Key characters return and new ones emerge in Robert Rodriguez and Frank Miller’s sequel to the excellent Sin City. Ryan Pollard checks out the film…
Back in 2005, Robert Rodriguez unveiled his highly-stylised and obsessively faithful to the source material adaptation on Frank Miller’s well-acclaimed comic series, Sin City. The impact that the director’s green screen technique had on the world of cinema has been widely acknowledged, and rightly so as the visuals were completely innovative. Heavily suspended in that dead zone between real-life performance and animation with heavily stylised black-and-white, and all in the manner of Frank Miller’s original graphic novels, which were basically used as storyboards for the film. Sin City – as well as a handful of other films that were released around that period – opened up the doors in terms of what that technology could offer, presenting the infinite potential to create expansive, entirely imagined, digitally rendered environments. Zack Snyder took that to heart with his bold adaptation of Miller’s 300, and Miller himself attempted that and yet failed in his disappointing solo-debut as a director, The Spirit. There can also be no doubt that – like Batman Begins, which came out around the same time – Sin City paved the way for more darker, more violent and more gritty comic book movies to come, like The Dark Knight and Watchmen.
After many delays and rewrites with the script, Sin City 2: A Dame To Kill For has finally arrived after nearly a decade of patient waiting, and the question is ‘Does the sequel it hold up now considering the nine-year gap?’ Well, the answer to that is that, surprisingly, it doesn’t look or feel as dated as you would might expect. It is in some ways, a prequel-sequel as it picks up plot threads from the first film, and in order to fully understand what’s going on in the sequel, you’ll probably have to go back and re-watch the original before seeing this. As with the first, the film interweaves a collection of Frank Miller’s Sin City tales; two pre-existing stories – “Just Another Saturday Night” and “A Dame to Kill For” – and two original stories that are written specifically for the film – “The Long Bad Night” and “Nancy’s Last Dance”.
Just like in the first film, the stories here still feel like stripped down mini-thrillers that still follow the tropes of film-noir nearly beat for beat. Like the stories in the first film, “Just Another Saturday Night” and “A Dame To Kill For” are perfectly translated from the page to the screen, and the two new stories, even though they don’t add much to the Sin City mythology, feels like being given something fresh and intriguing. However, the only downside in the sequel is that there aren’t really any real surprises or twists that come into play, which wasn’t a problem in the first film, and as a result, it’s ultimately the heightened theatricality of the style and the performances that drives the film. Even though the cocky gambler, Johnny, is a completely brand new character here, Joseph Gordon-Levitt brings that vivid charm to life and makes that character interesting. Jessica Alba offers a completely new take on the character of Nancy Callahan, going from the sweet and angelic stripper to a highly unstable avenging angel.
Whilst Clive Owen is sorely missed here as Dwight, Josh Brolin is a suitable replacement as he nails Dwight’s inner turmoil. Although when his character goes through his transformation, one wonder why they just didn’t bring back Clive as Brolin looks nothing like him. Mickey Rourke returns, as Marv and he hasn’t lost any of the charm that made his character stand out in the first film. The extraordinary makeup on him is as effective as before, and his character still feels like a cross between Borowczyk’s insatiable Bete and Disney’s loveable Beast, and it still provides the perfect vehicle for Rourke’s barely human charms. He might easily have been the stand-out again for the second time if it weren’t for Eva Green’s turn as the titular Dame, Ava Lord, the femme fatale to fatale all other femme fatales.
Like the character of Artemisia in the recent 300: Rise of an Empire (Frank Miller connection), Green has created another great and memorable comic book villain and she IS Ava Lord straight from the pages of Frank’s book, making all the men crumble before her and using her powerful sexuality to get what she wants. She is breathtakingly villainous and captivating to watch as the soulless woman driven by a greed that can never be satiated. It’s the same crazy and trashy material that she was doing in films like Dark Shadows and the recent 300 sequel, and Green has now seemed to have reached the point in her career where she’s prepared to take a role and just pounce on it and tear it to pieces with her claws, like a deranged cat. Whilst there is a lot of violence, there’s also a lot of nudity, and Green spends most of the film completely undressed, whilst rest of the time in various exotic underclothes.
The cast are all aware of what the film’s doing, which is to take these film-noir conventions and blow them up to huge gargantuan proportions. Sure, it may not quite have the impact or the surprise that the first film had, and in the end, it does feel like more of the same, but actually, I’d rather have that because Rodriguez is wanting to go back and keep the same feel of the original, and that is somewhat satisfying. Recently Rodriguez’s career had been sidetracked, firstly with both Shorts and Spy Kids 4, which were both the low points in his career and did it no favours whatsoever. Plus, the Machete films were absolutely self-parodic to the point of total pointlessness, so Sin City 2 is definitely a welcome relief after that.
Though it doesn’t recapture the sense of innovation of the original, Sin City 2: A Dame To Kill For provides an entertaining, though familiar, thrill ride for those anxious to revisit that world after so long, and it does feel like reuniting with an old friend.