While it’s dressed up in all the same visual and technical style as its predecessor, and much of the original’s fan favorite cast members return for another round of sex, guns, and blood splashing on everyone and everything, Sin City: A Dame to Kill For fails by a mile to reach the same heights of vicious fun that made the first time around so memorable. It has its moments, most of which are carried by Marv, Mickey Rourke’s hard drinking, chain smoking, one-liner delivering killing machine character, but for most of its 102 minute running time, it’s like all of Marv’s victims: dead on arrival.
Like 2005’s Sin City, this new film is actually four Sin City “yarns” edited together into a whole. “Just Another Saturday Night” features Marv struggling to piece together the details of how exactly he ended up on a road overlooking a dilapidated part of town called “The Projects” surrounded by a slew of dead bodies and a couple of wrecked cars. “The Long, Bad Night” focuses on Johnny (Joseph Gordon-Levitt), a slick and talented young gambler who comes to Basin City looking to send a message to Senator Roark (Powers Boothe), the city’s most powerful and corrupt figure, by taking him on in a high-stakes poker game. “Nancy’s Last Dance” shows audiences what became of stripper Nancy Callahan (Jessica Alba), whose grief over the suicide of her one, true love and protector John Hartigan (Bruce Willis) at the end of the first film has broken her mind and filled her with hate and the need for revenge.
And finally, the story that gives the film its overall title, “A Dame to Kill For”, takes audiences back to a time years before the first film, when Dwight McCarthy (Josh Brolin), full of self-loathing and guilt for crimes committed when he let “the monster” inside him out, must deal with the return of the love of his life, Eva Lord (Eva Green), a wealthy woman seemingly trapped in a gilded cage by a controlling and abusive husband and an inescapable bodyguard named Manute (Dennis Haysbert). Eva comes seeking forgiveness for leaving Dwight years before and deliverance from her current circumstances, but like all memorable femme fatales, there’s far more to her and to her situation than meets the eye.
Like 300: Rise of an Empire, the other hyper-stylized sequel to a popular Frank Miller creation that came out earlier this year, Sin City: A Dame to Kill For suffers in part due to how long its been since its predecessor wowed audiences in theaters and what’s been done since. Yes, this time it’s given the 3D treatment, but that little extra bit of technical wizardry really adds very little to a presentation that already pops from the screen due to the signature black & white treatment. So in effect, what you get in here is just more of the same in terms of visuals. If you enjoyed that aspect of the first film, then what you get here won’t be a letdown, but it won’t have any “wow” factor to it, either. If anything, you might have a feeling of nostalgia watching it all unfold, remembering just how impressive it all was way back in the day.
But by far the biggest issue with this new film is the fact that it lacks the cohesion and synergy that made the first time around so engaging, and about halfway through its running time it all just starts to feel tired and tedious. As a collection, this set of stories, in comparison to the four that made up the original Sin City, simply isn’t as strong and don’t mesh well together. In fact, an argument can be made that “A Dame to Kill For”, given more room to breathe and explore subplots that are only touched on in this telling, might have made for a fine enough film on its own. The other stories, in varying degrees, feel cumbersome to downright superfluous here: “Just Another Saturday Night” feels rushed and obligatory, “The Long, Bad Night” has too little connection to the other narratives, and “Nancy’s Last Dance”, while notable in the sense that it’s the first time a female character provides the lead point-of-view, fails to deliver on the promise in its premise and creates a continuity problem in terms of how it fits chronologically with the rest of the stories we’ve seen. That’s not to say that “A Dame to Kill For” is without issues — it beats you over the head with its themes and drags to its resolution (see below) — but of the four it’s the one that had the most interesting story to tell.
The only counterbalance that exists for these issues is that each of the four stories delivers a healthy dose of Marv cracking skulls and leaving heaps of thug bodies in his wake. He’s a hoot to watch while he’s around, and Mickey Rourke’s trademark gravelly delivery makes his narration of “Just Another Saturday Night” feel the most authentic in the film, but after a while it feels like directors Miller and Rodriguez came to rely on him and Marv to make up for all the film’s other shortcomings. Now Rourke’s good, and he’s VERY good in this role, but he’s not good enough to carry all the other dead weight around him.
That dead weight is primarily the film’s other principals. Cocksure Johnny, dour and morose Dwight, and hardened and haunted Nancy just aren’t a whole lot of fun to watch or to listen to as they drone on and on in their narration of their stories. Perhaps most disappointing of these is Brolin’s rendition of Dwight. Yes, this Dwight is supposed to be a markedly different man than the Converse sneaker-sporting, self-confident badass Dwight that Clive Owen portrayed in the first film’s story “The Big Fat Kill”, but the character is so pathetic here, so possessed by his self-hatred and easily manipulated by beautiful women, that he just comes off as a moron that needs some sense slapped into him. He’s hard to root for, even when put against the nasty piece of work that turns out to be the true villain in his story, and once that story’s played out in predictable fashion, there’s very little sense of satisfaction. It’s more a sense of relief that the film can move on to something — anything — else.
Sadly, the performers who brought the most heart and charisma to the first film that make appearances in A Dame to Kill For — Bruce Willis as Hartigan and Rosario Dawson as Gail — are more or less relegated to walking, talking scenery roles. The new additions to the cast don’t bring much to the table either, aside from their marketing value. Eva Green, who was coincidentally the standout performer in 300: Rise of an Empire, gets another chance to vamp it up, but what might be most memorable about her appearance here is just how often she’s naked. And Joseph Gordon-Levitt, while looking perfectly at ease dressed to kill and making a killing at the poker table, just doesn’t have the heft to play the tough guy. When battered and bloodied, he looks more like a kid that got beat up at recess. Perhaps that was what Miller and Rodriguez were intending — a fresh-faced upstart that would easily be underestimated by the heavies he pits himself against — but if that was the case, then it works too well, because audiences won’t believe this guy could be a threat, either. Just as the story he’s featured in feels superfluous to the film as a whole, Gordon-Levitt’s character is perhaps the most ill-fitting of all in the glut of personalities filling the frame.
Perhaps that’s the best way to look at Sin City: A Dame to Kill For as a whole, as well: superfluous. Watch the original one again if you want to take a trip back to Basin City and spend some quality time with its denizens. This visit might just make you never want to go back.
Score: 2 out of 5
Sin City: A Dame to Kill For
Starring Mickey Rourke, Jessica Alba, Josh Brolin, Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Rosario Dawson, Bruce Willis, Eva Green, Powers Boothe, Dennis Haysbert, Ray Liotta, Jaime King, Christopher Lloyd, Jamie Chung, Jeremy Piven, Christopher Meloni, Juno Temple. Directed by Robert Rodriguez and Frank Miller.
Running Time: 102 minutes
Rated R for strong, brutal, stylized violence throughout, sexual content, nudity, and brief drug use.
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