The long-awaited sequel makes a few sins of its own in a faithful yet uninspiring retread of Frank Miller’s classic series.
It’s been almost a decade since Sin City burst onto our screens with a swagger that only comes from something truly original. In the development hell of the intervening years, countless imitators have come and gone, not least of which is writer Frank Miller’s own attempt at the style with the unremarkable The Spirit (2008). So perhaps this is why Sin City: A Dame to Kill For feels ultimately flat and less than the sum of its parts, now being merely another visitor in a world it helped create.
Based on Miller’s serialised Dark Horse comics that ran from 1991 to 2000, Sin City: A Dame to Kill For has segements set before and after the previous film. Adopting a similar anthology format, the film takes the titular mini-series as the backbone of the piece. Straight-edge Dwight McCarthy (Josh Brolin), attempting to put his violent and boozy life behind him, gets drawn back into his old ways when former flame Ava Lord (Eva Green) works her femme fatale ways on him. In “Just Another Saturday Night”, also drawn from the comics, Marv (Mickey Rourke) makes some rich frat boys pay for torturing the homeless. Miller has created two new stories for the film: “The Long Bad Night”, focusing on a cocky gambler named Johnny (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) and “Nancy’s Last Dance”, a direct sequel to “That Yellow Bastard” featuring Nancy Calahan (Jessica Alba) and the ghost of Hartigan (Bruce Willis).
Sin City: A Dame to Kill For is like the postcard version of a town. If you’ve been there before, the sights and sounds will be familiar, but it’s lacking all the little things that make it worth staying there. Take the opening piece as an example. Marv returned Mickey Rourke to the spotlight in the first film, a hulking berserker with a heart of gold. Yet while he goes through all the same motions, there’s an energy missing that can’t be quantified. Similarly, one of the new pieces (“The Long Bad Night”) is a simple twist on a ‘house always wins’ story, but the highly stylised staginess that once crackled with energy now only serves to distance us from a meandering narrative. Even the strip-joint lacks excitement, and could probably do with a big neon sign that reads: “THE MOST CLOTHED STRIPPERS IN ALL OF SIN CITY”.
The title story comes closest to capturing the spirit of the first film, drawing its smoke-filled tale almost scene-for-scene from the original comics. The direct prequel to “The Big Fat Kill”, one of the standout pieces from Sin City, sees Clive Owen recast to accommodate his ‘old face’, and could have easily served as a feature on its own, clocking in at over 200 pages in print. Yet it’s sandwiched in the middle of the film, almost as an afterthought, which is a real shame given that some of the strongest material is here. It’s a classic piece of noir, complete with love triangles, double-crosses, crooked cops, dames and death. There is certainly no faulting the beauty of the green-screened visuals either, and the frequently nude Eva Green is electric sex, a femme fatale to match any of the greats of the 1940s or 1950s.
Yet even in this tent pole story, the cracks begin to show. The familiar elements are there, but in some cases they have been literally replaced with counterfeits, as new cast members replace policeman Bob (Jeremy Piven), Manute (Dennis Haysbert, due to the passing of Michael Clarke Duncan) and deadly little Miho (Jamie Chung) stand in all the right places, but without the same impact. Indeed, two of the original cast members are no longer with us. It’s almost as if it was this coming together of those particular individuals that created movie magic in the first place, and removing any single component has sucked the life out of it.
Or perhaps it has simply been too long between drinks, and Sin City should have been left to stand as a unique masterpiece. It’s also arguable that both Frank Miller and Robert Rodriguez’s best work is behind them, and retreading the same ground only serves to recall that better work. As the continuity-bending “Nancy’s Last Dance” drags its feet long past the point where the curtains should have closed, incinerating any goodwill we had left for the original cast, Sin City: A Dame to Kill For commits the ultimate sin in becoming tedious.
Sin City: A Dame to Kill For opens in Australia on 18 September 2014 from Icon.