Theatrical review. Potential spoilers. In 2005, I saw the first "Sin City" in theaters and gushed in a review that "it was a fresh, unique and ground breaking (film) on many fronts." To be fair, that comment isn't necessarily true in this sequel. Also to be fair, those looking for complicated plots, articulate banter and theatrical heft will be left wanting.
"Dame" doesn't hide what it wants to be. That is, a stylistic onslaught of visual mayhem, violence, sex and nudity...with just a touch of humor. While this look of the graphic novel is spot on with the mostly black and white motif, it didn't catch on after the success of the original. "The Spirit" (2008) tried to capture the look and style but failed at the box office. Robert Rodriguez and Frank Miller return with many of the same characters and a few new ones.
Mickey Rourke returns as Marv and becomes the link to the different story lines. He's the unofficial protector of Nancy (Jessica Alba), evidently the only stripper at the club where everyone hangs out. And apparently as sexy as Nancy is, she never strips either. Her original guardian, Hartigan (Bruce Willis) is but a ghost of his former self. But she's out for revenge, as is just about everybody, against Senator Roark (terrifically nasty Powers Boothe). Even Roark's illegitimate son, Johnny (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) who beats his old man at cards and plays a price. I like this new character and would like to have seem more.
Josh Brolin is new but his character, Dwight, is not. He replaces Clive Owen in the role. The centerpiece in the story and the "dame to kill for" is Ava (Eva Green) who had Dwight eating out of her hand years earlier. It made him crazy so he does his best to clean up his act and stay away. But she doesn't. In a terrific scene she meets him at the strip club. She walks in and everything around her is black and white except for her vibrant blue trench coat. That's just about the last thing she wears in the movie. It's no wonder she has men wanting to die for her. The elderly couple in the theater I was in couldn't take a screen full of bosoms and promptly walked out as younger teens sneaked in.
The film ups the violence quotient to boot. Blood, usually white or red, is everywhere as heads are severed, eyes gouged out and fingers broken. The film is a visual feast with beautifully created scenes and a look that improves on the original. As I said at the beginning it may not have the gravitas and freshness of the original but damn, Eva Green is to die for.
Nine Things about the Movie “Sin City: A Dame to Kill For” [USA, 2014]
1. In 2005, the original "Sin City" was released. It was a startling, ultra violent, hyper noir film based on the famous graphic novel. It was a masterpiece of atmosphere and style.
2.Nine years later, the sequel is released. Directed by the same two guys (Robert Rodriguez and Frank Miller) this is more of the exact same thing. Same style, same atmosphere, and some of the same characters as the first film - even one character that’s dead.
3. As with the original, this movie features several separate stories that intertwine with each other. Characters float in and out of the various stories to kind of tie them all together and make it feel like one big terrible place. You can never be sure who will live and who will die.
4. Beneath the gorgeous visuals, the movie is a cynical, depressing look at a place where nobody is happy, everything is corrupt, and even if love isn't really just an act of betrayal, it's doomed anyway.
5. One of the stories takes place before the first film. One of them takes place after the first film. The other two stories don’t really give any clues as to when they take place.
6. You don’t technically have to see the first movie before this one, but it’s a good idea. There are numerous references to the events of the first film, and it won’t always be clear what’s going on if you haven’t seen it.
7. While there is plenty of violence in this movie, it doesn’t feel quite as brutal as the first one.
8. The strength of the movie is also its weakness. Filmed in black and white with splashes of color, it's a mixture of live action, computer animation, and comic-book-style illustration. It's gorgeous, but it’s the same stuff as in the first one. There are no new innovations in its style or technique, even though the filmmakers had nine years to think about it.
9. This movie moves a little more slowly than the first, and the stories aren’t quite as cool. But it’s still beautiful, violent, and one of the more original movies of this year. Fans of the first movie should still find plenty to love about this one.
on November 24, 2014
Let me preface this by saying that I've been a long-time fan of Frank Miller's Sin City comics ever since I randomly found a copy of "The Big Fat Kill" at my local public library back when I was in high school. Of course, I was overjoyed and blown away by the faithful, innovative first film adaptation way back in 2005, so by the time 2014 rolled around, I was highly excited that the long-delayed sequel would finally be released.
However, I was disappointed and upset that, due to critical disappointment and poor box office performance (enough to consider it a bomb), "A Dame to Kill For" was yanked from theaters after only three weeks. I didn't get it; the trailer looked spectacular. What exactly was turning people off of this one? (The most common complaint I'd heard, other than that it was "empty," "lacking the impact of the first," and "style over substance," was that "it was too much like the first one," which I didn't buy as a criticism. If you loved the first one, why would you want anything different from the sequel? Ah, but I digress.)
I was burning with curiosity to see what all the negativity was about, but fortunately, they chose to release the movie on DVD just a few months after its initial theater release. Within the last week, I finally got my hands on the Blu-Ray release and watched it. That said, even as a loyal follower, I can now admit that "A Dame to Kill For" is not nearly as good as the first movie, but it's still required viewing for anyone who is a fan of the comics or the series in general. Here are my thoughts.
