“Sin City” was a great film, the visuals were stunning, the story was interesting and the characters were all likeable. It deserved a sequel… but it didn’t get one. “Sin City 2: A Dame to Kill For” is not a sequel to the events of the first film, it is a film featuring four separate tales which are loosely connected to one another by certain characters popping up every now and again in tales which aren’t actually their own.
I read a few reviews prior to watching the movie because I was really excited to see it and they all said the same thing – that this was a film with impressive special effects but it doesn’t come together as well as its predecessor – and in spite of what I’d like to think those reviews are completely fair. The only section of this film which acts a true sequel to the “Sin City” is the final act, in which we finally get to see Nancy Callahan (Jessica Alba) take on Senator Roark (Powers Boothe), but that was also the weakest part of the movie!
However, despite the fact that I don’t believe this film to be a genuine sequel to the original, I’d be lying if I said that I didn’t enjoy it. It’s difficult to watch a movie with so much potential struggle to make the most of its characters and create a compelling narrative, but I was really glad to revisit Basin City. Watching this film in all its vicious 3D glory is just fun. The film genuinely feels like a comic book coming to life and I won’t be overly harsh on Robert Rodriguez or Frank Miller for failing to recreate the brilliance of the first movie, because it was an exceptional film and probably took some of the best material from the graphic novels away from any future sequel.
There are four main stories in this film which revolve around different protagonists. The movie opens with Marv (Mickey Rourke) in an act entitled ‘Just Another Saturday Night’, which was quite a weak start. (SPOILER ALERT) Marv decides to teach a group of frat boys a lesson after they attack a homeless man, and in the process we get to see where he grew up, in a place called the projects. I thought that the projects were an interesting place and would’ve enjoyed finding out a bit more about them, but the scene doesn’t last very long at all and has very little impact on the rest of the movie.
‘Just Another Saturday Night’ establishes the fact that there is going to be a lot of stylised violence and narration, just like there was in the first film, but apart from that it doesn’t have much of a part to play in proceedings. We are told that Marv is wearing a Bernini coat and that he doesn’t know where it came from, so it’s quite clear that over the course of the film we will see him again and find out exactly what’s gone on, but that’s the only cross-over that this tale has with the rest of the film.
Joseph Gordon-Levitt takes centre stage in the second tale of the film, and that story was my personal favourite. ‘The Long Bad Night’ came in two parts, the first before the title piece of the film and the longest segment – ‘A Dame to Kill For’ – and the second immediately after. I felt that having the story split in that way was a good idea, and kept you interested in what was going on, because it’s as though you are watching a brand new story. The other tales were played from start to finish, and then the film simply moved on to the next character’s scenes; I don’t think that makes for a very compelling movie. By having three stories played out from start to finish it feels as though we are watching a series of separate films, which can sometimes work, but if you break the stories up you have a film which flows and keeps the audience interested, because they want to know what happens next for a character that they were starting to like.
Gordon-Levitt plays Johnny, a man returning to Basin City in order to earn some money on the slots and the poker table. He’s a suave gambler and he never loses, hitting the jackpot immediately after walking into Kadie’s place (the bar in which Jessica Alba shows off her slut-dropping skills). The bar is a character of its own in this film, making an appearance in every tale. (SPOILER ALERT) Feeling confident, Johnny decides to try his hand at poker in a back room, playing against one of the two main antagonists in the film, Senator Roark. From there things only go downhill for Johnny, as he humiliates Roark and pays the price, leaving us wondering what will come next as the first part of the story comes to an end.
The second part follows immediately from the events of the first, and it isn’t too difficult to predict what is going to happen. Johnny seeks revenge, and that’s as much as I should say. ‘The Long Bad Night’ was the best section of the film, because it re-establishes the fact that Senator Roark really isn’t very pleasant, and it also feels fresh and new. The other segments all focus too heavily on characters we’ve already seen, even ‘A Dame to Kill For’, because it features Old Town and Marv. This section has the trademark violence and visual style of “Sin City”, as well as a young cocky lead playing off an experienced actor in Powers Boothe.
