The Movie Review: ‘Sin City: A Dame to Kill for’

A hulking thug out to avenge the death of a woman he spent one night with, a ladies’ man trying to prevent a gang war, and a cop fighting to defend the only innocent citizen of a hellish city. These were the antiheroic centers of Robert Rodriguez’s marvelous 2005 adaptation of Frank Miller’s grim, gritty, blood-spattered comic book miniseries “Sin City.”

Although somewhat forgotten in the superhero-obsessed fandom of the last nine years, the movie was a small hit during its initial run, due in no small part to it’s dark-yet-playful tone and it’s inclusion of one of the greatest ensemble casts in comic book movie history, including an unforgettable appearance by Elijah Wood. There’s no being coy, it’s an awesome movie.

The sequel/prequel/midquel/whateverquel, which snuck into theaters this past weekend amidst surprisingly little fanfare, is something of a disappointment, and not just in terms of it’s box office draw. In fact, it’s somewhat difficult to understand whom the film is directed at.

It would seem, from the lack of advertising and the inclusion of most of the major cast, that the idea is to attract fans of the original. This ignores (as any poor sequel does) that the first film gave each of it’s three stories a proper finale (often ending with the hero dying).

This does not mean a sequel is out of the question, of course. Given that “Sin City” is an anthology, it makes perfect sense to make a new film detailing new characters and new adventures in the setting and style of Frank Miller’s gloriously awful metropolis.

Instead, we are reintroduced to most of the same characters from the original, albeit at different points in time from the original stories and not necessarily played by the same actors. (One character muses at the beginning that without his meds, he “gets things mixed up.” One can relate.) Among them is Josh Brolin as Dwight, in a role that was once played (with considerably more charm) by Clive Owen.

Dwight is a lovesick man who is put in a compromising position by an ex-lover; the femme fatale, and titular (in more ways than one), Dame (Eva Green), making sure the film is not without every noire cliché in the book. This is not a bad story. Occasionally it’s an engrossing one, but it drags a lot, and ultimately pushes credulity (even for it’s material). Unfortunately, it also seems to be the longest of the three subplots, so it leaves the biggest impression.

The second subplot is also the only one to revolve around a new character and an original story, both written by Miller specifically for the film. Not coincidentally, it’s also by far the most interesting subplot of the three, involving an impossibly lucky gambler named Johnny (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) who is trying to make a name for himself in the comic-book world’s most unlucky city.

Maybe it’s Levitt’s infectiously cocky grin, or maybe it’s the fact that he’s the only character that doesn’t solve his problems with guns or fighting or sex, but it should come as no surprise that his story is miles more entertaining than the rest of the movie.

The final story follows Nancy Callahan, the stripper infamously played by Jessica Alba, on a quest for revenge against the most dangerous man in Sin City, Senator Roarke (Powers Boothe), who had but a cameo in the original, and fortunately gets more attention here. Unfortunately, Nancy’s is the worst subplot of all, and not just because it constantly drags Bruce Willis into unnecessary cameos as a grizzled, angry ghost who can only talk to one character (neither of which is entirely new ground for him, I might add). Aside from polluting the point of Willis’s story in the original, it amounts to little more than a depressing, pointless affair that ultimately ends the film on a sour note.

Don’t be mistaken, there are good things. There have to be with something this indulgently dour. Amidst all the masculinity and testosterone, the true star here is Eva Green who, despite spending nearly all of her screen time in the nude (which I hardly criticize), and even more screen time chewing the scenery, very nearly steals the show, much as she did with the “300” movie earlier this year (you know, the other pointless sequel to a Frank Miller adaptation).

Also returning are Rosario Dawson and Jamie King while Dennis Haysbert (better known as the Allstate guy) fills in for the late, great Michael Clarke Duncan. Finally, Mickey Rourke, the most welcome reappearance by far, shows up throughout the film as the psychotic, but gold-hearted thug Marv.

“Sin City: A Dame to Kill For” boasts the same unique visual and writing style that made the original so great, bolstered here by what is truly some of the best 3D I’ve ever seen in a theater. It genuinely looks like a comic book coming to life onscreen.

However, it also squanders a perfectly good setting and atmosphere on characters we didn’t need to see again, stories that should have been left alone, and an outright baffling canon. Worth watching on it’s inevitable run on F/X for the hardcore fan of the original. But otherwise this movie, like the city, should only be visited by those who know what they’re in for.

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