FILM REVIEW: Sin City: A Dame to Kill For
Sin City: A Dame to Kill For boasts the same visual splendours and comic book noir as the original, but it lacks the impact its predecessor. For a gun toting film full of decapitations, bondage and mutilations, it’s all stuff we’ve seen before from directors Robert Rodriguez and Frank Miller. It’s disappointing, really, for fans that have waited nine years for this sequel to be handed such a mediocre offering. The film weaves together four stories in Sin City: old favourite Marv returns to hunt down frat boys, gambler Johnny is out for revenge against his estranged father, Dwight McCarthy gets caught in a dangerous web with an ex, and little Nancy Callahan is all grown up and on a quest for revenge. While Marv doesn’t feature centrally in any of the stories this time, he still finds time to crack a few skulls and his devil-may-care narration makes us feel right at home.
The first half gets off to a good start with Joseph Gordon-Levitt as gambler Johnny adding a touch of charm, as he goes up against crime boss and senator Roark. Keep an eye out too for a cameo from Lady Gaga (just a bad performance really) as a sympathetic barmaid. But the second act is slow going and the highly anticipated return of stripper Nancy is a let-down. Watched over by the dull ghost of her saviour Hartigan, Nancy spirals out of control before our eyes. Well, we think that’s the idea – for a woman on the brink we see no stages to her descent into despair as Alba doesn’t have the acting pedigree to carry her own scenes. Meanwhile, Bruce Willis stands around looking depressed…and that’s it. But if there’s one thing the film does well, it’s action. There’s plenty of bloody violence with sharp white splattering across black backgrounds in glorious fashion, with the odd dab of colour used sparingly to great effect.
Sin City is as stunning as ever with dramatic reds, blacks and whites contrasting against the violent backdrop. It’s hard to believe that such beautiful use of cinematic genius is coupled with predictable plotlines. Perhaps the long wait between films has resulted in a waning interest. The curse of the sequel to a truly original, stand-out movie can be summarised in three short words: unrealistically high expectations. Fundamentally speaking, the chapter that follows the inaugural masterpiece will always be doomed to fail simply because it cannot be the same movie, and whether it decides to do something completely different, or attempt to emulate the preceding instalment, it’s highly that likely we, the audience, won’t be that impressed with the finished results. While this may seem like a pessimistic, perhaps even melancholy approach to any new film following up on an old storyline, it’s learnt knowledge that has brought us to this realisation. With very few exceptions (The Godfather part II) being one of the most famous), no sequel has ever hit anything like the benchmark its forerunner set, but nevertheless I really wanted to love this film, but the sequel curse struck again and in the end the whole experience got boring very quickly.
The initial outing was, after all, amongst the finest flicks to ever take inspiration from the oft-blighted world of graphic novels. Visually stunning, the stylisation evident in the aesthetics (monochrome with a hint of colour thrown in to accentuate certain aspects of each frame) continued into the script, which owes so much to classic Hollywood film noir and melodrama that you could be forgiven for thinking the writers walked straight off the set of an old Humphrey Boggart movie and smack bang into the production. In short, for what the movie makers Miller (who wrote the original stories) and Robert Rodriguez were trying to achieve, it was pretty much the perfect effort.
The sequel on the other hand just never brings anything ground breaking to the table. It relies too much on the action and visual style than actually having some meat behind the plot of each story. The cast is one of the few saving graces, which sees the likes of Jessica Alba, Bruce Willis, and Mickey Rourke reprise their respective roles – all citizens of the eponymous Sin City, a place where blood and guts are regularly spilt, redemption is all but non-existent, and hookers and gangsters must fight for survival against bent cops and corrupt politicians. Joining them for the first time in this saga (although no strangers to the murky filmic underworld) are Ray Liotta, Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Josh Brolin and Eva Green (who steals the show), making for yet another all-star cast that’s hard to argue with. On a short side note, I was incredibly disappointed that Clive Owen does not cameo as the post-surgery Dwight.
In the end it all comes down to which side of the fence you fall on. If you just love action and bloody corpses then this is the film for you. As a huge fan it didn’t live up the flick I thought it should have been. Needless to say, then, the ability to derive pleasure from watching Sin City 2 will be very dependent on how much fist-pumping action and amorality you can stomach in one go, and your perspective on style matching absolutely overshadowing the lack of substance; but if those elements sound up your street there should be very few reasons not to take a look – remembering, of course, that there’s every chance it won’t live up to the standards set in that first adaptation.