Sin City: A Dame to Kill For Review

Posted: December 18, 2014 by Daniel Simpson (PG Cooper) in PG Cooper's Movie Reviews

*Spoilers for the original Sin City are alluded to

sc-eva-poster640Written by Daniel “PG Cooper” Simpson

One of the lesser known narratives of 2014 in film has been the rise of the unnecessary Frank Miller sequels. Early in the year saw the release of 300: Rise of an Empire, which did not feature original director Zack Snyder or anyone from the cast of the first film (though that list point makes sense given how 300 ends). The film also had a direct-to-video esque title and the marketing was nothing special. The film wasn’t exactly a success, but it did do respectable business worldwide and while the reviews weren’t great, the audience who sought out the film seemed to enjoy it okay. The other film of this trend is Sin City: A Dame to Kill For, which was quite a different animal from Rise of an Empire. The sequel saw most of the cast of the original returning, as well as co-directors Robert Rodriguez and Frank Miller. Despite what would seem a solid pedigree, the film was ravaged by both critics and audiences while also being a box-office flop. I had serious reservations about the film even before the failure of it so I ultimately decided to skip its theatrical run and wait for home video. I’m glad I did because A Dame to Kill For lives up to its low reputation.

A Dame to Kill For is a half-sequel half-prequel to the original Sin City in that it takes place after certain key stories from the first film, but before others. As such, a lot of the characters we wouldn’t expect to return, like Marv (Mickey Rourke) are back in action. Like the first film, A Dame to Kill For looks at multiple stories loosely connected through setting and characters. The main threads involve: Dwight (Josh Brolin), a private eye roped into a scheme by his ex-girlfriend Ava (Eva Green), now married to a millionaire; Johnny (Joseph Gordon-Levitt), a hot shot gambler in a test of wills with Senator Roark (Stacy Keach); and Nancy Callahan (Jessica Alba) seeking revenge on the aforementioned Roark after the death of John Hartigan (Bruce Willis).

Part of the reason a sequel to Sin City always seemed a poor idea to me is because I know the source material. I read all of the books as a teenager and all of the best stories were adapted in the first film. Any sequel would essentially be the scraps. It seems Miller knew this and decided to write two original storylines for the film, but this is even less encouraging because Frank Miller lost his mind in the 21st century and hasn’t created anything good in a long time. If I were to break down the main stories individually, I’d say the best one, surprisingly enough, is “The Long Bad Night”, which follows Johnny (Joseph Gordon-Levitt), a hot shot gambler in a test of wills with Senator Roark (Stacy Keach). It’s straight-forward and not very substantial, but is engaging and it builds to a nice ending.  Second best would be “A Dame to Kill For” itself, which sees the return of Dwight (Josh Brolin this time around as the character has not had his surgery which will turn him into Clive Owen) as he is lulled into a scheme by his ex-girlfriend Ava (Eva Green). This one is conceptually sound and features some fun performances from Brolin and Green, but is hindered by some really stupid moments and it ultimately adds nothing to Dwight’s character. Worst of all is “Nancy’s Last Dance”, which focuses on Nancy Callahan’s (Jessica Alba) quest for vengeance on the aforementioned Roark after the death of John Hartigan (Bruce Willis) in “That Yellow Bastard”, depicting in the original film.  Simply put, it’s a simplistic revenge film that features no surprises, is tonally unbalanced, and goes against the entire spirit of what it supposedly follows.

The problem isn’t just the details of the stories, but the whole spirit of the project. The original Sin City may be an exercise in style over substance, but not only did I find the stories gripping, but there was a certain dignity, sadness, and soul to that film. A Dame to Kill For on the other hand is extreme and vulgar, designed purely as a vehicle for stylish action and violence. The first film’s signature style has not only been replicated, but enhanced. Violence is even more ridiculous, the colours even more extreme, the action even more over the top. I suppose this is a benefit as the stories don’t maintain interest the way they did in the first one, but it comes off as desperate. Perhaps it’s my fault for taking the first film too seriously, but I felt a little betrayed by how this film took the series and diluted it to a joke. Nowhere is this more evident than the film’s treatment of Marv. Marv may have been a tough son of a bitch and the first film, but he was also a lonely and sad man. He may have had some badass lines and moments, but he was someone to be pitied not celebrated. Here, Marv is essentially used as comic relief. He only exists as a vehicle for violence and mayhem, constantly with a sense of tongue and cheek badassery. When we see the man dual wielding shotguns and senselessly killing thugs, it isn’t a depiction of a tortured soul, it’s a cartoon. Where’s the heart and soul of this character I once loved? This is also felt in “Nancy’s Last Dance”, which follows up the sorrow and regret of “The Yellow Bastard” with a silly revenge tale with the pretensions of tragedy. Additionally, the way the story ends totally goes against the point of “The Yellow Bastard”. It’s like Miller and Rodriguez don’t understand what worked in the first film.

I didn’t completely hate A Dame to Kill For. As I said earlier, “The Long Bad Night” is a genuinely engaging short that surprised me with how it won me over. Also, as much as the over indulgence of violence bothers me, I’d be lying if I said I didn’t enjoy some of the action scenes. These successes might be enough to pass some films, but this is a case where the failures are too egregious for that. The few things it does right were not only matched by the original Sin City, but that film also executed those elements much better than this one did. Not only is A Dame to Kill For an inferior work, but it also completely betrays the reasons I loved the original as much as I do. I can’t let that stand.


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