. Not all of it works, but it delivers the gleefully brutal and leather-clad goofiness that made the original so fun.
But is it enough? In the end, A Dame to Kill For is too formulaic, too much of a boilerplate film to feel like you’re watching something fresh.
New material and three stories from Miller’s book are meshed together, though they barely graze one another along the way. It gives this Sin City an anthology feel, and the various pieces have nothing in common but setting and Mickey Rourke in his Muppet makeup. Gambler Johnny (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) empties the pockets of corrupt Sen. Roark (Powers Boothe) over a hand of poker, only to wind up broken in the gutter shortly after. Private eye Dwight (Josh Brolin, taking over for Clive Owen) finds himself in the claws of his ex-girl Ava (Eva Green with no clothes on), the classic femme fatale role cranked to 11. Jessica Alba returns as Nancy, the stripper with the heart of gold, out for revenge against Rourke.
Rodriguez tends to be lauded for his strong female characters, but the character of Nancy is baffling. Here’s a girl who’s one hell of a sharpshooter and bent on vengeance. But she can’t find it without maiming her own face so a man will carry out her revenge for her.
That man is Marv (Mickey Rourke), the bloodthirsty palooka who “breaks faces” as a way to kill the boredom of drinking. Rourke manages to once again bring a lot of heart to the role, which in the hands of someone else may come off as caricature.
A lot of the film feels familiar, which is where the tediousness sets in – particularly during the Dwight character’s segment, where Rodriguez is forced to handle sequences longer than a couple minutes. During this segment, it feels like the filmmaker is dragging his heels, just sniffing around for another opportunity to show Eva Green in her birthday suit.
At least Rodriguez gets to play around with the cutting-edge technology he loves so much. Despite green-screen consuming Sin City, the characters seem really comfortable with it, a testament to Rodriguez as a director. A Dame to Kill For also features the best 3-D I’ve seen in a long time. Given the black and white contrast of the film, images pop that much more off the screen. I typically don’t care either way about 3D, but catch this one in 3-D if you have the chance.
Despite the outstanding visuals, though, this second visit to Sin City feels like a rehash of the original. Fans looking for more of the same cartoony action without any kind of reinvention will be more than pleased. Anyone looking for some progress beyond the 2005 original may want to wait for home video.
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