Well this has been a long time coming. The notion of a Sin City sequel was proposed almost immediately after the initial success of the well-received original’s US release. For those keeping track, that was on April 1st 2005, over nine years ago. Hell, when Sin City came out I wasn’t even old enough to legally watch it in the cinema. The rumours of Sin City 2 persisted throughout the years, with various excuses being heard as to why it hadn’t started production, ranging from blaming the producers to saying they needed to wait for Angelina Jolie (the originally stated casting choice for Ava Lord) to give birth. Meanwhile, director Robert Rodriguez was happy to spin fake trailer Machete into a full film, make a sequel to that, and even make a fourth Spy Kids film that surely no-one was asking for. I’d basically come to accept the fact that Sin City 2 was unlikely to ever happen. But the film was finally officially confirmed in early 2012, but then was delayed yet again. So now, in August/September 2014, close to a decade after the original, we finally get a chance to see Sin City 2: A Dame to Kill For.
I’m not all that surprised by the diminished interest in the film considering the lengthy gap but I have been taken somewhat aback by the (at times extremely) negative reviews the film has been receiving. It’s already bombed in the US, and while earlier in the year I was still quite excited for this (it was on my 10 most anticipated films list) it was with admittedly lowered expectations that I bought a ticket last week.
The structure Sin City: A Dame to Kill For adopts generally mirrors the anthology narrative of the first. It opens with a short story (the Marv-centric Just Another Saturday Night from the Booze, Broads & Bullets collection), before giving us a credit sequence accompanied by original comic-book artwork. It follows with the opening section of one of the later stories which also introduces all the primary characters before leading into the first full story, the titular A Dame to Kill For.
I have to say that despite my initial reservations, the beginning of Sin City 2 really had me wondering what all the complaints were about. It kicks off with a bang, these introductory segments are mostly excellent, it’s fast-paced, brings characters both old and new to the forefront effectively, and of course presented in the hyper-stylish, digital black-and-white visuals that impressed so much the first time round. I was quite happy to be back in Sin City, for a while at least.
Once the A Dame to Kill For section begins with a rather unpleasant sequence involving Ray Liotta, things look like they might be headed downhill, but it soon picks back up again with the main story involving Dwight (Josh Brolin – replacing Clive Owen) and Ava (Eva Green, who co-incidentally also appeared in the other late arrival Frank Miller sequel 300: Rise of an Empire). Unfortunately, as Dame progresses, the pacing slows down a great deal and the story becomes less and less interesting.
I’ve heard a few folks call A Dame to Kill For the best of the Sin City books but I have to disagree (That Yellow Bastard, the Bruce Willis story in the first film would be my pick). I have a sneaking suspicion that there’s a reason it was excluded from the first movie (it’s book 2 in the series, whereas the Sin City film chose to adapt books 1, 3 and 4), and that’s that those stories were all better than it. As the series has always taken film noir troupes to gleefully over-the-top extremes, Dame does with the femme fatale. Green tries hard in the title role as a woman who can seduce and manipulate any man she wants but soon it becomes repetitive, a sub-plot involving a cop (Christopher Meloni) caught in her snares could easily have been excised.
Sin City: A Dame to Kill For does offer one other potentially exciting prospect through, new stories from Frank Miller. Miller wrote Sin City comics throughout the nineties but hasn’t revisited since. However Miller’s recent comics work (Holy Terror!, All-Star Batman & Robin), not to mention solo film The Spirit has been, to put it mildly, somewhat less acclaimed than his ground-breaking work in the eighties.
This approach also begs the question of why Miller and Rodriguez are not just adapting the other two existing Sin City books (Family Values and Hell and Back), do they think they wouldn’t go so well on screen or are they saving them for a potential third instalment (which will probably never happen now).
The first new story (The Long Bad Night) involves Johnny (Joseph Gordon Levitt), a young gambler with a hidden motive. He works his way into a back-room high stakes card game whose players include corrupt senator Roark (Powers Boothe, reprising his role). While the opening, which takes place during the film’s first half as I mentioned above is fine as a set-up, the second half isn’t up to much (aside from a brief but memorable cameo from Christopher Lloyd as a drug-addled doctor). Johnny just seems like a rather stupid character getting himself into trouble, and the story as a whole insubstantial and disappointingly anticlimactic. It seems primarily there to build up Boothe’s senator as the city’s big bad guy for the final story.
This third section is the one we’ve been hearing hints of plot about for some time, revolving around Nancy (Jessica Alba) seeking revenge for the death of Hartigan (Bruce Willis) in the first movie. This one sounded like a dodgy idea from the start, the Nancy/Hartigan story was finished, there’s no need to try and continue it, and the film’s left with some casting issues in trying to turn her into a tough vigilante with a drinking problem. Alba could play the girl who needs rescuing fine last time around but she really struggles here; it’s the least convincing she’s been since audiences were asked to accept her as a chief research scientist in Fantastic Four, she’s even asked to give a bit of Miller’s trademark tough-guy voiceover. Her refusal to strip while wanting to play a stripper is also brought to quite laughable levels here, with far more dancing scenes from her, including groups of horny drunk men chanting her name only for her to appear in a relatively conservative cowgirl outfit. Indeed one’s left with the impression that Green might be overcompensation for Alba in the nudity department.
Willis actually appears for a couple of moments as a ghost (hey, didn’t he do that once before?) but it’s mostly just standard revenge stuff, with Nancy teaming up with Marv to take on Roark. Speaking of Marv, I enjoyed Mickey Rourke’s work in the original as much as the next man but do they really need to cram him into every story now? Not to mention, his presence appears to mess up the timeline, as his story in the first Sin City takes place before this one (Nancy’s spiral has yet to begin in it) but he dies at the conclusion, so how can he be back here? I guess Frank Miller just thought it would be cool to put him in as many stories as possible without thinking about whether or not it made any sense.
The hard truth about Sin City: A Dame to Kill For is that all the stories presented here are inferior to all the ones in Sin City 1. I can’t help but wonder why they didn’t just adapt the more character driven Hell and Back and action packed Family Values (it’s years since I read them but I recall enjoying both). I do think if this film had been released in the exact same form 5 years ago it wouldn’t have received such poor box-office or reviews, but Miller and Rodriguez missed their chance. Still, I have a lot of fondness for the original, and I greatly enjoy the style, and A Dame to Kill For has just about enough to leave me happy revisiting the world of Sin City.