The longest part of this movie is ‘A Dame to Kill For’, as you would expect given the film’s title, and it did a decent job of keeping my attention. Josh Brolin did a fine job as Dwight McCarthy, having replaced Clive Owen who played the character in the first film. However, I would’ve liked to actually see him ‘let the monster out’ because I was expecting him to have some kind of inner rage which was never really shown. Clive Owen gave one of the best performances in “Sin City” so it was a shame that he didn’t return, but in “Sin City” it is mentioned that he had a new face so it makes sense that his character was recast (‘A Dame to Kill For’ takes place before ‘The Big Fat Kill’).
Eva Green is very good in this movie, even if some of her scenes are slightly over the top, and she definitely deserves to be regarded as a dame to kill for. I don’t think that many of the men in this film would’ve believed that she was who she pretended to be, given the nature of the film and its predecessor, but once her true colours were revealed she was a very entertaining villain. (SPOILER ALERT) This tale revolves around Ava Lord’s (Eva Green) trickery of Dwight and the subsequent quest for revenge which follows. There isn’t much more to the story than that, which did make me question why this was chosen as the main sequence of the film, but the performances are good and it’s a fun little tale.
Finally, we have the conclusion to Nancy Callahan’s character-arc, ‘Nancy’s Last Dance’, and it follows a familiar theme – revenge. Nancy did a lot of dancing in this film and it was the only redeeming factor for her character; we all agree that Jessica Alba is a very attractive human being, so I don’t think that we need to see her prance around a stage half-naked quite so much. The time that she spent showing off her body could’ve been spent on real character development, making the story that little bit more interesting. I don’t know if the writers felt that it was enough to show that Nancy was sad about John Hartigan’s death and just go from there, given the fact that she is a returning character, but she wasn’t exactly deep in the first movie. I doubt that anyone really cared about her, despite the fact that everyone wanted to see Roark breathe his last breath.
‘Nancy’s Last Dance’ refers to Nancy’s last stand with Senator Roark, and is what you would expect from a sequel to the first film, but it is also the most boring part of the movie and contains what I consider to be the most rigid acting. Nancy is a very one dimensional character and Jessica Alba isn’t exactly a brilliant actress; all in all this segment of the movie only served to show that “Sin City” didn’t need a sequel, in that the stories ended in an interesting way and didn’t require any further development.
“Sin City 2: A Dame to Kill For” worked best when completely new characters were on screen and were allowed to flourish in the dark underworld that is Basin City. This leads me to think that maybe the best course of action, as far as continuing with on screen “Sin City” content is concerned, would be to adapt the material to television. It would be really interesting to watch a different story unfold every other week in this setting and would give a lot of talented actors the chance to show what they can do in a gritty drama. Sadly I don’t think that this will ever happen because of the financial requirements of making a show shot entirely on green screen with the quality of actors it would need to succeed, but if it was made I think it would do very well and I’d definitely watch it.
As far as the stories themselves go I’d say that they weren’t awful but they left a little to be desired. They all had the right tone for a “Sin City” movie and every part had the token good guy fighting against an aggravating villain/villains, but there was something missing in each one. Each section left a sour taste in my mouth as they repeatedly fell flat just as they reached their climax. There were no real surprises or twist endings, which was such a shame considering the fact that each tale was leading into the next part of the movie. Surely the idea is to leave the audience wanting more, so in that sense the execution of these stories was quite poor.
Furthermore, the way in which this film played with time was just strange; if you want to tie a film together in a cohesive way then it really doesn’t make sense to have it broken up by stories which are years and years apart. You can’t just have Marv show up each time and say, ‘here’s someone you know, let the action commence’, there needs to be something connecting the dots. It wasn’t that hard to follow, but the way in which the film was organised felt unnecessarily confusing.
The performances in “Sin City 2: A Dame to Kill For” were pretty good; Josh Brolin, Eva Green and Joseph Gordon-Levitt were the stand-outs, and I don’t think it’s any coincidence that those actors were new to the franchise. I haven’t actually seen a lot of Josh Brolin in the past, but I felt that he did a really good job in this movie. Whether or not his part really required that much acting is definitely debatable, but I was more immersed in the film whilst he and Eva Green were on screen.
