The fact that a sequel to Sin City came out this year is actually really weird to me. The first one came out in 2005, and for those of you who can’t count, that’s 9 years ago. In entertainment years, that is an eternity and a half. When the first movie came out the most recent Batman movie was Batman and Robin and the most recent Marvel movie was Ang Lee’s Hulk. Two of the main-ish actors have died, and a third retired from acting. The film landscape has changed so much that it’s basically unrecognizable. Even in the lead up I got the distinct feeling that the moment for this movie might have passed. Still I did vow to keep that from influencing my opinion about this movie.
Like the first one, this film is more of an anthology film than anything else. The plot is actually 3 plots taking place in the absurdly violent and corrupt film-noire city of the title. The first and largest is the titular one: Dwight (Josh Brolin) runs into an ex-girlfriend Ava (Eva Green) who claims to need his help escaping her psychotic new husband. In the second, an overly cocky gambler Johnny (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) wins a ton of money from a corrupt senator and winds up in over his head. In the third, Nancy Callahan (Jessica Alba) schemes to get revenge for Det. Hartigan’s (Bruce Willis) death from the previous movie.
The most depressing thing about this movie is that all of its good aspects are small and isolated, whereas all of its negative aspects are big structural things. It’s by no means a great, or even very good movie…okay, it is kind of a bad movie, but it looks worse at first blush than it actually is because its issues are so much larger and more obvious than the good parts.
Since the movie is technically an anthology film I suppose I should tackle the stories individually. The first one I want to talk about is Joseph Gordon-Levitt’s story, since it’s the only story without any previous connection to the comic (although only Dwight’s is already a comic). The story itself is interesting but it doesn’t fit very well in the Sin City universe. It’s much more of a straightforward film noire story without any of Sin City’s styles or ticks.
It doesn’t help that the story gets cut in half (the first half plays followed by Dwight’s story, then the second half). I get the idea to imitate the way Hartigan’s story played out in the first Sin City, but Hartigan’s stop point was a natural stopping point and even seemed, on first viewing to be the actual end. Johnny’s story just sort of abruptly stops midway through everything and then resumes when Dwight’s story is over. As I said it’s an interesting enough story on it’s own and Levitt is really into it (plus it has an awesome cameo from Christopher Lloyd) but it feels really weird and isolated, and doesn’t really fit. Maybe it needed to be expanded into its own movie? I dunno, moving on.
Next up is Nancy’s story (yes I know I’m going in a weird order, shut up). I don’t want to be mean but it was a bad decision to entrust so much of this story to Alba’s ability to act, because she really, really, really can’t. Her attempts to act as ‘drunk, angry bad girl’ are so hilariously awful that it almost makes up for how unconvincing it is. Having Bruce Willis show up as basically a mix of a ghost and a memory is a weird choice and it doesn’t work very well (even if it did make me think that Alba should be informing us that she sees dead people). It’s got a couple of good moments, like Alba wielding that ridiculous pump action crossbow but it ends up feeling kind of unnecessary and weird. Never mind that it f**ks the continuity of the whole thing basically beyond repair.
With those two out of the way, it’s easy to see how Dwight’s story wound up getting title billing, because it’s easily the best of the bunch, even while it too is imperfect. It’s got a bunch of returning favorite characters of mine and the most complete story, even while it balances that out with negatives. For example, it’s nice to see Miho again (she was always my favorite character) but even if Jamie Chung did play one of maybe 3 interesting characters on Once Upon a Time, she’s not as good in the role as Devon Aoki.
The big selling point is Eva Green as a femme fatal (come to think of it, very similar to her character from 300: Rise of an Empire…so I guess she’s now mandatory for Frank Miller sequels no one really asked for). And for the record, she is pretty exceptional in the role, turning in the same kind of incredibly committed performance she did in 300 but this time in service of a better story and character, not saddled with an overly sympathetic backstory. She eats up the entire screen when she’s on and does more than anyone to make this movie worthwhile.
The rest of the characters are more of a mixed bag. Josh Brolin is pretty good as Dwight, but he’s not as fun as Clive Owen, even while he’s a better actor (and it’s irritating that they didn’t bring Owen back for post surgery Dwight). Mickey Rourke is still on point as Marv and it’s fun to watch him fight Manute, although Dennis Haysbert is not as impressive a presence as Michael Clarke-Duncan. Rosario Dawson is a gift though, and great to have back in this movie.
Aside from that, it’s pretty mixed across the board. The screenplay is about as good as you can expect a Sin City script written by Frank Miller (whose insanity I am trying desperately not to directly address in this review) to be. The action is pretty good but…well, this might seem like an odd complaint, but it’s not funny. A lot of the more over the top or violence sequences in the first Sin City were played for morbid laughs (see: the entire scene with Dwight and Jackie’s corpse in the car). This movie’s tone is much darker and more serious, which is at odds with the occasionally silly action. It’s not a deal breaker but by the end of the third act, the clash in tone was beginning to test my patience.
This review sounds a lot more down that I intended, but honestly it’s just how I feel when I give this movie any thought. The aesthetic is still fun, but it seems more self indulgent and, dare I say, trying too hard. Sin City: A Dame to Kill For might be the most disappointed I’ve been by a movie this year. Oh it’s not the worst movie I’ve seen, not by a long shot, but I did go into it with some hopes, as I did quite like the first one. But unless you’re really dying to see Eva Green acting her ass (and the majority of her clothes) off, then you’d be much better off just watching the first one on DVD.
Elessar is a 24 year old Alaskan born cinephile and the bar where Nancy works is the worst place to go to see strippers ever: no one ever takes their clothes off.
– good action
– pretty good acting
– Eva Green is awesome in it
– feels disjointed, even more than the first one
– tone feels off
– seriously, Jessica Alba is an awful actress