The original "Sin City" dazzled when it was released in 2005. It utilized "green screen" technology to faithfully re-create Frank Miller's trademark comic book aesthetic on the big screen, and it was revolutionary at the time. Here we are, almost a decade later, and the cinematic landscape has changed. We've watched Spartans battle to their deaths in "300" and interacted with an alien race in "Avatar." Comic book movies have become a thriving billion-dollar industry. In light of that, the sequel, "Sin City: A Dame to Kill For," goes back to the well for inspiration but doesn't quite manage to recapture the brilliance of its predecessor.
The movie consists of four segments: two are part of the comic canon, and the other two tales were created specifically for this film. The movie serves as both a prequel and a sequel, and that makes things pretty confusing. The segments aren't shown in a linear fashion, but the original film also told the story out of order, and it managed to frame the scenes well enough to situate the viewer. From the very first scene, "A Dame to Kill For" fails to do that. After you walk out of the theater, you'll get a headache trying to figure out when each chapter occurred in the Sin City timeline.
The quality of the four sections is variable. The first piece, "Just Another Saturday Night," slowly reacclimates us to Miller's world. It provides just the level of violence we'd expect from both "Sin City" and Marv (Mickey Rourke), and out of the four pieces, this one has a vibe that's most reminiscent of the original movie.
"The Long Bad Night" is an original story that introduces Johnny (Joseph Gordon-Levitt), a lucky gambler. Christopher Lloyd has a small role as Dr. Kroenig, and he's delightful. This segment is focused, fun, and doesn't waste any time. If the entire film had been this crisp, it could have rivaled the original film. Unfortunately, it's not.
The titular "A Dame to Kill For" is from the comic, but you have to wonder why Miller and Robert Rodriguez had omitted this in the first go-round. Femme fatale Ava Lord (Eva Green) has Dwight McCarthy (Josh Brolin) and Mort (Christopher Meloni) jumping through hoops to do her bidding. Green is great as the villainess, but I seem to be the only one who's tired of her being pigeonholed as the insane hot chick (see: the Starz channel "Camelot" series and "300: Rise of an Empire"). A lot of ink (and other liquids) have been spilled because she's not afraid to show off her assets in this outing — probably because she's French, and they have an aversion to clothing.
Jessica Alba reprises her role of exotic dancer Nancy Callahan in "Nancy's Last Dance." She shakes what her mama gave her, so you'd think that would automatically make this section the highlight of the film, but this was my least favorite part. Nancy is supposed to feel empowered as she seeks revenge for the death of her beloved John Hartigan (Bruce Willis), but her character has become a mentally unstable drunk who staggers around on-stage. I'm sure this story was penned with the best of intentions, but it didn't achieve the intended effect.
There are some cast changes from the prior film, and for the most part, they bring their strengths and flair to the roles. Brolin plays Dwight (taking over for Clive Owen), Dennis Haysbert plays Manute (Michael Clarke Duncan passed away), and Jamie Chung plays Miho (Devon Aoki was pregnant). Owen brought a sophistication to the role of Dwight, whereas Brolin plays him as a barroom brawler with serious anger management issues. Haysbert is an intimidating figure, and although he doesn't have the same booming voice as Duncan, he manages to hold his own. Chung is the most disappointing replacement of all and looked very uncomfortable wielding the katana. Any young actress could've played this role.
The movie stays true to the black-and-white comic book style of the source material, though it seems like there are more splashes color in this iteration, between the green eyes, red lips, and a stunning blue dress. The 3-D is really good, so if you're planning to see the movie, it's worth the upgrade.
"Sin City: A Dame to Kill For" arrives in theaters nine years after the original film, but it's no longer a trailblazer. Time has passed, but the visuals aren't as impressive the second time around. The prior movie cherry-picked the best stories to compose a logical narrative, but "A Dame to Kill For" stumbles in this department. This is a valiant effort, but the film loses steam in the second act, and its attempt at female empowerment misses the mark.
"Sin City: A Dame To Kill For" is rated "R" and has a running time for 1 hour and 42 minutes. It's playing in 2-D and 3-D.
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