For the past few weeks, I was breathless with anticipation for the sequel to 2005’s Sin City. I read the books and re-watched the original and learned that, even almost a decade later, my enthusiasm and enjoyment of the original had not waned in the least. From Jessica Alba’s iconic stripper outfit to Nick Stahl’s take as the maimed & deranged Ethan Roark (aka That Yellow Bastard), the film (as well as the extended version on blu-ray) held my attention from start to finish. Upon the announcement of its sequel and its new casting additions, a wellspring of high hopes bristled inside me.
But unfortunately, that bristling was for naught.
Despite the talent of the cast, Sin City: A Dame to Kill For falls drastically short of its predecessor’s glory. The beginning of the film began with Marv (reprised by Mickey Rourke) and dives head-first into a fast-paced, action-filled narrative peppered with slapstick violence. Stylistically, the film is identical to the original. It’s shot in black & white with occasional nuggets of color along with the essential film-noir aspect. There are four loosely connected storylines in the film: Just Another Saturday Night, The Long Bad Night, A Dame to Kill For and Nancy’s Last Dance. The character of Marv helms the former with him having a drink at Kadie’s Saloon and then killing police and frat boys in a brutal, but expected cartoonish fashion. Rourke is always a treat to watch on screen along with his vocal narration in this storyline. His Marv is seemingly unkillable and kills with blinding accuracy. But, there’s only so many zany deaths I can watch before it becomes redundant.
Don’t get me wrong, though. There was a, pun intended, bright spot in the form of The Long Bad Night. Johnny (played by Joseph Gordon-Levitt) is a cocksure gambler who, most of the time, is able to back up his gumption and luck. After quickly earning enough winnings from a slot machine at Kadie’s , he buys his way into a poker game helmed by Senator Roark (again played with slimy evil by Powers Boothe). There’s a certain chemistry between Boothe and Gordon-Levitt that makes their poker showdowns the most interesting part of the story. After Johnny makes a killing at the table (thus embarrassing Roark), he heeds no warning about fleeing and lets his arrogance get the better of him. Roark, being a power-mad sore loser, catches up to Johnny, has him maimed and reveals that he knows that Johnny is one of his bastard children. But since he considers his dead son Ethan to be his only legitimate offspring, he shows no compunctions at the idea of having Johnny killed. Lady Gaga even makes a cameo as waitress who briefly speaks with Johnny after his torture. This storyline, and its resolution are the most interesting parts of the movie.
The titular storyline, A Dame to Kill For, was the weakest link of the movie, even with the talented actors. In fact, its only saving grace was Eva Green. It takes place years before The Big Fat Kill segment from the first film and the main focus is Dwight McCarthy (played by Josh Brolin, replacing Clive Owen). Dwight’s attempting to go straight as a sober private detective, but ultimately gets dragged back into street life and loses an eye for his trouble. Speaking of which, the cycloptic Manute (played by the All-State guy, Dennis Haysbert, replacing the deceased Michael Clarke Duncan) is quite menacing. Rosario Dawson’s Gail makes a return along with the sword-wielding assassin Miho (played by Jamie Chung). For me, this story of rescue, vengeance and Pyrrhic victory drags on and was the most forgettable portion of the film.
And finally, the woman of the Happy Hour: Jessica Alba’s Nancy Callahan. It’s been four years since John Hartigan (played by Bruce Willis) killed himself to protect Nancy from Senator Roark’s wrath. In Nancy’s Last Dance, Nancy’s now a bitter alcoholic chasing the ghost of Hartigan (who appears in spirit form) and pantomimes with an actual gun aimed at Roark during her stage show. She clearly has demons and wants vengeance on the man who sired the now-dead man who instilled her with said demons. In a drunken stupor, she mutilates herself and enlists the help of Marv to get rid of the Senator once and for all. Seeing Alba portray a woman traumatized by her past abuse was telling. Often, the stereotype for strippers and prostitutes is a sexually-abusive childhood. Here, Alba’s Nancy finally takes the power of her sexuality and puts it in a loaded gun (ironically a phallic symbol). I was 50/50 on how this segment would end and once it was over, I felt relieved.
Overall, the movie was a sheer disappointment. It probably would’ve been marginally better had Quentin Tarantino been asked to be guest director again and if the whole film didn’t feel so…flat. I’m likening it to Kick Ass 2: Sure, there are a few good parts. But ultimately, those parts couldn’t save the film from being an abortive effort. My take? The original should’ve been a stand-alone film.
Sy L. Shackleford is a jack-of-all-trades columnist for Action A Go Go. A UConn graduate with a degree in both psychology and communication sciences, he is a walking encyclopedic repository for all things Marvel Comics, movies, hip-hop, et. al.