When Sin City was released in 2005, it captured the imagination of both move and comic book fans, drew praise from critics for its ground-breaking visual style and moved Mexican-American director Robert Rodriguez closer to the mainstream than he had ever been before. It was a masterful rendering of the dark, violent world of the graphic novels created by Frank Miller and it seemed certain to all and sundry that a sequel would follow soon after. Well, it has certainly taken much longer than expected, but a follow-up has finally arrived in Sin City: A Dame to Kill For. With Rodriguez sharing directing duties with Miller himself – as was the case with the first film – Sin City: A Dame to Kill For doesn’t waiver from the original with regard to visual style. What Rodriguez and Miller have achieved with the look of the film is again absolutely splendid; the comic-book sensibility front and centre and beautifully articulated once more. However, as good as it is, the fact that they got it so right the first time around means that audiences familiar with the original Sin City will probably not be as awestruck as they perhaps otherwise would be and therein lies the fundamental problem; there is nothing particularly new in what Rodriguez and Miller have produced here.
Drawn from several of Miller’s stories – including two written specifically for the film – Sin City: A Dame to Kill For once again takes us deep into the sinister, lawless, violent world of Basin City. Most of the major players from the original have returned, including hulking loner Marv (Mickey Rourke), stripper Nancy Callahan (Jessica Alba), Senator Roark (Powers Boothe), a ghostly Detective Hartigan (Bruce Willis) and Rosario Dawson’s head honcho hooker Gail, while Josh Brolin replaces Clive Owen as Dwight, a lovelorn loser who is manipulated into misdeeds by femme fatale Ava (Eva Green). Joseph Gordon-Levitt features as Johnny, a cocky gambler who messes with the wrong man when he upstages the corrupt Roark, with Dennis Haysbert filling the shoes of the late Michael Clarke Duncan as the (almost) indestructible Manute. Certainly Rodriguez has assembled a stellar cast, with the likes of Ray Liotta, Jeremy Piven, Stacy Keach, Christopher Meloni, Jaime King, Juno Temple, Christopher Lloyd and Lady Ga Ga all featuring. In fact, much of the fun is not just trying to anticipate who might pop up next, but how long they will last before they meet their maker.
This is film noir writ large; a darker-than-dark story set amidst a society in which sex and violence – far more than words – are the ways in which the numerous nefarious characters communicate. As such, nobody is more articulate than Ava, a sexy succubus who chews men up and spits them out at will. It is interesting that Green spends most of the film naked as Ava, yet Alba’s stripper Nancy never sheds her clothes at any stage. Rendered in black and white with occasional flourishes of colour, the violence is stylised and impossible to take seriously. There are severed heads galore and myriad shootings, stabbings and brutal beatings, but the comic book look keeps it all at an emotional distance. There are some moments of mirth amid the mayhem, such as Johnny’s twisted fingers after a violent confrontation with Roark or Lady Ga Ga’s role as perhaps the most ’normal’ character in the piece, a stark contrast to her more typically outrageous persona. In fact, with the possible exception of Marv, it is hard to like any of the lead characters and that may prove somewhat problematic for some. The film has been labelled as misogynistic in some quarters and, whilst the female characters are highly sexualised, the men here are pretty dumb for the most part, controlled and subjugated by the women.
There is no doubt that Robert Rodriguez is a talented filmmaker who has carved himself a career outside of the Hollywood machine; the output from his Troublemaker Studios is imaginative, diverse and prolific. He also served as cinematographer and editor on Sin City: A Dame to Kill For and also composed the music with regular collaborator Carl Thiel. Anybody experiencing the world of Sin City for the first time with this sequel should be suitably impressed by what Rodriguez and Miller have achieved. For those of us who so loved the originality of the first film, there is something lacking here and it is really hard to pinpoint why it doesn’t resonate as much. Perhaps it is just that, no matter how good it might be, we have seen it all before.