Robert Rodriguez once mentioned that he likes to pace his movies for the video market, expecting viewers to forgo the overall narrative experience and skip to their favourite scenes. In light of Frank Miller’s penchant for “splash page” iconography and shameless badassery, you’d think the Sin City franchise a natural fit for Rodriguez. However, Sin City: A Dame to Kill For takes matters a step too far, coming across less like a sequel than a selection of deleted scenes for the original film’s special edition DVD.
I should mention right off the bat that I love the first Sin City (2005). At a time when studios were struggling to find a super-hero formula for the silver screen, Rodriguez opted instead to adapt cinema to the comic book aesthetic. The result proved nothing short of breathtaking, but I question the wisdom of repeating the experiment nine years after the fact. Sin City: A Dame to Kill For doesn’t even refine the approach, relying on the exact same images and narrative tricks rather than the exuberant spirit of innovation that drove the original.
Once again, we get three short stories inspired by Miller’s graphic novels. This time, though, events unfold in chronological order, slowing down the pace as dramatic beats are often repeated thrice in a row. Ironically, this focus on continuity makes Sin City: A Dame to Kill For harder to follow, owing to the plot ostensibly taking place after Sin City’s final segment but before its first and second. I use the word “ostensibly” because two characters who show up in the latter chapters are killed by the end of this movie. Oops.
The main subplot, from which Sin City: A Dame to Kill For derives its title, stars Eva Green as the ultimate femme fatale, a woman so seductive she can turn faithful husbands to murder with a pout of her lips. Never ones for subtlety, Miller and Rodriguez have her prancing naked almost the entire runtime and spouting off lines like, “What did it feel like, murdering an innocent man?” It’s as dated and misogynistic as it sounds, but the film gets away with it by depicting Ava Lord as a supernatural figure, like a trickster spirit or ancient goddess of lust. I just wish Clive Owen had reprised the role of Dwight. I realise the character’s meant to have a different face at this juncture, but Josh Brolin’s performance captures none of the humour inherent to this crazy premise.
The next storyline shows as much potential (and the same weird fantasy slant) but falters in its execution. After Senator Roark (Powers Boothe) destroys his life, a young card hustler with magical luck powers (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) crafts the only vengeance available to him, making use of his tormentor’s insatiable pride. I like the symbolic nature of Johnny’s scheme, but Sin City: A Dame to Kill For rushes through the payoff with such nihilistic abandon that we never have time to consider its haunting romance. You’d figure a tale conceived exclusively for the screen would make better use of cinematic language.
However, Sin City: A Dame to Kill For saves its worst for last, following up on Nancy four years after Hartigan’s (Bruce Willis) suicide in the previous flick. I suspect the characters would’ve been better served if Miller, who wrote this new chapter for the sequel, had left well enough alone. Consider the gratuitous inclusion of Marv (Mickey Rourke), who now seems tame and tired by simple virtue of having nothing to do. It doesn’t help that the thread amounts to little more than an extended shootout preceded by clumsily narrated shots of Jessica Alba gyrating half-naked on a stripper stage. I leave you to decide whether the resentment on her face is part of the performance.
In fairness, Nancy’s discontent plays into a wider pattern of corruption. Whereas the three segments in the first Sin City pertained to sacrifice, these new ones all touch on the notion of revenge. This darker theme provides little contrast with the noir aesthetic of the franchise, making for a redundant experience, and therein lies the rub. Like a set of deleted scenes, Sin City: A Dame to Kill For offers interesting insights into the background of the characters and the mindset of the creators, but, at the end of the day, there’s a reason this stuff was cut out of the film we originally saw.