13 September 2014
So, it turns out there is a window of opportunity to make a sequel to a popular ‘R’ rated movie. Based on the abysmal performance of the latest Sin City, that window is a little less than 10 years. I’d like to tell you that, by being one of the few that held out hope for this sequel, waiting almost a decade and ignoring my worries about a Sin City sequel that spent a lot more time on new stories than the comic book originals, my patience and hope paid off. Sadly, this is not the case… at least, not for the most part.
To start, I’ll repeat a previous remark that bears repeating. Sequels, especially ones that are supposed to get nasty, are expected to up the ante. Stakes should be higher, gore should be bloodier, nudity should be far more frequent, etc. If this doesn’t occur, audiences will leave the theatre either feeling that they were fed, at best, an unnecessary sequel that was more of the same or, at worst, something that falls far short of the original. Aside from a few high points, A Dame to Kill For is defined by this flaw.
Copying the style of the last feature, this movie opens with a short story prologue and then gives short introductions to each story thread before returning for their conclusions. Where the last movie felt pretty even, each story having its own particular strengths while not necessarily overshadowing the other, A Dame to Kill For has a monumental peak during its title-giving story and then lulls throughout the rest.
Our Marv (Mickey Rourke)-driven prologue (get used to Marv in this one, Rodriguez must’ve loved him and has chosen three stories that give him a featured role) finds the indestructible, sadistic do-gooder hunting down a pack of frat boys; he looks for vengeance, searches for the backstory behind his constantly lapsing memory and for an answer to why they called him Bernie. It’s funny, cute, gory as usual and works well on its own (it’s probably one of the best short stories from the original comics), but is ultimately forgettable by the end of the movie.
Joseph Gordon Levitt stars in his story as Johnny; a man so lucky at gambling, it almost seems like a superpower. His character is reminiscent of the luck stealers from Intacto. Johnny starts off looking like a too-cool-for-school (people still say that, right?) hustler trying to get ladies and win money. As the story unravels, it’s revealed that he’s really trying to show up the villainous Senator Roarke (Powers Boothe), without any real regard for the consequences. This is actually a pretty cool story and even has a too short cameo from Christopher Lloyd, but is also represents the start of the movie’s troubles.
Overall, this story’s conclusion makes its own protagonist come off as pretty stupid and makes its own storyline seem redundant and pointless. Not that it’s bad on its own, but it doesn’t really match the tone or usual closure of the rest of the Sin City stories. This feels like it would be more at home as an episode of Tales from the Crypt than in Sin City.
Additionally, it also creates a gaping character flaw in Senator Roarke. For a man who has been built up as someone incredibly powerful and smart over two films, it doesn’t seem to jibe that he would choose to play his poker games unprotected in a Sin City dive bar. I mean, for god’s sake, his whole family lives in elaborate mansions that are usually surrounded by armed guards and here he is, marching into the back room of the infamous Kadie’s Bar, with the rest of the most powerful men in the city.
Now we get to the crux of the problem with our remaining two stories. The stories mentioned earlier are decent on their own but, based on their length and simple plot elements, are merely opening appetizers that are supposed to supplement the two main features. The issue is that A Dame to Kill For and the penultimate chapter Nancy’s Last Dance are so vastly imbalanced that it upends the entire movie.
Our title story, features (spoiler… sort-of, and expect even bigger ones ahead) a young Dwight McCarthy that looks nothing like the one from the last movie (he’s played by Josh Brolin and his looks do make sense based on the story). He is a bottom-feeding photographer that is looking to hide his unknown, and seemingly monstrous, past. Enter Ava, who is played by Eva Green (which is both awesome casting due to both the similar names and the awesome job that she does in this role), who presents the facade of a damsel in distress, but turns out to be the ultimate manipulator of almost succubus-like proportions.
The tale is simple, violent and, I’ll guiltily admit, the most misogynistic story in a series that’s defined by it (but it’s Frank Miller folks… if you’re sensitive to gender issues, his name alone should make you grimace). But, it’s also the one story that really stands out with a good and familiar hero, one of the City’s most menacing villains, some legitimately shocking (albeit, a little silly) moments for virgins to this story and the most stunning visuals in the whole feature.
The first Sin City really made heads turn in its ability to reproduce comic panels almost exactly and it is in this story where this strength really pays off. This is most noticeable in Eva Green’s scenes because she appears to be the first actress in these movies who is willing to be nude as often as Miller originally drew the character (yes, I am giving extra kudos to a film for its use of nude scenes, I am a monster and will be the first one to admit it). The way she displays herself… constantly, while being an important part of her almost goddess(or demoness)-like ability to manipulate is also when the movie feels its most artistic. At one point, the film reproduces a shot of Ava, full frontal, in the foreground of a ludicrously large moon that so exactly captures the original panel that it is astonishing.
