The magic that drew audiences to see the original Sin City in 2005 was that it worked on all levels. It was simultaneously a faithful adaptation of co-director Frank Miller’s moody, inventive neo-noir graphic novels, a noir film itself, and a spectacular parody of its own genre packed with tawdry fun. Its obviously manufactured style captured the claustrophobia of its influences while allowing it to go stylishly over-the-top and giving viewers the thrill of having no idea what might happen next. The anthology structure and abundance of source material made a sequel, maybe even an entire series, all but guaranteed.
Nine years later, Sin City: A Dame to Kill For has finally hit theaters, and it feels less like a long-awaited arrival and more like a term paper that was thrown together at the last second by piecing together previous assignments and using a thesaurus to hide its self-plagiarism. It’s a half hour shorter but drags like crazy, interweaves fewer stories yet ends up more confusing, gives its female characters more screen time but makes them even more superfluous, and improves the visuals but only after sapping the setting of all personality.
A Dame to Kill For follows the original’s interwoven yet independent structure. This worked wonders in the original film by giving the fictional city a sense of life, that there were different neighborhoods and factions with their own stories happening simultaneously. When the characters would lock eyes in Kadie’s bar, it would remind us that their type of gritty, violent stories were the norm in this noir fantasy of a setting. But this time around, the sole uniting factor is that Marv (Mickey Rourke) apparently has nothing better to do than jump in and out of stories that have nothing to do with him. In fact, he uses that excuse several times, and two separate storylines involve Marv breaking into a mansion for somebody else because he’s bored. Joseph Gordon-Levitt’s storyline, “The Long Bad Night,” about a cocky gambler out for revenge is the most thematically taut, but its first and last halves get wrapped around an impossibly long seduction and manipulation yarn, the titular “A Dame to Kill For.”
These faults on the whole would be forgivable if it managed to keep its sense of gleeful grime, but whatever line exists between camp and exploitation, between passion and the male gaze, Sin City: A Dame to Kill For crosses it. Frank Miller’s obsession with prostitutes who worship macho men is well documented, but Gail (Rosario Dawson) was a badass with both brains and body in the last movie, while now she’s subservient because she loves a guy. As for seductress Ava (Eva Green), her character has real potential that starts to get creepy by her fourth nude scene (two of which, we will say, are genuinely gorgeous art), or when she plays into a cop’s power fantasy by accusing another man of rape. That’s not edgy, cinematic bravery, nor is it campy fun. That’s two guys (co-directors Miller Robert Rodriguez) snickering about the fact that they’re getting paid to bro down and make talented actresses do dirty things.
SIN CITY: A DAME TO KILL FOR | RATED R | IN THEATERS NOW