Sin City 2: A Dame to Kill For

Review by David Ehrlich @davidehrlich

Directed by

Frank Miller Robert Rodriguez

Starring

Eva Green Joseph Gordon-Levitt Josh Brolin

Anticipation.

The only thing less exciting than a new Robert Rodriguez movie is an old Robert Rodriguez movie in a new dress.

Enjoyment.

No film with Eva Green gets a ‘1’.

In Retrospect.

You’ll need a shower, but it won’t have to be cold.

It’s unasked for sequel time (again), as Robert Rodriguez flogs the dead CG horse that is the Sin City franchise.

Timing is a bitch. Or, in the interest of evoking imagery that’s more attuned to the misogynistic hellscape of Frank Miller’s ‘Sin City’: timing is a cold-blooded whore in assless chaps who will suck a man dry if you give her half the chance. Nine years ago, when Miller and Robert Rodriguez first transposed the former’s graphic novel series into a film, it felt as though they were on the vanguard, using digital technology to bridge disparate mediums in a way that vividly illustrated how the two informed one another.

A pulpy monochrome fantasia punctured by bursts of high-contrast colour, Sin City was less of a movie than it was a series of illustrated panels brought to life. It may not have been great, but at least it was new.

But that was 2005, and never before has quite so much time passed in just nine years. That’s long enough for one Spider-Man franchise to end, and another to begin and self-destruct. For better or worse, the world of graphic novel adaptations has evolved almost as drastically as the world beyond them. What was once novel has now become suffocatingly ubiquitous, and what was tolerable has now become insufferably regressive.

Comic books have shown that people would rather drink out of toxic water than build a new well, and — even despite the extended gap — there’s really no good reason that it should feel so intrinsically jarring and anachronistic to revisit the world of Sin City. And yet, from its Adobe Flash-like animation to its desperate hyper-violence and its deeply entrenched misogyny, A Dame to Kill For feels as woefully out of touch as a Darren Wilson support protest. The digital varnish is inherently ill-suited to the rough and tumble grime of Sin City and its endless corruption, the two aesthetics mixing together like vinegar and coffee. It was easier to overlook in 2005 because the various stories that comprised that first Sin City anthology had at least a modicum of narrative intrigue. No such luck here.

By the time the sequel arrives at its opening title card it’s already irrevocably clear how staggering a miscalculation it was to think that people might want to spend 100 more minutes in a glorified tech demo that reeks of creative poverty and the crusty musk of rotting old men. From the moment that Mickey Rourke’s Marv lumbers back onto the screen looking like the reanimated corpse of Burt Lancaster, it’s hard to fathom how Miller and Rodriguez were convinced that people might still give a shit about these characters and their laughably basic tails of hardboiled cynicism.

This return trip to Unpleasantville is true to its pulp roots in that it’s both a prequel and a sequel to the previous installment, swerving between the two with the freedom of a film that knows it doesn’t matter. Featuring all sorts of lowlife men and exactly one sort of woman (whores), A Dame to Kill For unfolds like a 13-year-old boy having a wet dream during The Big Sleep, each of its four mostly unrelated chapters more prurient and less interesting than the one before it. And while there isn’t much in the way of a narrative through-line holding these stories together, the segments are linked by a shared obsession with power and its competing currencies of sex and violence.

The first major chapter introduces Johnny (a slumming Joseph Gordon-Levitt), a cocky gambler with a supernatural winning streak and a death wish. The first thing Johnny does — after exhausting his requisite voiceover about how tough Sin City is, of course — is to grab himself a good luck charm prostitute and get involved in a truly nonsensical poker game run by a corrupt senator played by Powers Boothe. That bleeds into the titular tale, that revisits (and recasts) characters from the 2005 film in order to put a new spin on the oldest noir tale in the book.

Casting the luminous and feral Eva Green as the eponymous femme fatale — a manipulative and perpetually topless man-eater who has the likes of Josh Brolin and Christopher Meloni wrapped around her finger — is both the movie’s saving grace and also the most lucid example of why A Dame to Kill For is so tragically lost in time. Green’s predictably stirring performance is as unhinged as it is undressed, so dwarfing the movie around it that you can’t help but despair at how the actress was born too late to work with the likes of Hawks and Preminger, and is forced by circumstance to be in a cheap facsimile of a film noir instead of the real thing. She could have been Laura, instead, she’s just a pair of green eyes in a dark night of shit.

By the time the movie limps towards its final chapter, in which Jessica Alba reprises her role as a burlesque dancer for a bar full of men too haggard to be horny (among whom Frank Miller is an all too fitting extra), it’s clear that all of these stories are just riffs on the same idea: men are powerless against a woman in leather, and deeply bitter about that. None of the women in Sin City are bad, they’re all just drawn that way. And even when Alba cuts up her own face in order to transcend her status as a totem of male lust, her serrated scars are immediately co-opted as a fetish object of their own.

Sin City is the world as seen from the front row of a strip club so seedy that it reaffirms every backwards puritan notion about the relationship between sex and shame. The only way to avoid becoming a pawn in this sticky cartoon mess of power dynamics is just to stay home.

Published 22 Aug 2014

Tags: Eva Green Frank Miller Joseph Gordon-Levitt Josh Brolin Robert Rodriguez

Anticipation.

The only thing less exciting than a new Robert Rodriguez movie is an old Robert Rodriguez movie in a new dress.

Enjoyment.

No film with Eva Green gets a ‘1’.

In Retrospect.

You’ll need a shower, but it won’t have to be cold.

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