I expected to have deeply divided feelings about Sin City: A Dame to Kill For (2014), so I wasn’t surprised in that regard. I was, however, surprised by the reasons I felt the way I did.
The second Sin City movie, based on the cult comics of the same name by Frank Miller, has the same trappings that made the first film such a thrill. Shot in black and white and splashed with spots of vivid color, the heavy use of CGI and prosthetic make-up effects recreate the look and feel of the comic to an incredible extent. Like the first Sin City (2005), co-directors Robert Rodriguez and Frank Miller weave together loosely connected stories and disjointed timelines with characters that are nearly as black and white as the film. Mickey Rourke is back as Marv, his rough-hewn face the first thing on the screen– looking even more like a half-finished granite statue than in the first film. Rather than having his own story this time around, he acts as a common thread through everyone else’s storylines.
You get some backstory mixed in with the fallout from the first film. We get to see how Dwight (originally played by Clive Owen, reprised by Josh Brolin) got his the face he wore in the first film (reshaped by dirty Doctor Kroenig as played by the fantastic Christopher Lloyd) and the femme fatale named Ava (Eva Green) who pushed him over the edge and back to Oldtown. The scenes featuring Ava are particularly gorgeous, framed in cigarette smoke with her eyes occasionally flashing green. This story thread also shows us Manute (Michael Clarke Duncan in the first film, Dennis Haysbert in the second), the only man who might be a match for Marv– and how he got his golden eye (Fair warning: it’s more than a little gory.)
There are a couple of side-tracks involving Senator Roark (Powers Boothe), one of the slimiest politicians in Sin City… And his bastard son Johnny (Joseph Gordon-Levitt), who uses his supernaturally good luck to beat his dad twice at poker– just to prove he can. He doesn’t get anything else out of it; the point is more of a moral victory. This particular story left me a bit flat. It felt tacked on, and as much as it pains me to disparage anything Gordon-Levitt does, this is probably the weakest part of the film.
Aside from the spellbinding Ava, I wasn’t really feeling the movie until it took up Nancy’s story. In the first film, Nancy (Jessica Alba) had about as much agency as any noir good girl. She was there to look gorgeous and innocent, and reward the hero with her presence and love. Now that Hartigan (Bruce Willis with a lovely star-shaped scar on his bewigged head) is dead– reduced to a ghost haunting Nancy’s steps… She is left dancing at Katie’s Saloon with a bottle in one hand. Through most of the movie, it looks like Nancy is doomed to drink herself to death, or beg one of the movie’s male heavies to “save” her and take out Senator Roark (the man who ruined her life). She can’t shoot him herself, so she drinks, and watches old movies, and even cuts off her long gorgeous hair. Psychologically speaking, that’s usually a really bad sign– barely a step from suicide. It hints at a metaphorical neutering.
And then, with a single shard of glass, Nancy takes hold of her life with both hands. She does get Marv to come with her, as he’s about the only way she could possibly get into the Senator’s house. But once she confronts Roark, Sin City is all her show.
I felt like the movie played it safe with straight noir tropes for 90 minutes– then flipped the table and put Nancy, the fragile, innocent beauty, straight into the boots of the classic noir hero. I whooped and so did the rest of the audience.
Sin City: A Dame to Kill For is extreme fun that’s deeper than it had to be, and well worth the price of admission. – Aimee Kuzenski