This review for Sin City: A Dame To Kill For contains mild spoilers. You have been warned, geeks!
I loved the first Sin City. A stylized film noir adaptation of Frank Miller’s bestselling graphic novels of the same name, it was chock full of criminal violence and sexual elements, and wove a number of intertwined short stories together in a single, not-always-cohesive narrative befitting the genre.
Even today, Sin City remains an excellent example of how a screen adaptation of a graphic novel can remain faithful to the source material in terms of characterization, storytelling and visual style, and still be commercially and critically successful. (Here’s looking at you, DC/Warner.) How well does the sequel hold up?
The Straight And Narrow
Sin City: A Dame To Kill For hits you hard and fast. As an entirely self-contained story (or rather, set of stories), it wastes no time in setting it’s characters up for what happens over the course of the movie. By extension, the audience is also thrown into the thick of things, with the film kicking off with a bang in medias res.
As such, newcomers to the series may be momentarily taken aback by the motivations and behavior of certain characters, and it might take a while for them to realize that… it doesn’t actually matter.
This is not a film where you turn to the person next to you and ask “why?” when something shocking happens on screen. Instead, Sin City: A Dame To Kill For revels in “how” things are done. You don’t question Marv’s actions when he mercilessly hunts down a group of obnoxious frat boys; you simply bear witness to it. Likewise, there is no real need to dwell on the reasons behind Dwight’s obsession and history with the sultry Ava – you just need to know that he is hopelessly enamored with her, period.
The film is essentially all about the here and now. In this twisted world, action takes precedence over rational thought, and things seemingly happen out of nowhere – sometimes conveniently, sometimes not.
Quite often, it feels like the characters in the movie are along for the ride as much as the audience is, which conveys a constant sense of uncertainty as well as a nagging feeling of being manipulated.
Those familiar with Frank Miller’s and Robert Rodriguez’s work may scoff at the predictability and heavy-handedness of it all, but this method of storytelling works reasonably well within the context of the movie to drive the story forward where it truly matters. The audience is never bothered with details, and viewers are encouraged to take everything happening on screen at face value; it’s simply more enjoyable that way.
The Good, The Bad, And The Ugly
The stories in Sin City have always been carried by it’s colourful (excuse me) characters and the fantastic actors behind them, and the casting in the sequel doesn’t disappoint either. It is easy to forget that Rodriguez somehow managed to assemble a formidable cast back in 2005 to portray the over-the-top inhabitants of Basin City, in a time when comic book adaptations were generally held in low regard.
Having character actors like Mickey Rourke and Benicio Del Toro starring alongside Hollywood A-listers such as Jessica Alba and Bruce Willis in a comic book movie was unprecedented during that period, but the end result was spectacular.
It is thus a good thing that many actors from the first movie reprise their roles, with some notable exceptions.
Josh Brolin replaces Clive Owen as Dwight McCarthy, and Dennis Haysbert fills in the massive shoes of the late Michael Clark Duncan as the enforcer/bodyguard Manute. Also, the silent sword-wielding assassin Miho is now played by Jamie Chung, who is a significant step-up from Devon Aoki whom I particularly didn’t care for in the previous film.
All the replacements do a great job of channeling their respective characters, but series newcomer Eva Green completely steals the show as Ava Lord, the titular “dame to kill for”. Charming, sexy, vulnerable, yet dominant all at the same time, she commands so much presence that the movie feels inadequate whenever Ava is not on-screen.
It is ironic then, that the film’s greatest asset also serves to highlight its greatest weakness – the other storylines present within the movie are simply not as compelling as the one involving Ava.
The atmosphere in the cinema I was in changed noticeably when her storyline concluded; it felt as if the movie was already over, even though there were still another 15-20 minutes to go before the credits would start rolling.
The transitions between the various stories are highly irregular and jarring, and causes the film to suffer from some significant pacing issues. Frankly, they could have cut out the storylines revolving around high-stakes gambler Johnny (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) and pathological stripper Nancy Callahan (Jessica Alba) entirely, and the movie would have been better for it.
While that may sound somewhat harsh (both actors delivered fine performances), their characters are poorly-developed and the events surrounding them have little to no bearing on the rest of the film; they almost feel like an afterthought compared to the allure of Ava Lord and her manipulative ways.
It’s as if these side stories were thrown into the movie just so that it would feel more like the first Sin City with it’s numerous plot threads. Excessive, and unnecessary.
The Final Verdict
The major problems with Sin City: A Dame To Kill For are inconsistency and disjointedness in favour of superfluous content, and despite clocking in at a mere 102 minutes, it feels much longer than it is. This movie would have benefited greatly from a “less is more” approach, and one can’t help but feel that Miller and Rodriguez might have gotten a little carried away with this one.
The film is difficult to judge as a whole; for every one thing it does right, something else goes wrong. Yet that statement in itself can be taken as the main criticism against Sin City: A Dame To Kill For.
It just isn’t cohesive enough, and the final product is somehow less than the sum of it’s parts; it feels as though the whole thing was crudely stitched together with little regard as to how the end result would turn out, like a failed lab experiment.
In the end, Sin City: A Dame To Kill For made the mistake of trying too hard to be like the first Sin City, and unfortunately falls flat in it’s attempt to replicate the charm and dark humor of the original. This could have been a great film had it been allowed to stand on it’s own merits. A pity then, that it is merely average at best. See it for Eva Green if you must, but do not expect a masterpiece on the level of the original; you’d be sorely disappointed.