Movie Review: “Sin City: A Dame to Kill For”

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Back in 2005, the first “Sin City” film was a match made in movie heaven.

Take one of the most influential figures in comic book history in Frank Miller, add one of the most creative cinematic forces in recent times in Robert Rodriguez, combine them both with some of the newest groundbreaking, state-of-the-art film making techniques, and top it all off by rounding up some of the most talented (and hippest) actors working in Hollywood today.

The results were exactly what you’d think they’d be. The film was innovative — a feast for the eyes and ears. Every second

A still from "Sin City: A Dame to Kill For"

See, there’s that spot of color I was talking about…

was better than the next; no wasted motion whatsoever. The movie may have been broken down into four distinct segments, but they melded together to form one gloriously filthy tale. The depraved world of Basin City came alive on screen and I would say it did so in glorious technicolor, but the film was presented in rich black-and-white tones. However, each scene provided one or two moments of subtle, yet noticeable color. It was an awesome spectacle — a mixture of both Miller’s (on the page) and Rodriguez’s (through the lens) visionary styles.

As far as the cast of characters were concerned, the bad guys were deplorable human beings, but the so-called “heroes” were even more so.  That being said, each one was more memorable than the next. The whole narrative came together like one big puzzle with gnarly, jagged edges jutting out from each individual piece. For a chancy, artistic piece that may have cost a small fortune ($40 million budget), it was fairly successful at the the box office (almost $75 million domestically) and even more so in terms of DVD and Blu-ray sales. It even spawned an “Unrated Version,” which was almost 30 minutes-longer in length.

“Sin City” has since become a cult classic, while also sparking a Hollywood movement that simultaneously brought more of Miller’s work to the big screen (including “300” and its sequel “300: Rise of an Empire”), while allowing him to leave the drawing board and occupy the director’s chair with his 2008 cinematic adaptation of Will Eisner’s “The Spirit.” More importantly, Rodriguez’s green-screen wizardry started a new movement of filmmakers (like Zach Snyder) who combined unorthodox comic book material with CGI-heavy camera techniques.

I think it’s safe to say that the first “Sin City” was an extremely popular AND an important part of modern day cinema.

So why did it take almost a decade to release a sequel?

“Sin City 2″ OR “Sin City: A Dame to Kill For” has been in the works for a few years now.

While never changing directors (Rodriguez has ALWAYS been the mastermind behind this franchise), the cast has gone through quite a few changes since the first film debuted back in ’05. A few characters in the second film have been replaced by new actors and a few other chosen actors have been forced to drop out due to personal and/or medical reasons. Despite all the casting changes, the original spirit (no pun intended) of Miller’s sordid series of graphic novels are all here, as is Rodriguez’s awe-inspiring take on these awful people, the awful things they do, and the awful, awful place they inhabit.

That being said, it doesn’t quite reach the level of masterpiece that the first film reached. It may come awfully close, but the second trip to Sin City just doesn’t produce that same level of awe that the first one did. It’s like that first time you visit New York City. You see the Statue of Liberty, the Empire State Building, and the Chrysler Building. You traipse through Times Square and strut down Broadway until your neck hurts from looking up and/or you get whiplash from looking right and left SO often However, the second time you visit you start to notice the wizard behind the curtains is just not AS awe-inspiring as he once was.

The same can be said about this particular trip to Sin City. The characters may be the same, the sights may be the same, but it all seems a little too familiar. That was the biggest plus when it came to the first film. It was something we’d never seen before as a collective effort. I mean it wasn’t the first time we’ve seen a bunch of different tales come together in one big, non-linear story. It also wasn’t the first time we’ve seen anti-heroes take on the role of good guys, even ones as nasty as this. We’ve also seen villains who were THIS evil in other, similar films (although “Yellow Bastard” is pretty damn memorable) and we’ve even seen settings which were dripping with this much funk before as well (“Blade Runner” immediately springs to mind). But, in total, we’d never seen all of these elements presented in this type of technically-proficient manner like the first film did.

Personally, I’d never seen anything like “Sin City” before and watching it in the theater back in ’05 absolutely blew me

A still from "Sin City: A Dame to Kill For"

Looks like an extra from “Kick Ass,” doesn’t it?

away. On the flip side, I didn’t wind up feeling this particular level of emotion after watching “Sin City: A Dame to Kill For.” Maybe it was the unshakable and overwhelming feeling of deja vu I was experiencing or maybe it was the fact that “Part 2″ was presented in much more of a prototypical straightforward manner, but my return trip to Sin City didn’t leave my neck sounding as much like a ratchet as the first film did.

While “Sin City” presented four, unique stories, which finally came together and made sense in the end, the second film had more of a traditional narrative. “Sin City” was a unique take on the anthology film as all four stories featured the same characters and rotated around the same general setting, but “Sin City: A Dame to Kill For” doesn’t present its four tales as wholly separate entities. Its really one story with characters jumping in and out as they please. Its not as innovative and original and I assume it was made in this way in order to attract more of a mainstream audience than the first one had. It might work, but in the long run it simply dulls the sharpness that the first one possessed. It’s simply not as entertaining.