Before seeing the film I was already a fan of both Eva Green and Joseph Gordon-Levitt. They’ve both been involved in some really interesting projects recently and I felt that casting them in this film was a great move from the filmmakers. Eva Green was, in my opinion, the only great thing about “Penny Dreadful”, because she was able to make you feel so much affection for her whilst also having a dark side that was truly terrifying. Her character had two distinct dimensions which were both extremely compelling, and she showed that she is excellent at playing both the hero and the villain, switching between those two personas in an instant. That particular attribute made her perfect for her role in this movie. Joseph Gordon-Levitt, on the other hand, brings a sense of self-assurance to each role he plays, and that was exactly what was required for the slick nature of his character.
However, the actors returning to the series seemed much less fresh than the newcomers, particularly Jessica Alba and Mickey Rourke who were both massively underwhelming. Mickey Rourke almost seemed to be playing a parody of his character in the first movie in this instalment, with his rough tone and ridiculous glee at the prospect of violence, he dismantled everything that was so entertaining about his character. He presented much less of a presence in this film, and that definitely weakened his performance, because his fight scenes were slow and he seemed lethargic, which I suspect is down to his age. His performance, coupled with the writers deciding it would be a good idea to make him seemingly invincible, made Marv the worst character in “Sin City 2: A Dame to Kill For”.
“Sin City 2: A Dame to Kill For” also suffered by leaving a few questions unanswered, for instance, why was Marv alive? If you’ve seen the first film then you will be aware that at the end of “The Hard Goodbye” Marv faced the electric chair and sadly died, so in order for him to appear in this film he must have died some time after the events of ‘That Yellow Bastard’. But, in “Sin City” Marv visits Nancy in the middle of his story and she seems fine, she isn’t the emotional wreck you see in this movie. There may be a perfectly reasonable explanation for why this is the case, I might just need to do a bit more research, but my point is that I shouldn’t have to in order to enjoy the movie! This film doesn’t explain what the timeline is and neither does its predecessor; it’s the job of the filmmaker to make things as clear as possible unless being obtuse benefits the movie, which is this case it definitely does not.
(SPOILER ALERT) A few moments before the end of the movie there is a scene in which Senator Roark is addressing Nancy, and he says that he told her he would make her scream… but that happened in Nancy’s own dream sequence/hallucination, or at least it seemed to by the way that the scene was filmed. At first I thought that this was just an error, either on my part or the writer’s, because he didn’t directly say that he would make her scream.
However, it would be interesting if we were actually supposed to wonder whether or not Nancy dreamed the killing of Roark. She seemed to be taking a descent into madness as her story progressed, and she was show thinking about Roark as she laid in the fetal position in bed, so perhaps that was what we were meant to take from the film. That would actually make the ending a lot more credible, because we never really got to see what we wanted to see, we just got a fade to black, and so many dreams end just before the good part. I don’t know if I’m being overly optimistic about this movie having some kind of deeper meaning, and maybe trying to salvage what was a stupidly abrupt ending, but thinking about it in that way made me enjoy the film that little bit more than I would have.
Despite the obvious negatives of this movie, I still feel as though it was unfairly reviewed. It isn’t a terrible movie; it’s entertaining and has a distinct visual style which is still impressive nine years after “Sin City” was released. The special effects were stunning, particularly as the water rippled around Eva Green, and as characters seamlessly turned into silhouettes running across blank backgrounds, transforming the screen into a mesmerising moving comic book. I feel as though the impact of the computer generated imagery has been lost on some of the audience as a result of the first movie, which is a shame, because to have a film which looks this good is still a real achievement. Other films like “The Expendables 3” will get away with simply being entertaining and action packed this summer because that’s what they aim to be, so I think that this film should be praised for succeeding in the area which it primarily focuses on.
“Sin City 2: A Dame to Kill For” was an entertaining movie, with some good performances and interesting new characters. The stylised violence and black and white hero versus villain mentality of the first film returned to make this an enjoyable revisit to the seedy world that is Basin City. However, the performances of the returning actors didn’t live up to what was produced in “Sin City”, and it felt as though the inclusion of the original film’s characters was only a tool, used in order to sell tickets. This film had the potential to be one of this summer’s best, but in the end it failed to meet the high standards which were set by its predecessor and fell short of expectations.