Sin City: A Dame to Kill For is a jumbled but still enjoyable followup that, for most moviegoers, arrives on the scene too late.
Sin City: A Dame to Kill For presents another glimpse at the twisted stories of Frank Miller's
BaSin City, where crime lords and crooked politicians compete for control of the streets. In a place like Sin City, savage thugs Marv (Mickey Rourke) and Dwight McCarthy (Josh Brolin) can be heroes - inflicting rage and a thirst for violence on scumbags that prey upon the weak. While Marv spends the majority of his time at Kadie's Club Pecos, watching over not-so-young anymore Nancy Callahan (Jessica Alba), Dwight has attempted to put his troubled past behind him - earning an "honest" living as a private investigator.
However, when Dwight is reunited with his former lover, Ava Lord (Eva Green), he's pulled into a violent new chapter - one that will reshape him both mentally and physically. Later, Marv begins to notice a change in Nancy, as the once mesmerizing stripper has turned scarred and withdrawn. Blaming the ruthless and corrupt Senator Roark for the death of Detective John Hartigan (Bruce Willis), Nancy plots her revenge - but she isn't the only one looking to take down Roark. Johnny (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) has his own score to settle.
Serving as a prequel, midquel, and sequel to 2005's Sin City, A Dame to Kill For interweaves two of Frank Miller's graphic novel tales, "A Dame to Kill For" and "Just Another Saturday Night," with two entirely new stories "The Long Bad Night" and "Nancy's Last Dance" into a single big screen adaptation. The result? Sin City: A Dame to Kill For is a jumbled but still enjoyable followup that, for most moviegoers, arrives on the scene too late. Black and white visuals, over-the-top violence and the neo-noir narrative remain the primary selling points of this series, but aside from the added spectacle of 3D, nothing is better in this second trip to Sin City.
Nearly every aspect falls short in topping what came before, and storytelling is A Dame to Kill For's biggest misstep. The brooding tone of the series remains intact, providing a strong groundwork for punchy humor and shocking violence, but the movie's unrelenting stream of simile ("like a freight train to the stomach") and melodramatic dialogue nearly taints its neo-noir inspirations - bordering on clumsy imitation rather than sharp homage. Only two of the primary narrative threads earn their place ("A Dame to Kill For" and "The Long Bad Night"), and the less interesting pair ("Just Another Saturday Night" and "Nancy's Last Dance") bookend Sin City 2 - providing little more than added screen time for recognizable characters (and acting talent).
Johnny's "The Long Bad Night" is an intriguing side tale, one that also aids in establishing the film's primary villain - but returning directors Robert Rodriguez and Frank Miller place most of their energy into Dwight's plot arc, given that "A Dame to Kill For" contains all of the necessary requirements for both quality character drama and exciting big screen spectacle. In the process of highlighting the Dwight prequel tale, nearly every other character and plot thread is left underdeveloped - turning several of Sin City's most interesting residents into two-dimensional cartoons. Whereas the Marv-centric "Just Another Saturday Night" is a brainless but forgivable reintroduction to Sin City, "Nancy's Last Dance" is a bizarre and anticlimactic afterthought that, worst of all, fails to payoff its sulky melodrama with either quality insight or memorable violence.
Most side actors/characters bounce in and out of the film without much effect (Rosario Dawson/Gail, Powers Boothe/Senator Roark, Dennis Haysbert/Manute, Christopher Meloni/Mort, and Jamie Chung/Miho, among others), but even though Marv isn't provided with much development this round (primarily serving as muscle), Mickey Rourke's live-action portrayal of the fan-favorite antihero still serves up plenty of enjoyable mayhem. Jessica Alba attempts to mine new layers of torment in Nancy, but as indicated, A Dame to Kill For falls short in making her rage believable - relying on booze and shattered mirrors to convey a downward spiral. Similarly, Josh Brolin is serviceable as Dwight, selling the character's first-person narration, even though his onscreen performance is mostly relegated to flexing, grimacing, and dodging punches.
Thankfully, Eva Green and Joseph Gordon-Levitt bring fresh energy to the series as Ava and Johnny, respectively. As in 300: Rise of an Empire, Green is a scene-stealer and she injects enigmatic allure into her damsel in distress role - a femme fatale that is made all the more captivating by the film's subtle use of situational red, green, and blue coloration. Gordon-Levitt's storyline has little impact on the larger Dame to Kill For plot, but his portrayal of Johnny - the luckiest man in Sin City - is a welcome change of pace. Compared to the rest of the Sin City roster, Johnny is a charmer and his tale is a prime example of superior short format storytelling - a straightforward drama layered with thoughtful undertones.
As indicated, along with stylized violence and a twisted sense of humor, the iconic Sin City visual aesthetic (a mix of live-action, black and white animation, and tinted highlights) is just as stunning in A Dame to Kill For. Composition continues to draw from the comic book page, and this time, the filmmakers have upped their game with several especially impressive sequences that bring the print medium to life on the big screen. To that end, 3D is absolutely recommended - even for moviegoers who are typically reluctant to spring for a premium format ticket. The 3D adds eye-catching depth to an already arresting blend of 2D graphic novel-inspired live-action; however, Rodriguez and Miller also incorporate subtle pop-out flourishes for viewers that expect noticeable 3D moments - if they're going to upgrade from standard 2D.
In the end, Sin City: A Dame to Kill For is more of Sin City - just five years too late. Fans of the original will likely find that Rodriguez and Miller have produced an amusing follow-up, excelling in many aspects that made Sin City (and its source material) a hit. That said, a lot has happened in the eight years since the original released - and A Dame to Kill For does little to evolve the Sin City foundation. While the addition of 3D increases immersion in its visuals, story choice isn't as strong, resulting in a film that is better than many were expecting, and should please hardcore series fans, but will have a difficult time appealing to the full audience that would have turned out for Sin City 2 half a decade ago.
Sin City: A Dame to Kill For runs 102 minutes and is Rated R for strong brutal stylized violence throughout, sexual content, nudity, and brief drug use. Now playing in 2D and 3D theaters.
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