Sin City: A Dame To Kill For brings back much of the style that the first one pioneered. It looks sharp, crisp, moist from the rain, sweat and blood. It might even be sharper than Sin City (2005) because of all the advancements in technology, and the omnipresence of high-def, 3D and all that stuff. Its colours stand out more, or rather, the contrast of its colours. It is edited as briskly as the first, which means when there’s action, there’s hard pumping action, not languid fists landing on soft flesh. Eyes are still green. Blood is still red. Dresses are still blue. And so on. At first glance, this is Sin City, remade, reborn, revitalised.
But on second glance, or even close inspection, A Dame To Kill For isn’t the same movie. It is a highly skilled copycat at a masquerade ball, perfectly blended in. What makes it less attractive than its predecessor are its characters, some of whom are recurring, others completely fresh. The recurring ones tick the nostalgia box, despite some of them defying narrative continuity by returning from apparent death (I will not say which ones, of course). The fresh ones sit on the fence. One of them, played with gusto by Joseph Gordon-Levitt, qualifies as the movie’s best character, chiefly because he is charming, highly skilled (he knows he is highly skilled) and he has a lot to gain and lose. Another, played by Eva Green, not nearly as good, finds it almost impossible to contain her full breasts behind fabric. She is meant to be a femme fatale, modelled after such femme fatales as Phyllis Dietrichson, but Barbara Stanwyck never needed to expose her boobs to be successful.
All these characters are thrown into a melting pot of stories written by graphic novelist Frank Miller, who returns to direct with Robert Rodriguez. Like Sin City (and by extension Pulp Fiction), these stories are not told in order. Some work as prequels, some as sequels. I suppose the fun is in trying to tie them all together, to make some sense of how they relate to one another and to us. But how much fun can be had when they don’t amount to very much? The stories in the first Sin City were alive with ideas. They were told grippingly. And most of them could fit into the tragedy of a classic film noir from the ’40s. The stories this time bring us around on a wild goose chase. One of them promises a lot with a great character but ends on a deflated note. As if the character, too, has been brought along to chase the goose. And the story with Ava (Green), the femme fatale, is too rushed. Characters in it lose old and adopt new motivations as quickly as Ava loses her clothes. Slow it down. Expand on it. A Dame To Kill For runs for 102 minutes. Another 15 or so added to the girth of this story wouldn’t have hurt; they would have paced it more patiently and made the decisions of some of its players understandable (an adulterous detective, played by Christopher Meloni, is unrealistically fickle). It’s a story that was given its own comic book. To be squeezed into a little vignette in a movie can hardly do it justice.
What a shame though, because everything else about A Dame To Kill For hits it mark. It has the look and feel of Miller’s graphic novels — each shot still three-dimensional enough to look like a page ripped from the book and pumped with life — and when it knuckles down into its action sequences, it unloads with selfless, sometimes humorous violence (the bad guys always look a little surprised when a bullet or arrow pierces their skulls). It’s a good movie in a tepid sorta way. It’s the kind of movie you watch because you want to see more of what you enjoyed from the first film. But its loose characters and frigid storytelling are completely upstaged by its vibrant visual brilliance, and sometimes visual brilliance isn’t enough to justify all that you enjoyed from the first film.
Best Moment | Christopher Lloyd’s appearance as a steady, efficient surgeon… only after he has prepped, of course.
Worst Moment | “A Dame To Kill For”.