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Review: Sin City: A Dame to Kill For (2014)

Sin City: A Dame to Kill For (2014)

Directed by: Frank Miller and Robert Rodriguez

Premise: A sequel to the 2005 picture. Based on Frank Miller’s graphic novels, the film consists of four stories of the criminals, corrupt politicians, and femme fatales that populate a gritty urban landscape.

What Works: The original Sin City was most distinguished by its style and the sequel continues much of what worked technically and cinematically in the previous film. A Dame to Kill For is frequently visually striking and in that specific regard it sometimes exceeds its predecessor. The people, props, and locations of the sequel reveal added texture and the film uses splashes of color effectively against its otherwise black and white palate. Several of the memorable characters of the previous Sin City anthology return in A Dame to Kill For but the most watchable character in this installment is Ava, played by actress Eva Green. With her roles in the feature film 300: Rise of an Empire, the television series Penny Dreadful, and the Sin City follow up, Green has made herself the go-to actress for femme fatale roles and she dominates this picture. Green gets the joke of Frank Miller’s work and she clearly understands the function of female characters in noir crime thrillers. The actress punches up every scene she is in and along with Mickey Rourke’s Marv, she is one of the only characters that is consistently engaging.

What Doesn’t: When the original Sin City was released in 2005 there was very little like it in the movie marketplace (with the notable exception of 1994’s The Crow). At that time most films based on graphic novels and comic books had realistic styles and were generally made with family audiences in mind. After the breakthroughs of the first Sin City and Batman Begins as well as other edgy comic book adaptations released thereafter like 300, Kickass, and V for Vendetta, the novelty of Sin City has waned. With the sequel coming nine years later, there is little about this film that is novel and even though some of the cinematic techniques have slightly improved, the movie comes across as more of the same. However, the first Sin City was not a great movie only due to its technical faculty. The stories of that film were well told and each narrative had several distinct characters. This is where A Dame to Kill For comes up short. The stories of the sequel are either too much or too little. Since this is an anthology, the stories of Sin City have to be told with great economy and they have to be proportioned to fit within their allotted time. The stories of A Dame to Kill for either too complicated for their brief run or they don’t have anything to them. The narratives are never engaging and despite the abundance of violence there is little sense of escalation in stakes or tension. The sequel also lacks the wit of the original Sin City. The first film had a grotesque beauty to it and the mix of ultraviolence with humor made the film entertaining. In A Dame to Kill For the violence is still excessive but there is very little showmanship to it. The violence—and to a large extent the movie—is just unpleasant. The sequel also suffers from its disappointing character work. It isn’t that the characters of A Dame to Kill for are unlikable; they’re just not very interesting. Everyone feels too similar and with the exception of Eva Green and Mikey Rourke’s roles, no one stands out. All the women are prostitutes, all the men are psychotic, they all seem to be afflicted with the same mental issues, and everyone speaks the same hardboiled, ubermasculine Frank Miller dialect that is supposed to sound tough but frequently sounds silly.

Bottom Line: Sin City: A Dame to Kill For shares the look of the previous film but it has little else that made the 2005 picture so successful. It isn’t just that that the novelty has worn off. A Dame to Kill for comes across as an imitation of the original,  aping the technical style of Sin City but possessing none of the storytelling qualities that made the first film such a great movie. 

Episode: #551 (July 27, 2014)