The Good: Let me just say that the "Dame to Kill For" segment is clearly the crown jewel in this set of stories and the biggest reason to watch the film. By itself, this tale is meaty, satisfying, and very much the same kind of material that pleased viewers of the first movie. Eva Green is the biggest treat here, diving into her role as the heartless seductress Ava Lord with gusto. She oozes sexuality in every frame but also chills the viewer with her icy drive to dominate men and obtain power at any cost. Josh Brolin, too, is a fine replacement for Clive Owen as Dwight, a strong, sometimes violent man who is unable to disentangle himself from Ava's vicious wiles.
Really, the all-star cast is one of the best things the movie has going for it. In addition to Green and Brolin, Dennis Haysbert slips perfectly into the role as the otherworldly Manute, still looking imposing due to camera trickery despite being physically much smaller than the late Michael Clarke Duncan. Joseph Gordon-Levitt also brings his A-game to the table as the cocky and perpetually-lucky gambler Johnny, bursting with as much charisma and youthful arrogance as he can muster. Powers Boothe gets more of an opportunity this time to steal the show as the corrupt and vicious Senator Roark. And, of course, you can't go wrong with a little more Marv in your life; Mickey Rourke nabs a lot of screen time as everyone's favorite urban warrior and perpetual protector of women everywhere. Jamie Chung, Christopher Meloni, Juno Temple, Ray Liotta, Jeremy Piven, Rosario Dawson, Stacy Keach, Bruce Willis, Lady Gaga, Christopher Lloyd, Julia Garner, and Martin Csokas all make fun and enjoyable appearances to round off the sprawling cast.
And let's not forget the eye-popping visuals, one of the first things that I noticed watching the trailer when it was first released. The first movie was no slouch when it came to bringing Frank Miller's uniquely-visual source material to life, and the sequel doesn't disappoint; in fact, the visuals here look twice as brilliant in my opinion. (Let's chalk this up to a decade's worth of progress in special effects technology as well as a much higher budget than the first movie.)
Ava Lord's stunning blue dress, red lips, and green eyes pop against the film's classic black-and-white palette (now dashed with a more striking contrast, some backgrounds even looking shiny and silver now); streams of stark-white blood and faceless severed heads fly about against black backgrounds as Miho storms Ava's mansion; and even something as playing cards appear stunning as Johnny shuffles his glowing deck and passes cards around the table. Prosthetics are effective, too, bringing notably-deformed characters like Marv, Wallenquist, and Manute to life.
The Bad: With so much going for "A Dame to Kill For," it still didn't leave me as completely satisfied as the first "Sin City." I've thought about it for a few days, and here's what I've concluded. The first movie had its pick of three of the best and most engrossing graphic novels in the Sin City series, so naturally its intertwining narratives packed one hell of a punch. This time around, "A Dame to Kill For" is the only story that has been adapted from one of the original graphic novels; the other three, "Just Another Saturday Night," "The Long Bad Night," and "Nancy's Last Dance" are either adapted from short stories or were written specifically for the film.
I can forgive "Just Another Saturday Night" for being on the slight side since it's simply meant to kick off the movie on the right note (along the same lines as "The Customer is Always Right" from the first movie), but "The Long Bad Night" and "Nancy's Last Dance," while fun and entertaining, just aren't as developed or involving as any of Frank Miller's full-length works, leaving the movie feeling woefully uneven. At over 20 minutes shorter than the first movie, there definitely seems to be a lot missing in the story department.
"The Long Bad Night" had a big opportunity to make a satisfying conclusion as Johnny seeks revenge against Roark's punishment for besting him at cards, but the ending they chose, while decent, just doesn't hit as hard as the typical Sin City yarn. "Nancy's Last Dance," while an interesting return to the now-tortured and revenge-obsessed Nancy, is also lacking. Jessica Alba, who I've never cared much for as an actress, does an arguably better job here with almost a decade of experience under her belt and the chance to really push the character in new directions, but the story itself seems rather perfunctory and slap-dash. Most of all, there's a strong hint of the supernatural during the climax of "Last Dance" that I didn't buy for a second. The Sin City series, while sometimes hard to take as totally realistic with bizarre characters like Manute and Yellow Bastard, has never allowed room for the paranormal.
I now wonder if perhaps these stories would have fared better if they had figured out a way to combine them, with both Johnny and Nancy teaming up with their shared goal at getting back at the villainous Senator Roark. I guess we'll never know... (Lastly, as a much, much smaller complaint, Josh Brolin just looks silly with his "new," longer hair after his facial reconstruction later in the movie. With Brolin's older, craggier features, the two don't match up. But this is tiny compared to my bigger grievances.)
This movie makes me happy and sad at the same time. As a long-time fan of the series, I'm glad to see the characters again and experience some new material, but this movie just wasn't as good it could have been. In addition, with as badly as "A Dame to Kill For" did at the box office, I'm thinking this may be the last time we'll ever see Basin City and its seedy inhabitants on the silver screen (unless Robert Rodriguez gets crafty and maybe gets a Kickstarter pledge drive going to fund the last big Sin City story left, "Hell and Back"). Still, at least we got one good sequel made when it seemed like it would never crawl out of development hell, and when you consider how faithful both movies have been to the original comic series, I guess we fans should consider ourselves awfully lucky. Maybe we'll get dealt a better hand in the future if a third entry ever comes to light...