I have a few rules when it comes to sequels, well actually more than just a few. Rule #3: “Too much time between the first movie and the sequel is not a good sign.” Now, I realize there are exceptions to every rule – Terminator 2: Judgement Day (7 years), Before Sunset (9 years), and Aliens (7 years). I’m sure I missed a few others, but you get the point. Too much time between stories is a red flag that there may not be another story to tell.
That brings us to Sin City: A Dame to Kill For, the follow up to 2005’s Sin City – a visual masterpiece when it opened. The black & white contrast with bright colors, the brilliant use of green screen, the over-the-top characters, and feeling like you’re watching a graphic novel on the big screen was all cutting edge cinema at the time. The key word in that description is 2005.
Nine years later, A Dame to Kill For opens and the optics that once blew audiences away don’t have the same effect anymore. Seriously, we just watched an army of apes and a talking raccoon interact with actors like they were really there. As great as it is to see technology helping advance film, audiences have become spoiled, and rightfully so.
My only question was, “How were they going to capture audiences now?”
Like the original, A Dame to Kill For tells separate stories that take place in the fictional town of Basin City. This slightly interwoven batch of tales involves Johnny (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) a gambler who gets in over his head with Senator Roark (Powers Boothe). There’s Dwight (Josh Brolin) who gets caught in the web of his black widow ex-wife Ava (Eva Green). And the last story involves Nancy (Jessica Alba) seeking revenge for Hartigan’s death by killing Senator Roark. We can’t forget Mickey Rourke returning as Marv, the goon with a heart of gold who protects Nancy while she dances at Kadie’s Bar.
There are a lot of call-backs to the original film woven into the plot. A Dame to Kill For could’ve benefited from a “Previously on Sin City..” montage to open the movie.
Even with all that onscreen talent, A Dame to Kill For suffers because the stories are incredibly uninteresting. It’s not just because they don’t fit well together, it’s because it’s hard to care about any of the characters or what they’re going through. The only likable character is Joseph Gordon-Levitt’s Johnny. He’s got the best story arc and is matched against Powers Boothe who gives the movie’s other good performance.
Outside of those two, Eva Green gives the only other passable performance. Ava is somewhat compelling (compared to the film’s other one note characters), but the only problem is she’s naked 90% of the time and it’s extremely distracting. There’s nudity, gratuitous nudity, and then there’s Eva Green in Sin City: A Dame to Kill For. That’s the new MPAA ratings scale. I’m all for nudity and artistic expression, but Robert Rodriguez and Frank Miller’s constant focus on Eva Green’s naked body was excessive.
What’s missing in this sequel is Basin City. The world created in 2005 made fans feel like there was so much we didn’t know about the city. A Dame to Kill For introduces a much smaller world that’s less intimate and even less engaging. When there’s a moment in the film to elaborate on a story and/or character, they just throw someone through a window in slow motion or cut to Nancy gyrating while drinking liquor out of the bottle.
It was clear 30 minutes into the film that Rodriguez and Miller had answered my question from earlier, “How were they going to capture audiences?” The answer: They weren’t. The duo was content with rolling out the same thing one more time and hoping it stuck. Before the screening started, we were subjected to watching a red carpet event for A Dame to Kill For that was simulcast from Los Angeles. During an interview Frank Miller said, and I’m paraphrasing, ‘Jessica Alba is 8x better in this film than she was in Sin City’. Unbelievable. How is that even possible? How does math work again? I like Alba, but c’mon.
The constant cycle of narration, nudity, violence, and shattered glass gets tired quickly. Robert Rodriguez was once hailed as one of Hollywood’s best directors. It’s a shame to see him put out a film that not only lacks originality, but lacks imagination. I guess after nine long years, they still couldn’t figure out what story to tell, so they stuck with telling the first one again.
Also posted on blog.seattlepi.com/peoplescritic