Directed by Robert Rodriguez and Frank Miller
Ah, Basin City. The seedy backdrop of Frank Miller’s Sin City comic/graphic novel series is a place which bares its grim underbelly with open pride. A landscape populated by gangsters, molls, decrepit alcoholics, murderous vigilantes and hardboiled detectives. Back in 2005, the stories of these denizens were given worldwide attention in Robert Rodriguez’s technically innovative and provocative big-screen adaptation. Almost ten years later we finally have a sequel – but now that the dust has settled sufficiently to render the first film’s unique style less impactful, does Sin City: A Dame to Kill For have enough clout to make the wait worthwhile? Short answer is ‘no’.
In keeping with the format of the first film, Sin City: A Dame to Kill For offers up a selection of stories that gradually unfold around each other, involving some characters familiar to its predecessor and others newly introduced to the screen. In ‘The Long Bad Night’, swift-fingered gambler Joseph Gordon-Levitt goes toe to toe with the villainous Senator Roark (Powers Boothe, relishing the role) in a high-stakes game of poker and is quickly shown the repercussions of pushing your luck too far. Introducing a common theme to the film, the story itself here is perfectly fine and dandy but really fails to shift gear. It just… unfolds. Gordon-Levitt does well as the suave, over-confident gambler and Boothe is as authentically slimy and power-drunk as he can be, but the morose pacing (not helped by the film’s over-reliance on monotone, noir-esque voiceover) leaves it doing little more than spinning wheels in the mud despite some seriously brutal violence. The ending, too, while perfectly in key with the nature of Basin City and what it ultimately stands for is a moment that simply elicits a shrug and a “that’s it?”
And honestly, it’s generally downhill from there. The titular tale, ‘A Dame to Kill For’, sees Josh Brolin take on the role of Dwight (originally portrayed by Clive Owen in the first film), who finds his bid for a straight life dashed when former lover Ava (Eva Green) comes back into his sights, begging him to help free her from her abusive, super-rich husband. Drawn out beyond reason with the introduction of pointless characters including a police detective who falls murderously under Ava’s influence, this entry also finds itself crawling along at a slovenly pace, waking up occasionally to deliver a bone-crunching action set piece before settling down again to do little more than ogle the almost perpetually nude Eva Green. Of course, there’s a twist here and soon Dwight has joined with the ladies of Old Town (including Rosario Dawson, reprising her role from the original) to lead a storming assault on Ava’s mansion, but even here the action feels muted by the monochromatic style. Heads roll and people are shot, mutilated and beaten, but there’s little real impact in it. Green certainly seems to relish the role of nefarious siren/succubus-like Ava but nearly all effort amounts to nothing when you’re only left wishing that the film would just get on with it. Clock-watching becomes a pastime, and while it would seem unlikely to be wanting a film to just move forward instead of repeatedly presenting Green’s rather fabulous charms, Sin City: A Dame to Kill For most certainly begs that response.
Finally, the hulking Marv (Rourke) teams up with the world’s most clothed stripper, Nancy (Alba), to wreak vengeance on Senator Roark for the death of Hartigan (Bruce Willis, looking really rather bored in a cameo role as the ghost of his ill-fated character from the first film). This time round, Alba is given little to do but down alcohol, scowl, and dance as provocatively as her contract may allow before, once again, Marv gets involved for another mansion grounds assault filled with similarly weak-feeling CGI gore. There’s little more to say about this particular segment as it remains feeble and uninvolving from start to finish. Between this and the other stories, fan favourite Marv is bandied about much more often throughout but even his increased involvement (and let’s face it, Rourke is just perfect in the role) gets disappointingly repetitive.
The original Sin City was a film not without its own narrative and pacing flaws, but these were quite capably worked around by a refreshingly hardboiled style and technical presentation that immediately set it aside from anything else at the time. Sin City: A Dame to Kill For is unfortunately afforded none such leeway at this point, so while it may indeed look striking – even absolutely gorgeous at times – the plodding pace, morose dialogue and uninspiring tales stand out far too much. Style over substance just isn’t enough for the series, now.
1 1/2 out of 5