By: Susan Howse
Sin City: A Dame to Kill For had a long, hard journey making it to the screens this summer and I’m not sure that it survived the trek. When I saw the original film in 2005, I was blown away by its design, atmosphere and hardboiled story. I was smack dab in the middle of my film studies minor and this was the first film noir-esque movie I had seen other than the classics. I loved the black and white cinematography and the way the interwoven storylines centred on the struggle against corrupt officials. I also developed a bit of a girl crush on Jessica Alba. I had high expectations for the follow up.
I saw the film on opening weekend, excited and armed with Glossettes. When I was leaving, a friend asked how I liked it; I didn’t quite know how to respond. The run time was fine, it wasn’t too drawn out, nor too short to feel cheated. Individual stories were well crafted, but not exceptional. I liked the action, but missed the enthusiasm. It just did not give me the same surge of “this is why I love cinema” after viewing it, but I didn’t totally hate it either. It didn’t anger me as much as other sequels to movies I love – wait ‘til you hear my Hobbit rants – but I was almost with the wish that instead of making it, they had let a lovely classic be (cough, Star Wars I-III, cough).
Sin City: ADTKF (I’m already getting annoyed with the long title) tells the tales of the dirty, hard, sexy, and dangerous lives of its citizens. Like its predecessor, it intercuts plot lines to create an overall image of a town where booze, sex and guns can easily fall into the hands of criminals, corrupt government agents and strippers. In this installment, there are three stories. The Dame to Kill For one involves Dwight (Josh Brolin) and Marv (Mickey Rourke) recruited by Dwight’s old flame and femme fatale Ava (Eva Green), to help save her from her loveless and abusive marriage. The second has Johnny (Joesph Gordon-Levitt) in his attempt to rise up from the gutters to take on the powerful Senator Roark (Powers Boothe) at the poker table. The third involves Nancy’s (Jessica Alba) return as a stripper, but takes a dark vengeful turn. Throw in some random cameo characters wearing scantily clad leather or packing impressive ammo and bam! Robert Rodriguez has made his film.
While the individual stories are interesting enough on their own, they did not lend as well to the intercutting style as the first Sin City film did. Cuts and crossover characters seemed forced and abrupt. I enjoyed Johnny’s storyline the most, as it offered the viewer a better glimpse into how evil and powerful Senator Roark is. However, I forgot about it while I watched the other stories unfold. When Gordon-Levitt shows up on screen again, I had to scramble back and remember where we had left off. Better editing of the various plots would have helped make the film more cohesive. It almost seemed like the film was shot as three different movies and they hastily decided to smush them together.
Of course sex and violence sells, ladies and gentlemen, and Sin City is packed with it. Quick cuts, animation and selective colour edits allow the film to provide a lot of gruesome deaths without the gross out factor that usually come along with them. The fight scenes in the film are enjoyably gratuitous. A lot of ninja katana slicing from Jaime Chung adds some entertaining yet ridiculous deaths. It’s over the top, but it’s what you’ve come to expect from this style of film.
Visually Sin City: ADTKF is as fresh and clean cut as the original, but it lacks the wow-punches that we got in 2005. Perhaps it is a been there, done that mentality, but nothing blew me away. There were no specific scenes that jumped out at me. (Unlike Josh Hartnett’s bit scene in the original that I literally had as my background on my computer for two years.) I respect and appreciate the fact that a lot of the images are taken directly from the comic book. It’s a very authentic way to interpret it and I applaud Rodriguez for that. However, unlike the first film, it didn’t really offer me anything new to hook me into the world of series creator Frank Miller.
Sin City: ADTKF boasts a large cast of famous faces and cameos in this film. (Keep an eye out for the not-so subtle Miller and Rodriguez insert). Cast and character wise, I’m also on the fence. While no one really stood out with a career making performance, no one was horribly bad either.
Josh Brolin, taking over Clive Owen’s role, makes an excellent Dwight. He is the Hartigan of this film and adds his own “heart” to a film that lacks motivation. While not knowing much of his back story, you feel bad for the guy and really want him to succeed. Dwight’s girl Ava is an awesome femme fatale. Eva Green plays her character with a smooth malice and sultry, icy stare of which Lana Turner would have been jealous. Get ready to see a lot of Ava (and by a lot, I mean BOOBS). She’s pretty much naked the entire film.
Joesph Gordon-Levitt’s performance is well crafted. He plays the role with the poise I’ve come to expect from the former 10 Things I Hate About You cutie. However, he’s still a little too baby-faced to really play the gritty aggressiveness needed in a Sin City film. Duking it out across from Gordon-Levitt, Powers Boothe returns as Senator Roark, the evil Kingpin of Sin City. He shows a bit of the softer side to his character, lamenting over his dead son (the Yellow Bastard of the first Sin City) and relishing the power he holds over the town. Despite that character development, Boothe’s character is so linearly evil that while he didn’t do anything specifically poor in this film, it was hard to be impressed by his performance.
Marv, played with such conviction in the first installment by Mickey Rourke, lacks the drive and determination that Goldie’s death gave him in the first film. He’s the same no holds barred, guilt-free thug, yet this time around his actions lack comprehensible motivation. There was no explanation as to why he likes to smash people’s heads in other than he’s just a good “bad” dude who’s there to help avenge his friends.
Jessica Alba’s character undergoes the strongest evolution in this installment, changing from the sweet “protect me please, Hartigan” Nancy to drunken, vengeful bad-ass Nancy. Alba benefits from not having to do much character introduction as we all know her from the first film – a few flashback scenes and we remember why she’s so upset. Also, don’t fret if you thought that because she’s older there might not have been as much sexy Dark Angel time. There’s no shortage of scintillating dancing – even more than the original – albeit with more of the angry-thrusting, black leather variety than the sultry cowboy lasso routine (though that also makes a repeat showing).
Unfortunately, other characters fall into the categories of either “Just here because they were in the first one” or “Hey! That’s a famous face I recognize!” The girls of Old Town such as Goldie/Wendy (Jaime King), Dallas (Patricia Vonne), and Gail (Rosario Dawson) add some smoldering juiciness but nothing to the plot. I really wanted something to allude to the Goldie/Marv connection, but was disappointed to not even see them in a scene together. Rosario Dawson and Josh Brolin lack the chemistry needed between Gail and Dwight, leaving me to wonder why she is in the film at all. And in the latter category you have Ray Liotta, Christopher Meloni, Lady Gaga, Jeremy Piven, and the great Christopher Lloyd. All play their roles short and sweet, but seem to be included just because they would add more celebrity value.
Overall, in looking over these notes, I’ll have to change my initial response of “meh” to a disappointed thumbs-down. I really wanted this film to succeed but it didn’t quite make it. This is neither a movie I will likely re-watch nor slot anywhere close to the original on my “Susan’s Top Movies” list. Its enjoyability comes from the nostalgia factor only and in that regard it’d be just as beneficial to pop the original back on and forget that they made this follow-up.
“Get me a hard top with a decent engine and make sure it’s got a big trunk” where I can throw Sin City: ADTKF for a very long time.