BWW Review: SIN CITY: A DAME TO KILL FOR Is Paint By Numbers Disappointment
There is a rule that is generally accepted by all movie fans; while a sequel might eclipse its original in box office receipts, merchandise sales, and social media presence, it is only on rare occasions when it can match its predecessor in terms in quality. That rule is especially true when it comes to originals that are marked by an innovation or creative flare that revolutionizes, or defies, its genre. Unfortunately, "Sin City: A Dame to Kill For" is not one of those rare occasions. Titular grammatical error aside, this listless sequel provides none of the awe-inspiring spectacle of its far superior original.
Again directed by both Robert Rodriguez and Frank Miller, who co-helmed the first "Sin City," the script (by Miller) is similar in structure to the original, but never even approaches the creative success that you so desperately want from it. Instead it seems like a rather vanilla paint-by-numbers retread, in which the creative team avoided nearly all color literal and figurative.
In the literal sense, the sequel retains the stark visual palette that is so associated with Miller's graphic novels. The black and white canvas, accented with splashes of color, is the move's strongest trait. Not doing much differently from the previous movie won't score you any points for originality, but, just in terms of the film's overall look, it's still pretty stunning.
Unfortunately, the rest of the production seems as if everything was in service to, or simply relied on, that style, with little effort made at creating satisfying stories. The four separate, but somewhat overlapping, tales do little to create any true investment in their characters. Whether they are motivated by revenge, love, or loss, none of the characters comes near earning any sympathy. The movie's final story, which sees Jessica Alba's Nancy seek vengeance for the death of John Hartigan (Bruce Willis) in the first film, delivers a rather shockingly anticlimactic ending. Even after sitting through five minutes of the credits, I kept expecting there to be something more... anything more.
The cast is led by a glut of generally reliable actors including Eva Green, Powers Boothe, Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Josh Brolin, Mickey Rourke, Denins Haysbert; and has some perennial favorites in supporting roles, like Rosario Dawson, Ray Liotta, Christopher Meloni, Jeremy Piven, Christopher Lloyd; but nearly all either under-deliver or were misused. You might notice that I did not include Alba on either list, that's because I seem to be the only man in the world that has never seen her appeal. Yes, she looks good in her skimpy exotic dancer costumes, but beyond that, her performance does little to elicit even the tiniest of reactions.
On the opposite end of the spectrum was Green, who spent every last (mainly nude) second of her screen time chewing every last ounce of the black-and-white scenery. She gave everything she had to try to save this movie, which is a pretty thankless job for a character as unlikeable as hers. I wanted desperately to root for Green's bad guy, but the script just would not let me like her. It's too bad too, because she was the only character that even approached getting me to care.
In addition to Green, Booth seems to be the only actor not phoning in his performance. Like Green, Booth has ramped up his performance level so high that he makes those around him appear to be sleepwalking. Granted he has made a pretty successful career out of playing slight variations of this same character; but thank goodness for him and Green, because otherwise I might have given up on the film all together.
It's clear that Miller and Rodriguez are trying to recreate the ultra-stylized, uber-violent version of Film Noir that made the first incarnation seem so fresh. However, there were tiny decisions along the way that jolted me clear out of the movie's disturbed version of reality. For example, when Nancy starts dancing to a Steven Tyler song, I was pulled completely out of Basin City, and thrown back into my chair at the movie theater, trying to figure out if this is a new or old Aerosmith song (turns out it's neither, it's a solo song). Similarly, earlier in the film Miller makes an appearance as a patron at Kadie's Bar a la Stan Lee. While I doubt many movie-goers will recognize Miller, this type of overt "wink-wink" fits in an action-comedy like "Guardians of the Galaxy," but here just seems completely inappropriate.
While some of the more artistic displays of blood splattering were humorous, other people in the theater thought it was much funnier than I did. That being typed, coming out of the theatre, while I was disappointed with the movie, I still appreciated the visual style and Green and Booth's over-the-top performances. However, the more I thought about the film, the more some of its subtextual messages began to bother me.
In the Rodriguez and Quentin Tarantino universes of female ninjas and assassins, it's become acceptable for a man and woman to engage in hand-to-hand combat; it is even a sign of the female character's strength. While there is plenty of that in this movie, there are also a handful of violent encounters that are out-and-out displays of domestic violence. With the national conversation about this issue that has been going on this summer, these moments were very difficult to watch, and their impact stayed with me long after the movie ended. Whether or not the female character was someone we are supposed to root for or not, matters not in the least. For a director that so often features strong, independent (albeit usually scantily clad) women, this felt like an unnecessary, and emotionally disappointing, choice.
In the end, despite the glut of violence, the only punches this film lands are in the gut.
Check out the Red Band Trailer below (caution, might not be suitable for all audiences):
"Sin City: A Dame to Kill For" starring Mickey Rourke, Jessica Alba, Josh Brolin, Powers Boothe, Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Bruce Willis, Eva Green, and Dennis Haysbert is Rated R? (for strong brutal stylized violence throughout, sexual content, nudity, and brief drug use). The film is out now nationwide. ?
Did you make the return trip to Sin City? Were you as disappointed and disgusted as I was? Let me know in the comments below, or on Twitter @BWWMatt.