The warning signs were evident way before Sin City: A Dame To Kill For collected a haul of bad reviews in 2014 while plopping into the lives of the general public. A long period of gestation followed in the wake of Frank Miller and Robert Rodriguez’s original 2005 hit Sin City, which was based on Miller’s graphic novel of the same name, and a worrying amount of writing and re-writing (including some at the behest of executive producers Bob and Harvey Weinstein) took place between 2006 and 2011. Then, upon completion, Miramax put the scheduled release date back from 2013 to 2014 (supposedly to avoid clashes with Rodriguez’s Machete Kills). Eventually A Dame To Kill For found its way into the multiplexes, but one wonders whether enthusiasm for the project had gradually waned over the years, especially given the fact the Weinsteins seemed keener to discuss the development of a TV spin-off than the film itself.
Some actors – Mickey Rourke, Jessica Alba, Rosario Dawson, Powers Boothe, Jaime King – return for this second outing but others – Clive Owen, Devon Aoki, Michael Madsen, Michael Clarke Duncan – are not present for a number of reasons (Duncan, for example, passed away shortly before filming started). Added to the cast, however, are several medium-sized names: Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Eva Green and Dennis Haysbert have the prominent roles, while there are a number of blink-and-you’ll-miss-em cameos for Christopher Lloyd, Ray Liotta, Lady Gaga, Stacy Keach, Jeremy Piven and many more. Inevitably some work better than others.
While criticism of the film primarily seemed to identify the screenplay as the main problem, with disgruntled reviewers claiming to be bored, Rodriguez and Miller were always on a hiding to nothing. For one thing they had the element of surprise on their side a decade ago, and the impact that their hyper-stylized, monochromatic and ultraviolent world had on viewers could not be relied upon again; though still essentially one big red light district with token docklands and out-of-town mansions up in the hills, this city now seems a touch duller due to familiarity with the milieu. Ah, the lot of the sequel, eh?
The exploitation of women continues unchecked, and sadly only Eva Green’s repeatedly-naked femme fatale stands out, with the rest little more than a cavalcade of interchangeable strippers and badass prostitute-assassins. Meanwhile the men are, once again, a bunch of tough-talking noir exaggerations who bed the vamps and smash one another through numerous panes of glass (seriously, if you want to make it in Sin City, become a glazier). Some characters, such as Rourke’s brutish slugger Marv, have also lost some of the mystique that helped to make Sin City so enjoyable, although giving Boothe’s vicious and smug Senator Roark a more prominent role this time was a good move.
The new movie shares its predecessor’s episodic structure, with the Gordon-Levitt-starring The Long Bad Night split into two distinct (and distinctly underwhelming parts). That’s a story Miller penned for this film, and sadly it fails to capture the imagination in the same way That Yellow Bastard, The Big Fat Kill or The Hard Goodbye did ten years ago. Slightly better is A Dame To Kill For, a straightforward tale of double-crossing and revenge featuring Brolin’s Dwight McCarthy and Green’s calculating Ava Lord. It ends up in a pointless, violent war, with an army of disposable henchmen losing their heads, but I was entertained. Marv and Alba’s Nancy feature in another short, but this largely re-treads old ground without offering anything fresh.
Given that the style and the subject matter is largely the same as the first film, I suspect that fans will find sitting through Sin City: A Dame To Kill For less of a chore than the majority of reviews in 2014 suggested it would be. While it’s clearly not as good as Sin City, there is some fun to be had from seeing this pulpy, comic style once again, and to revisit this stripped back, contrast-heavy variation on New York City. I still like the flashes of colour that appear (red blood occasionally spatters across the screen, Eva Green’s eyes are green, etc) and the fact there’s no advertising anywhere (bottles of alcohol are simply labelled ‘Booze’), while there are several creatively-staged ‘end-of-panel’ moments. So even with the underlying sensation of déjà vu it’s not all bad; in fact if you compare it to Miller’s utterly dismal 2008 film The Spirit it feels like you’re watching a triumphant masterpiece.
Directed by: Robert Rodriguez, Frank Miller.
Written by: Frank Miller. Based on Sin City by Frank Miller.
Starring: Mickey Rourke, Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Jessica Alba, Eva Green, Powers Boothe, Josh Brolin, Dennis Haysbert, Rosario Dawson, Jamie Chung, Bruce Willis, Christopher Lloyd, Jeremy Piven, Juno Temple, Ray Liotta.
Cinematography: Robert Rodriguez.
Editing: Robert Rodriguez.
Music: Robert Rodriguez, Carl Thiel.
Running Time: 102 minutes.