Genre: Crime, Thriller
Directed by: Frank Miller & Robert Rodriguez
Starring: Mickey Rourke, Jessica Alba, Josh Brolin, Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Rosario Dawson
The first Sin City, released in the summer of 2005, was a wake up call for the comic book movie. Adapted from Frank Miller’s pulpy graphic novel series, director Robert Rodriguez (along with co-director Miller) delivered a visually stunning adult comic book movie, loaded with excessive violence and incredibly amoral characters, and not a single spandex clad superhero in sight. At the time, that was something quite welcome indeed. Beautifully realised, it was a comic book movie in its purest form, perfectly translating panels to screen.
Now, nine years later and after lots and lots of talk, Rodriguez and Miller have finally delivered the follow up, complete with the same characters, black and white pulp noir visuals, and hard-boiled attitude that made the first movie such a blistering success. Yet, it seems that Sin City: A Dame To Kill For has not been greeted with the same whirlwind appreciation as its predecessor. Reviews have been decidedly lukewarm and the film has earned less than ten million dollars in its opening weekend in the US. So what went wrong?
Well, as it turns out, many things. The nine years since the first movie’s release have not been kind to the bleak, moralistic world of Basin City and its inhabitants. With Marvel asserting their dominance over the comic book movie scene, and where a talking tree and gun-toting raccoon are the comic book stars of the day, the world of Sin City now feels utterly lifeless and out-dated.
Using the same narrative cue as its predecessor, Miller and Rodriguez tell four different stories. There’s the prologue, featuring Mickey Rourke’s hulking Marv and Josh Brolin stepping in for Clive Owen, and then there’s Miller’s two original stories; one involving cocky gambler Johnny (Joseph Gordon Levitt), the other following Jessica Alba’s Nancy Callahan, still reeling from the loss of her one true love, John Hartigan.
Visually, the film is beautiful to look at once again. Rodriguez and his visual effects team have brought to life the bleak, unsettling world of Miller’s series. With its extreme use of shadows and luscious symbolic moments of colour, this is film noir taken to beautiful and violent extremes. Any single frame wouldn’t look out of place in an art gallery. However, when the best thing to say about a movie is what it looks like, we’ve got a problem.
The narratives this time around are incredibly weak and stunted, with Joseph Gordon Levitt’s storyline getting the raw end of the stick. As high stakes poker player Johnny, Levitt is not given much to work with, his narrative being the weakest of a weak bunch. The titular Dame To Kill For storyline, while paying homage to those great film noirs of the forties, feels woefully dated in today’s world of super soldiers and Star-Lords.
By the time the final white coloured blood bath commences, I was already bored, checking my watch and longing for the credits to roll. The film’s pulpy, noir dialogue feels unintentionally comical at times and it would no doubt read better on the page of a graphic novel than heard out loud on the big screen.
The main issue here goes back to those nine years slotted in-between the two films. In that intervening time, audiences have been fed with a maelstrom of superheroes, all grounded in some form of gritty reality. Plus, with a hunger that is now brewing for a female led superhero movie, a film which overtly sexualizes women – removing all sense of purpose beyond that of eye candy – is something that I don’t think today’s cinema going audience will much respond to.
Eva Green’s femme fatale, the titular Dame, exemplifies this. A sexual siren, a goddess as one character describes, who makes slaves of men. In this day and age, when characters such as Katniss Everdeen and Black Widow are populating our screens, and Marvel and DC face constant backlash for not making a female centred superhero movie, the old school archetypes that populate Sin City: A Dame To Kill For feel outmoded.
Likewise, Rosario Dawson’s Gail, a once powerful, almost tribal-like warrior goddess, defending her turf from sadistic gangsters in the first movie, is reduced to nothing more than glorified eye candy with a gun. Even poor Jessica Alba, who does her best with a more complex version of Nancy, spends almost a quarter of her storyline dancing half naked on the stage for the film’s adolescent male audience to gawk over.
In spite of these weaknesses, the actors do their best with what they have to work with. Mickey Rourke is the stand out once again, while Eva Green builds on the villainess role she started in 300: Rise of an Empire, and Jessica Alba brings a rawness to her performance that we’ve not seen before.
Sin City: A Dame To Kill For never feels like an expansion or a step forward into the world that was so beautifully rendered nine years ago. Rather, it feels like a step backwards, committing more sins than it would care to admit.