I was a really big fan of the original Sin City when it came out. Saw it multiple times in the cinema, imported the DVD, and then imported the director’s cut boxed set. Brought the comics and so forth. Even made a Sin City themed car on FORZA Motorsport because, yes, I had that much free time. I never thought the film was perfect but it’s hyper stylised approach, which really hadn’t been done before then barring a few exceptions, was intoxicating for me. The dark twisted tales of brutish men easily manipulated by the women of Sin City, a place where going down the right back alley can result in almost anything happening. It all appealed to me. I like Noir. I like comic books. I like hyper-stylised takes on film and pulp novel tropes. Sin City wasn’t perfect, but it was unique. It was also on the razors edge of being absolutely awful. Speaking of which… here’s Sin City 2: A Dame To Kill For.
Sin City 2, rather than being a strict recreation of a few of the original comics, is only partially so. The story A Dame To Kill For is the main representative, along with the short Just Another Saturday Night. These two are joined by two more stories made just for the film called The Long Bad Night and Nancy’s Last Dance. The way these stories are placed together causes the film’s main issue. Its pacing is entirely screwed with. In the first Sin City we got a little of Hartigan’s story, That Yellow Bastard, and a small ellipsis that tops and tails the film called The Customer Is Always Right. One began many years before the main stories and the other is more a welcome to… and a goodbye from Sin City. The film then concluded with That Yellow Bastard’s bulk. The film got through those two short parts and into The Hard Goodbye nice and quickly and by ending on the part of That Yellow Bastard that was the conclusion to the prequel segment at the start tied the whole film package together.
Here we have an intro involving Marv (Mickey Rourke) trying to remember what he did last night, which drags on for a while and doesn’t tie to anything. This is followed by the first half of the new story, The Long Bad Night, which concludes later after the film’s main bulk of A Dame To Kill For is done. There is no time skip in The Long Bad Night so when we come back to it it feels like no change has occurred. We’re just dumped back into the middle of a story we forgot about an hour ago. Clearly aware of this director’s Robert Rodriguez and Frank Miller peppered that story with small elements of Nancy’s Last Dance to set us up for that finale. By the way, A Dame To kill For does have a time skip which would have made a perfect top and tails for the other stories to sit within. Except for one thing. The Long Bad Night exists to show you how bad Senator Roark (Powers Boothe) is, and Nancy’s Last Dance is all about Nancy (Jessica Alba) finally getting revenge on Roark.
So, the bulk of the film, and the section it’s named after, is A Dame To Kill For. That’s the story you’re ready to see and the only one that has themes relating to the title. The other two do not. Meanwhile the other two stories are built around defeating Senator Roark and so serve as a conclusion you’d expect to eventually arise in Sin City. Except the logical conclusion for the film already happened 30 minutes earlier when we reached the end of A Dame To Kill For. That story doesn’t interweave with the others barring brief cameos. This is a structural mess. Even when a film is presented as an anthology there is usually still a three act structure making sure that the stories, as a whole, progress to a conclusion and you leave feeling ready. Generally films don’t end half way through. As A Dame To Kill For doesn’t tie into the other stories none of it’s plot threads are left open to be tied up in the concluding two chapters and as they are entirely unrelated to A Dame To Kill For and are being picked up much later with no logical reason we’re now sat waiting for a second conclusion we weren’t aware we were due earlier.
The slavish devotion to recreating the comics for A Dame To Kill for means it wasn’t reworked to tie into the newer stories. If it had been they could have, maybe, presented this as one complete late with interweaving plots. Maybe having the bulk of A Dame To Kill for earlier on with elements of that being worked into the original plots. Then the finale of A Dame To Kill For could have been integrated into the other stories in a more logical manner.
That devotion to the comics style as far as aesthetics go is still, mostly, excellent here. I’m not a big fan of overly digital looking films but when trying to recreate the harshly, clean lined, black & white style of Frank Miller’s art it can work very well with this sort of digital film making. There’s few moments where the film creates some really nice imagery, such as when we see Roark playing a high stakes game of poker and all the chips on the table create the effect of a city skyline. A blunt but simple symbolisation of the powers controlling the city. There’s also a number of shots that are just a mess though. One where Nancy creeps her way down a hallway looks incorrectly scaled and angled, coming across like an image from a 90s interactive movie with it’s awkward digital sets. Mickey Rourke looks uncomfortable as Marv in many of the action shots showing none of the brutal grace he had in the previous film. He also looks clearly older and wider than he did before. A case of a sequel coming quite a few years too late. The added make-up to his face really not helping.
A number of characters have been recast, although mostly with logical reason. The hulking Manute is now played by Dennis Haysbert, what with Michael Clarke Duncan being all dead and such. Dwight is now played by Josh Brolin, which, again, is logical as he had had his face changed prior to the events of The Big Fat Kill in the first film. Although that moment happens here and rather than Clive Owen being asked to play post surgery Dwight we get Josh Brolin with a slightly different chin and nose and a slightly silly looking haircut. That moment where his new face is revealed is even shot like we were meant to see a new actor in the role. As if it would be a big reveal. It didn’t work. Miho has been recast as Jamie Chung due to Devon Aoki being all pregnant and stuff. All this recasting creates a sense of disconnect from the first film, but that’s the price you risk paying when making a sequel nearly 9 years later. Oh, and Bob is now Jeremy Piven for reasons.
Performances are standard Noir theatre stuff. Full of cliché lines and cornball delivery. Some of it works but there’s a sense of boredom coming from a lot of the narration. There’s no moments such as the “All or nothing days” speech of the first film. It’s all just words with all the style but half the delivery. That said, Joseph Gordon-Levitt’s Johnny really fits in perfectly and he’s probably the film’s highlight. Full of unbroken confidence but experience laden awareness of the dangers of Sin City. He probably comes the closest to having actual memorable moments. Cameos abound with the likes of Ray Liotta, Christopher Lloyd and even Lady Gaga making appearances. Even Miller and Rodriguez get self congratulatory cameos. Although probably undeserved. Stacy Keach is in there hidden under a tonne of make-up to play Wallenquist, who’s a typical bloated walking boil of a man. Oddly there’s no effort made to make his body match the size of his head and as such he looks like a Sontaran from Dr Who.
The few moments where the film pulls off the same sort of panache as the first Sin City are too few and far between. The cast seems tired and our connection to them isn’t helped by a structure that hinders the overall film more than it helps. It feels like they went with that anthology of tales approach entirely because the first film did. Overall the film is just largely boring, which sounds like insanity when compared to how engrossing the first was. I’ve made a lot of comparisons to the original here but it’s because these two films show how easy it is to stumble off that fine line between brilliance and disaster. It’s been so long since Rodriguez made an actually good film that I’m beginning to wonder if he could ever make one again. He certainly can’t sharing the director’s chair with Miller who, let us not forget directed the incredibly bad The Spirit. Rodriguez needs to stop making films in front of green screens, stop being so lazy, and make something from scratch again. Sin City always felt fake, it had to, but now it’s lost it’s soul. That was never an issue for Rodriguez in his early days. Sin City without its soul and energy is just a digital film project and a self congratulatory circle jerk of random friends.