Review: Sin City: A Dame to Kill For (2014)

Despite the power of its visual style and visceral content, Sin City: A Dame to Kill For lacks the power and slick construction of its predecessor

Upon the release of 2005’s Sin City, mainstream audiences were introduced to the stylised and brutal world of Frank Miller’s violent cityscape. Jointly directed by the author and Robert Rodriguez – as well as special guest Quentin Tarantino – the film is now often described as “groundbreaking” for its ability to take its nourish style and bloodthirsty mentality and break into the mainstream genre of comic book adaptations. Boasting A-list stars and an intricate style of intertwining story-telling, the original had all the makings of a franchise-starter, and it is a surprise that it took almost ten years for another installment to materialise.

Based on two original stories from Frank Miller’s comics and new tales written for the film, Sin City: A Dame to Kill For brings back Mickey Rourke’s Marv and Jessica Alba’s dancer Nancy, while newcomers Josh Brolin and Joseph Gordon Levitt join the cast. The film follows its predecessor’s narrative style, with four separate stories combining throughout. In the titular story pulled from the pages of Miller’s 1993 miniseries, returning character Dwight – played by Brolin in place of the original casting of Clive Owen in 2005 – must contend with the charms of former lover and ultimate femme fatale Ava Lord, played superbly by Eva Green. Meanwhile, Micky Rourke continues to impress as the brutal Marv, who cuts a bloody trail through the dark streets of Sin City, helping both Dwight and Alba’s Nancy – now traumatised following the events of the character’s first outing – seek revenge against the nastier inhabitants of Sin City.

Finally, in a story constructed for the film, cocky gambler Johnny (Gordon-Levitt) arrives to make his fortune, but meets his match in the villainous and all-powerful Senator Rourke (played by the returning Powers Booth).

With a cast full of some of Hollywood’s most favored stars – joined throughout by cameos from some very unexpected figures ¬– cinema’s second visit to Sin City had the potential to match the first. Unfortunately, without the first-time appeal of the uniquely stylised palette offered by the two returning directors, the film lacks the same draw of their previous effort. Instead, Miller and Rodriquez draw on one of the comics’ most celebrated stories to add a heftier narrative to the sequel, casting Eva Green as the film’s dame to kill for. Weakly inter-weaved with this story is Marv, a surprisingly compassionate bruiser whose first appearance helped resurrect Micky Rourke’s career in Hollywood. Sadly, his presence is wasted here, serving only as backup to Dwight’s lust fuelled pursuit of Ms. Lord. However, Eva Green’s portrayal – able to conjure any number of feminine archetypes to serve her character – does wonders for the story.

It is this story of the four that gets most attention; deservedly so but at a cost. Individual narratives for Nancy and newcomer Joseph Gordon-Levitt’s Johnny are rushed, seeming only as an afterthought to tie up loose ends from the first film in the case of Nancy’s vengeful search for Senator Rourke, or add something to other narratives in the case of Johnny. They are enacted well, but are simply not given time to reach any meaningful conclusion or lasting impression.

This is the main issue with Sin City: A Dame to Kill For. While the splashes of violence and colour are pulled off with the same aplomb as before, the story-telling seems clumsy in comparison. However, this joint creation revels in aesthetic and visceral appeal over complexities of character, and delivers just as before. Despite the unnecessary and ultimately damaging presence of 3D, the film will still please fans of its predecessor, but will make audiences feel the need to go back and watch the original. While this can be a good quality for a sequel to have, in this case it may simply highlight the superior quality of 2005’s superb first outing.

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