Just like “Sin City,” “SC: A Dame to Kill For” is all about the characters and the actors that portray them. Every single person gives it their all and bares their soul onscreen for Miller and Rodriguez. And in the case of the gorgeous Eva Green — who plays rich-bitch, femme fatale Ava Lord — she bares much more than her soul. In fact, for all you Eva Green lovers out there, I’m pretty sure her character is sans clothes for about 80-percent of the time — at least. While this might be good news for the men in the audience (which will probably make up a good portion of the paying customers), the women might not be as keen on the primitive way women are portrayed. Every woman is either a jealous monster, a wealthy Jezebel, or a backstabbing stripper/hooker. Seriously, when it comes to female characters — that’s it. Not exactly a film you’d show your niece/daughter in their search for role models.

Granted, there is quite a bit of eye candy for the women to gawk at. Josh Brolin takes over for Clive Owen in the role of

Mickey Rourke and Josh Brolin in "Sin City: A Dame to Kill For"

The Wrestler meets The Goonies.

Dwight McCarthy — a former criminal-turned-paparazzi who’s lovelorn and stuck on Green’s character, which comes with a hefty price. While Brolin does an admirable job replacing Owen (he might have the gravelly voice down pat) but he just doesn’t have the emotional gravitas to pull it off. However, makeup master Greg Nicotero does an impressive job at making him LOOK like Owen’s character from the first film. While I won’t tell you WHY he looks like this, anyone’s who seen the first film will know why.

The rest of the ensemble cast does their job at an exceptionally high level, but there are a few that really stand out. Mickey Rourke looks like he’s having the time of his life playing Marv  once again — the gruff, beastly thug with a heart of gold and a VERY poor memory (or a “condition,” as he calls it). That is, if you can recognize him. Once again, Nicotero and company really nail the look of comic book-version of Marv. They also nail the look of Herr Wallenquist — a hulking slob of a man played by an unrecognizable Stacy Keach (who happens to be much more recognizable in this week’s “If I Stay”). Also standing out are Green, Brolin, Jeremy Piven (who takes over for Michael Madsen as Bob the cop) and Christoper Meloni (who plays Bob’s adulterous and highly-stressed partner Mort).

But the two actors (and the segment) that steals the show are Joseph Gordon-Levitt and celebrated character actor Powers Boothe. In the segment called “The Long, Bad Night” (which was written by Miller JUST for this film), Gordon-Levitt plays the slick and cocky Johnny — a low-level hood who waltzes into a familiar strip joint (the same one — Kadie’s — as in the first film), cleans out TWO different slot machines with only TWO shiny dollars, waltzes into the back room with a hooker named Marcy (Julia Garner) on his arm, and targets powerful/ruthless politician Senator Rourke with an impromptu poker challenge.

Although I won’t tell you how things work out for Johnny and Rourke, I will say that both actors have a blast with this

Eva Green and Stacy Keach in "Sin City: A Dame to Kill For"

Believe it or not that’s Stacy Keach under all that makeup… on the right, not the left.

scenario and in turn we have a blast watching it. This is easily the most entertaining of all four and I wish there was more of it to lap up. The stand-offs between Johnny and Rourke (who fans will recognize as Yellow Bastard’s bastard daddy from the first film) are absolutely delicious. They were tense and brilliantly realized, especially the gag in which a miniaturized Johnny is quartered by some playing cards-turned-ninja stars. It’s a crowd-pleasing moment if ever I’ve seen one.

There are a few letdowns as far as the characters and the actors who portray them. Rosario Dawson is embarrassingly one-dimensional as Gail the Valkyrie-like hooker warrior… and Dwight’s ex-girlfriend, while Dennis Haysbert can’t seem to step out of his All State shadow (or the late Michael Clarke Duncan’s either) as Manute — Ava’s masochistic bodyguard. However, it’s Jessica Alba who’s absolutely terrible in her reprisal in the role of Nancy Callahan — the stripper with booze, Bruce Willis and revenge on her mind. She’s out of her depth when she has to do anything but dance, gyrate her hips and/or look pretty and the way in which she drunkenly slugs a fifth of vodka from her big-ass bottle is borderline ridiculous. I’m not sure WHY Rodriguez loves to use her in so many of his films (“Sin City,” “Machete,” “Machete Kills,” etc.), but he apparently does. It’s mind-boggling that she was THE best choice for this role. I beg to differ.

All in all, in my return to Sin City I was met with familiar people, places and things, which wasn’t necessarily a bad thing

Jessica Alba slugs vodka in "Sin City: A Dame to Kill For"

I just had to show the ridiculousness of it all.

though. However, when I got there, everything seemed slightly less impressive this time around. It was still just as dirty and grimy as I remembered it, but there was a new, neglected quality to this filth, which was kind of disappointing to be quite honest. I was expecting some new sights, fresh characters and precarious situations to indulge in, but what I got was more of the same. While it was nice to see the sights again, I simply wanted (and needed) more.

“Sin City” was very close to a perfect film and “Sin City: A Dame to Kill For” seemed like a faded photocopy compared to it. To be honest, I expected more from two brilliantly artistic men at the top of their game with nearly ten years to get it right.

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