-Richard (Rikun) Jao
I remember the first time I saw the trailer for the first Sin City in all of it's stylish, comic-accurate glory. The cinematography was a gorgeous contrast of black and white, the stories took film noir to a deliciously gritty extreme, and everything about this film felt like a labor of love by Frank Miller and Robert Rodriguez. This movie came out at a time where comic books were slowly crawling back to the silver screen, but still weren't taken as seriously as they would be today. Back then Sin City stood out as an uncompromising cult hit for comic fans and would make Frank Miller a household name, with fans eagerly waiting to see how a sequel would turn out.
It's 9 years later, and a LOT has happened since then: Frank Miller's writing became critically panned, Batman became a dominant force for DC, and the rise of Marvel Studios made its comic movie adaptations more popular than ever before. The world of cinema has changed, and it seems that Sin City: A Dame To Kill For might just be a product of a bygone era.
Like its predecessor, A Dame To Kill For isn't so much one big narrative, but rather a collection of four short stories that paint the atmosphere of the infamous Sin City. Three of them are direct adaptations of the comics while the last one is an original sequel penned by Frank Miller himself. Old favorites like Gail (Rosario Dawson) and Marv (Mickey Rourke) return to the screen, a couple of recasts show up like Dwight (Josh Brolin), Miho (Jamie Cheung) and Manute (Dennis Haybert), and there are also newbloods in the form of Joseph Gordon Levitz as Johnny and Eva Green as Ava Lord, the titular Dame To Kill For. This film touts it's all-star ensemble for all its worth and the performances are exactly as grimy and pulpy as you expect, but special mention has to go to Eva Green's performance that's oozes charisma every minute she spends onscreen. Old fans of Sin City will be happy to see these stories faithfully recreated and may get a kick out of the new original story which explores Nancy Callahan's descent into darkness as she seeks to avenge the death of Hartigan (Bruce Willis), possibly the only perfectly heroic character to ever come from this godforsaken town.
However therein lies the problem lies with A Dame To Kill For: Sin City is simply a place so dark and bleak that it soils everybody it touches. The first time around the film presented itself as a dark parody of film noir that was brutal but fun. This sequel opts to wallow in the city's corruption, showcasing the futility of justice and the death of innocence that deems this place a living hellhole. Nancy Callahan, the relatively innocent stripper in the first film, has become a psychopathic vigilante hellbent on revenge. Johnny, a charismatic slickster who's out to wound Senator Rourke's pride, gets horribly brutalized for his efforts. Even Dwight, the heroic ex-lover of Ava Lord, pulls out every dirty trick in the book only to be duped into murder. The only character that seems to come out relatively unscathed is Marv, but he's a brutish thug who lives for this stuff anyways. Any sense of decency is slowly sapped away, and all that's left are pathetic sheep who will keep marching to their own self destruction the longer they stay in Sin City. Not exactly the feeling you want to have when you leave the theater is it?
Nine years ago Sin City felt fresh for its faithfulness to the books and uncompromising grit in a time where the general public would dismiss comics as frivolous superhero affairs. But now in an age where superheroes have reached a widespread audience by being fun and likable, Sin City's vision of comics as bleak, dark world no longer holds up, and it doesn't help that Frank Miller's misogynistic, borderline racist writing can turn off more people then it draws in. Even though this film has plenty of action and violence, it all feels less viscerally thrilling and more like an uncomfortable exercise in making the audience cringe. The cinematography is still just as stylish and gorgeous to look at as the first film, but scratch the surface and you'll be getting a heaping helping of nihilism at its worst.
For the hardcore Frank Miller fans, A Dame To Kill For will hit the spot. For everyone else, it's probably best to wait for the DVD.