Nearly a decade after the first film hit theaters, directors Robert Rodriguez and Frank Miller finally return to their gritty world of SIN CITY. It’s honestly quite miraculous (and slightly absurd) that it took this long for a sequel to arrive. The source material’s been there for decades and just like 2005’s original film, SIN CITY: A DAME TO KILL FOR pulls its images and stories directly from the printed page and morphs them into a live-action experience.
DAME follows the same formula as the first film by transferring various arcs from Miller’s graphic novel series — in this case, A DAME TO KILL FOR, JUST ANOTHER SATURDAY NIGHT and a brand-new story that Miller wrote just for this film — and adapting them into a motion picture. Back in 2005, SIN CITY was awe-inspiring because it was something new; a CGI-infused black, white and red world that left you feeling sinfully dirty. It was a fresh twist on the comic-to-film adaptation and one that was successful with critics, fans and the box office. I loved SIN CITY, so it’s with no pride that I say that this sequel definitely comes with a string of problems.
Returning for another blood-splattered journey are Mickey Rourke, Jessica Alba, Rosario Dawson, Bruce Willis and Powers Boothe. Joining them this time around are Josh Brolin, Joseph Gordon-Levitt and Eva Green, amongst others. It’s definitely a star-studded cast, but one that doesn’t really live up to its potential.
Rourke returns as Marv, the towering, square-jawed brawler. In the first film, Marv was one of the lead characters, trying to solve a murder mystery while dismembering everyone in his path. With DAME, he’s more-or-less a supporting character; he pops up whenever extra muscle is needed. Being that SIN CITY 2 is a straight-up adaptation of the graphic novels, you can’t really blame the film. The problem here is that in the graphic novels, DAME was a prequel to THE HARD GOODBYE, one of the stories to which the first SIN CITY film was based off of. Now that it’s been tweaked so it could become a sequel, the character of Marv ultimately pays for it. The JUST ANOTHER SATURDAY NIGHT opening sequence was unnecessary and really brought nothing to the film, too.
Alba’s Nancy is a much-more tortured character this time around. Due to the events of the first film, Nancy’s now become a highly-depressed alcoholic; a woman with a deep pain and hunger for vengeance. While Alba may be one of the weakest of the bunch acting-wise, she ended up giving one of the best performances in the entire film. Not only that, but Nancy was a much-more interesting character this time around. She had purpose and wasn’t just there to be the film’s eye candy and damsel in distress.
There were quite a few recasts with this sequel. On a smaller scale, Jamie Chung replaced Devon Aoki as “deadly little” Miho while Dennis Haysbert took over for the late, great Michael Clarke Duncan as Manute. The most high-profile change would be Brolin taking over for Clive Owen. I like Brolin — he’s an excellent actor who’s usually likeable even when the film he’s starring in isn’t — but I couldn’t help but miss Owen as Dwight McCarthy. The recast makes sense; Dwight is a character who often turns to plastic surgery, so a different appearance would serve the story well. Brolin did an excellent job, no doubt about it; I just really enjoyed Owen’s performance in the first film and missed his presence here.
Green portrays Ava, the dame herself. Her role in the film is a rather large one. Ava’s a conniving woman with a tendency to wrap every guy around her little finger if it’ll benefit her in the long-run. The character’s beautiful and equally despicable; Green portraying both qualities effortlessly. She also spends 80% of her time on-screen without clothes, something that’ll most likely have a lot of male viewers drooling. I’m someone who only appreciates nudity in a story if the story calls for it, though, and with this film, I felt it was rather gratuitous. Again, not the film’s fault — any blame here would be towards the source material and being that SIN CITY is a creation of Frank Miller, I’m not surprised to see such a redundant amount of unneeded nudity.
Gordon-Levitt was probably the highlight of this film for me — even though his character, Johnny, wasn’t. Johnny is the lead character of the new story that Miller created for this film and while he’s intriguing, his story really pushes the film nowhere. He gives no purpose to the full picture of A DAME TO KILL FOR and that’s really a shame because Gordon-Levitt is phenomenal in the role… as he usually is in a majority of his roles.
SIN CITY: A DAME TO KILL FOR’s main star is — just like the first film — the visual effects and editing. While Rodriguez’s films are usually hit-or-miss with me, I have to give it to the man that his editing is always flawless. The visual effects have a crisper appearance than those in the first film. Perhaps this was due to the 3D viewing that I experienced (an addition to the film that I really don’t think was needed), but they definitely seemed to be more fluent. There was also a larger amount of color used this time around — whether it was Green’s killer eyes or one of the only sinless characters being vibrantly lit-up — and I thought that helped bring the film more life, too.
The film’s soundtrack sticks to the score of the first film which is perfect because that score was immaculate. While I may sometimes question Rodriguez’s directing choices, I rarely ever question the music that he composes for his films. Just like the great John Carpenter, Rodriguez knows exactly what kind of music will serve his film and then he performs a spot-on delivery of that music. Alongside co-composer Carl Thiel, Rodriguez gives the audience a perfect score whether they were paying attention to it or not. Also as an added bonus, Steven Tyler recorded a new track for this film and as a life-long Aerosmith fan, that had me smiling.
Now if you think I’m just writing this and enjoying the negativity that I’m pointing towards SIN CITY: A DAME TO KILL FOR, trust me; I’m not. I loved the first film — I’ve watched it numerous times over the years and seeing it in the theater was one of the first dates that I had with my now-wife. I also enjoyed THE HARD GOODBYE and THAT YELLOW BASTARD graphic novels as well as a large portion of Miller’s other work such as THE DARK KNIGHT RETURNS and DAREDEVIL. It upset me to come to the conclusion that A DAME TO KILL FOR — after waiting nine years — is a pretty big disappointment. I can’t help but wonder if Rodriguez should’ve directed this himself and just kept Miller on the sidelines as a consultant. After all, Miller’s solo directorial effort, THE SPIRIT, was definitely no cinematic gem. If you see this film and enjoy it, I’m glad that it could live up to your expectations. For me, though, the next time I have a hankering for a SIN CITY fix, I’ll just go revisit that near-perfect 2005 flick.