One issue I had with this story as told in the movie is that after Dwight receives his facial reconstruction surgery (remember those spoilers I warned you about) he reappears as a slightly different-looking Josh Brolin. Unlike in the comic, where the facial features were so different, there was no visual way to tell it was the same character, the movie tries its hardest to change Dwight’s face to something different, but presents us with a character who is still obviously Josh Brolin. I don’t know why the movie couldn’t get Clive Owen to play Dwight again, but I was expecting to see him and was honestly disappointed when he didn’t show up. This not only might have actually managed to fool a few people, but would’ve better linked up this sequel with the first film. Also, just Brolin looks plain silly in his final form (DBZ reference!).
Following what was the most remarkable part of the movie, our audience now craves a conclusion story and climax that’ll knock this one out of the park. In the last film, That Yellow Bastard paired an intense climax of shocking and disgusting brutality with a conclusion that had such real emotion that it was legitimately heartbreaking. Yes, I know that doesn’t count the epilogue, but I attribute that part as a necessary pre-credits breather due to the preceding events. The sequel, trying to mimic the feel of the last movie, concludes on Nancy’s Last Dance and it falls so flat that you can almost hear it THUD when it goes to black.
To start with, the story features serious continuity errors. These are especially apparent because the Sin City series is usually so vague with its timeline that continuity doesn’t normally become an issue. First off, the story dates itself by having Marv in it. This places it sometime between That Yellow Bastard and The Hard Goodbye. It then presents us with a glaring issue with Marv’s reaction to Nancy saying that they need to kill Senator Roarke. He replies with a simple nod, which bothers me because, in the later occurring story, he is so shocked by hearing that he has to kill Roarke that he shows one of his few moments of weakness. Why would he be so shocked in The Hard Goodbye that he had to kill a Roarke when he had already assisted in killing another earlier? Then, Nancy, for some unknown reason, cuts her face up in this story (I guess crazy people do that sometimes?). Well, Nancy must have access to the same face doctor as Dwight because she certainly looks unscathed later on. Not to mention that Nancy’s Last Dance is a total misnomer considering that she goes back to dancing at Kadie’s.
While the large and ugly preceding paragraph may just be a case of my inner nerd flaring up, this story really is lackluster. Nancy, like a second rate Hamlet, has an inner debate throughout of whether she should kill Senator Roarke (which apparently has no repercussions whatsoever!) or just drink and stay depressed forever.
Finally, after dilly-dallying (what? People don’t say that anymore either?) for quite some time, her hand is forced and she enlists Marv’s help to get the guy. So we are treated to a storm-the-castle situation that is incredibly repetitive, seeing as we not only saw it happen in the last movie, but we saw an incredibly similar situation and team up between Dwight and Marv not just 45 minutes ago.
The action sequences are same-ol’, same-ol’ and less violent than we have seen before, and nothing of memorable visual resonance occurs and even the abnormally entertaining faux-noir monologues cease to replicate their original splendor. What this feels like is someone going through the motions, and struggling, to create a new Sin City story, but the magic isn’t there anymore.
Once Nancy and Marv run through the mansion, killing the same faceless, armed guards we’ve seen a million times before, Nancy alone proceeds into Roarke’s lair. She’s caught off guard, and it seems like Roarke will win after all (even though we already know she doesn’t die, so there goes any tension that this scene might’ve had). Roarke falters when he sees a vision of Hartigan’s ghost (Bruce Willis) and Nancy takes that opportunity and shoots him. The movie immediately stops. No elaborate kill, no vaguely poetic noir monologue, no real closure. It. Just. Stops.
I don’t think I can make the disappointment of this ending any clearer than that. It’s like Rodriguez and Miller realized that there was no realistic way to get Nancy and Marv from this moment to the next time they’re together in The Hard Goodbye, so they just decided to roll credits and hope for the best.
So, barring the disgraceful finale, we’ve got two half-decent, yet short, stories and one really good yarn. Considering the fact that this one is already considerably shorter than the first movie (and feels that way), that doesn’t leave us with a lot to work with. One could watch these shorts as three separate vignettes and gain some casual enjoyment, but it won’t come close to replicating the glee that the first film managed to muster from its viewers (myself included). Had I known, almost 10 years prior, of the sub-par sequel that would follow, I would’ve never wanted a return to Sin City on the silver screen. Instead, I watched and waited for this moment to come for, what feels like now, far too long.