“There’s certainly fun to be had with A Dame to Kill For, and its balance of a character-driven narrative and atmospheric tales of revenge and deception is still much-appreciated in my book…”

 

 

by Steve Pulaski

I can compare the reception and the end-result of Sin City: A Dame to Kill For to the long-running animated series The Simpsons, which is now enduring a monstrous marathon on the network FXX, where all five-hundred and fifty-three episodes are being shown consecutively, nonstop, for the next twelve days. The Simpsons is often criticized in its later years for going on too long, not being as funny as it once was, and losing the spark and the magic that it once upheld in the eighties and nineties. There’s some truth to those statements, but the way I see it, The Simpsons is one of the only shows that has remained as consistent from its pilot episode to its most recent episode, bearing mostly family-friendly humor, seamlessly incorporating guest stars in its episodes, and never overemphasizing a cheesy moral at the end of it all.

Sin City: A Dame to Kill For is very similar in the regard that nine years after we were greeted with its predecessor, we are now given a sequel, which isn’t that different from the original, other than some new cast members and a casting change. The problem is, similar to the current state of “The Simpsons,” not many people care anymore; they’ve seen what looked to be the best, have also bared several styles that have copied the original, and don’t care to witness the rest. I can recommend Sin City: A Dame to Kill For to people, but I really can’t criticize their opposition or indifference to the material after an admittedly long wait for a sequel in addition to a style that isn’t as fresh as it once was.

Sin City: A Dame to Kill For
Directed by
Frank Miller & Robert Rodriguez
Cast
Mickey Rourke, Jessica Alba, Josh Brolin
Release Date
22 August 2014
Steve’s Grade: B

The film keeps its anthology story-structure in place as we return to focus on characters like Marv (Mickey Rourke), the brooding, seven-foot-tall Neanderthalic man in leather, known for outrunning policeman and engaging in all sorts of rough-housing, Nancy Callaghan (Jessica Alba), a stripper who is haunted by the ghost of Hartigan (Bruce Willis), the cop she witnessed kill himself, and Dwight McCarthy (now played by Josh Brolin instead of Clive Owen), who is struggling to get rid of past demons and resist but ultimately fall prey to the love bestowed upon him by the sultry seductress Ava Lord (Eva Green).

The big new character we meet, however, is Johnny (the always-welcome Joseph Gordon-Levitt), a cocky young gambler who arrives in Basin City hitting the jackpot on many different slot machines, while taking a young waitress (Julie Garner) under his wing as his good-luck charm. He attracts the attention of the powerful Senator Roark (the equally-welcome Powers Boothe), who is known for holding high-stakes poker games and engaging in brutality as a consequence to cheating on those games. It doesn’t take long for Johnny’s brashness and Senator Roarke’s cutthroat attitude for the two men to clash and loathe each other.


In terms of aesthetic, Sin City: A Dame to Kill For hasn’t changed, with the black and white, saturated cinematography of the film remaining in place. The film still looks like a graphic novel brought to life, dark, moody, and fully complementing the style of film/neo-noir. The film is always appealing to look at, never becoming an eyesore and, like the film before it, surprisingly never becoming so dreary that the life of the experience is drained out.

There’s also much better acting this time around, with Brolin, Gordon-Levitt, and Green bringing something great to the table, especially the two latter actors, who always find ways to achieve greatness in whatever piece they’re working with. Gordon-Levitt can create a character ostensibly erected on stereotypes and vague personality traits into a truly fascinating person, and Green almost consistently manages to be the best part of the films she works in, proving to be more than a sexy body and face by using her talents on-screen to create a vicious, frequently contemptible character, but one that is unfathomably watchable. Then there’s the returning players, like Alba, Boothe, and Rourke, who, by now, know the material inside and out and have a devilishly fun time executing it, especially Rourke, who is unbelievably entertaining and, like Green, shares the title of “performance of the hour.”

While there is definitely less campness to this installment than the first one, which is now traded for much more style and visual flare in terms of action sequences, Sin City: A Dame to Kill For bears an aesthetic that was ironically made more prominent and less magical thanks to the release of other Frank Miller graphic novels-turned-films, like the 300 series and the forgotten Spirit film in 2008. The style of dark and ominous cinematographical work and visuals with animated backgrounds was used in those films too, and the sequel to the film that started it all running nine years late inevitably feels like a tardy ode or homage to the ground explored in that film. There’s certainly fun to be had with A Dame to Kill For, and its balance of a character-driven narrative and atmospheric tales of revenge and deception is still much-appreciated in my book, however, necessary forces in deeming success – like critical/public reception and revenue-streams – will likely prove unkind for this one; maybe even very unkind.