This review was written much like Sin City: A Dame to Kill For was: late to the party. The sequel to Robert Rodriguez and Frank Miller’s adaptation of Miller’s comic series Sin City arrives nine years after the original, with many delays and setbacks along the way. Sin City the movie arrived at a time when digital technology used to shoot movies was still in its early years and Rodriguez was one of the filmmakers at the forefront of the tech shift. It was a little experiment (and, honestly, a neat gimmick) in manipulating cinematic visuals to perfectly recreate the source material that caught the attention of many. So without the benefit of fresh discovery or even palpable sequel excitement, how does A Dame to Kill For fare in a time that has long since moved on?
Rodriguez and Miller’s return to their grimy world is broken into three distinct stories, one of which is the Dame story of the same name from Miller’s comic series, and the other two ones written specifically for the film. It shouldn’t be too surprising that the central yarn is the best and most complete of those offered here, given Miller’s career trajectory in recent years. The other two main stories highlight this further, with their slapdash writing and anticlimactic conclusions, as if they were hastily written to fill out the movie to feature length.
But the movie’s problems pervade throughout the whole enterprise and aren’t exclusive to the new material. The performances are generally all over the place, with Powers Boothe boasting the only consistent one as the loathsome Senator Roark. Eva Green’s supreme vamping in 300: Rise of an Empire looks like a model of restraint compared to the scenery devouring under Rodriguez’s watch. Meanwhile, Bruce Willis and Joseph Gordon-Levitt are mostly collecting paychecks while Jessica Alba is asked to handle the movie’s most emotionally complex material, which should give you an indication of how misguided this whole affair is. When Lady Gaga is the only person who feels like a normal human being, something is amiss.
Although even without the element of surprise, the heavily stylized visuals of Sin City still have the power to impress. Scattered sloppy details aside, the meticulous recreations of Miller’s artwork are striking in their use of lighting and composition. Splashes of color are highlighted against the black and white in ways that lean more towards style than any meaningful substance, but nonetheless enhance the pulpy atmosphere.
Such overt flair can go a long way in smoothing over the rougher storytelling edges, however unfortunately in this case they can’t conceal the unpleasant misogyny engrained in the work. While the males get to play a variety of characters, the females are left to struggle in roles that resort to ugly stereotypes. In this world, if a woman isn’t mentally unstable or a psychotic man-eater, she’s either a submissive hooker or a heroic hooker.
Blood, bullets and boobs in macho entertainment can only take one so far before things become troublesome. Even hyper-exaggerated pulp needs tact and tonal control to be pulled off successfully, and while the first Sin City was fairly flawed (in some of the same ways this one is), it actually displayed excitement and inspiration in translating the source. A Dame to Kill For never really recaptures that level of confidence, and the result is a dull and plodding retread of material that doesn’t achieve the same punch it once held.