The appeal of the Sin City comics, which I read in my youth, was their dark, sleazy atmosphere: Frank Miller’s stylized black & white yarns were the kind of pulpy, hard boiled material that came from the same place as seedy late-night 1980s neo-noir. In a world where mainstream comic books meant soap opera superhero sagas, Sin City represented an ‘adult’ reprieve.
It’s ironic, then, that in a cinematic world dominated by comic book blockbusters – where Batman, Superman, and even Spider-Man have grown darker and darker – the Sin City films feel more cartoonish than any of them. Miller and co-director Robert Rodriguez have perfectly captured the style of the comics, but they’ve done so at the cost of the tone: these look exactly like the comics, but they just don’t feel like them.
But Sin City: A Dame to Kill For for does have its merits. First and foremost would be the titular dame, played by Eva Green, who saunters around completely nude through half of her scenes during the film’s main storyline. One of the most striking sequences of extended nudity you’ll see in mainstream cinema, Green takes control of the screen – and the film – as every last curve is captured by director/cinematographer Robert Rodriguez and burned into your retina.
Green’s performance, if you can manage to keep your focus, is also note-perfect: as the kind of Barbara Stanwyck femme fatale vamp that effortlessly fits into this twisted noir environment, she puts the rest of this cast of live action cartoon characters to shame.
Green stars as the seductive Ava in ‘A Dame to Kill For’, which takes up just shy of an hour of the film’s 102-minute runtime. It’s a straightforward noir piece that could have easily made for a satisfying feature all by itself, as Ava draws Dwight, played by Josh Brolin (replacing Clive Owen from the 2005 movie) into her web of lies. Dennis Haysbert is Ava’s bodyguard, Christopher Meloni and Jeremy Piven are a pair of detectives, and Rosario Dawson, Jaime King, and Jamie Chung return from the previous film as the Girls of Old Town.
Also good is ‘The Long Bad Night’, which stars Joseph Gordon-Levitt as a hotshot gambler who picks the wrong poker game to clean out when he goes up against the powerful Senator Roarke (Powers Booth, wonderfully slimy). The resolution of this story – written by Miller directly for the film – is one of the only moments that the movie fittingly captures the bleak tone of the source material.
Still, both of these segments have issues with character motivation and contrivance: we’re aware much too often that what we’re watching is dictated not by the ambition of its characters, or the laws of any real world, but by the pen of the writer. Events occur because they have to, not because the story has led to them.
‘Just Another Saturday Night’, a hammy-but-brief opening, showcases Mickey Rourke’s Marv (who also appears in the other stories) in a sequence that adds little to the overall feature. I love the practical f/x work on both Marv and the underworld boss Wallensquist (played by Stacy Keach), but they feel like anachronisms that stepped out of the film version of Dick Tracy.
The film comes crashing down during its final sequence, when Jessica Alba is tasked with carrying the movie on her shoulders during “Nancy’s Last Dance”.
Strutting around the stripper’s pole with a bottle in one hand and a revolver in the other, bent on revenge but unable to muster up the courage to exact it, the film comes dangerously close to Sucker Punch as Nancy teams up with Marv to take down Senator Roarke. All under the watchful eye of the ghost of John Hartigan, played again by Bruce Willis; if you haven’t seen or don’t remember the previous film, you’ll even get a nice Sixth Sense-like reveal.
I’m not a fan of the cinematic Sin City world, but I can safely say that if you liked the 2005 film, you’ll like this one, too. Style so overwhelms content that plot specifics are rendered meaningless; after taking nearly a decade to come up with something new, the filmmakers have delivered the same damn thing.