Sin City: A Dame to Kill For is mostly more of the same. Nine years after the relatively inventive and explicit film translation of writer/co-director Frank Miller's original hard-boiled, violent rift on film noir, the way too late sequel feels out of place and time for its lurid, pulpy subject matter and visual effects style storytelling. Filmmaker/co-director Robert Rodriguez brings his usual DIY, hard edged cinematic style, but the film fails to replicate the same charm of its predecessor while doubling down on all of its excess.
A Dame to Kill For replicates the original formula with four interconnected stories (two from the graphic novels and two originals) that act as both a prequel and sequel to the first film. The titular story featuring Eva Green as the homophonically named eponymous femme fatale, Ava Lord, is the obvious and absolute standout highlight of the entire film (almost singlehandedly saving it). She's sorely missed whenever not on screen against Josh Brolin, who takes over as the hardwired Dwight from Clive Owen, and is serviceable but wasted as a one-note hero. Green is stunning, revelling in executing the lurid tale sublimely with a devilishly sexy performance in varying degrees of undress.
Characters weave in and out of the narrative, sometimes sleeplessly, without the same fun or sense of adventure this time around. Joseph Gordon-Levitt mans his own superfluous segment admirably yet unsatisfyingly in "The Long, Bad Night" (original) without adding much to the main through narrative. Mickey Rourke's Marv returns posthumously to kick ass in "Just Another Saturday Night" and throughout the film but is left without his own proper story or motivation despite grounding and being the heart of the first film. However, it's the unfortunate task of Jessica Alba in "Nancy's Last Dance" (an original and epilogue to "That Yellow Bastard") who goes on a ridiculous, overly emotional revenge transformation as she's haunted by the ghost of Bruce Willis' Hartigan. Her listless performance is even more unflattering and punishing when juxtaposed to Green's revelatory screen presence earlier in the film.
Where the literal scripting and interpretation of the original was forgiven and bought into, Miller's very unimaginative, cringeworthy dialogue spoken by real-life actors is completely laughable in parts while said earnestly and un-ironically. The unrelenting violence, misogyny, and treatment of life and death feels punishing and tedious without the same artful flair or amusement. By being the same yet slightly different, the film inexplicably feels inferior and worse as it loses steam going into the final chapter.
Gone is the same sense of striking visuals in a groundbreaking cinematic form to express the themes and action of the source material. Sin City: A Dame to Kill For is as much a victim of its time a place apart from the genre filmmaking innovation it help set off. Rodriguez and Miller put the film on auto-pilot without much of anything new or bold. The literal faux neo-noir translation from comic to screen feels stilted and lifeless apart from captivating performances from Green and Rourke.
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