Sin City: A Dame to Kill For

When thinking of the first Sin City the phrase “lightning in a bottle” springs to mind. Upon its release I think we all knew there would be a sequel, and the pessimist in me was sure it would be a let down. The first was so good that there was almost no way a return to the material could attain the same heights. Sometimes it sucks to be so right.

I can sum up A Dame to Kill For in just a few bullet points:

  • Eva Green was so naked. So naked.
  • The corniness of the first movie that made it so much fun? This time it was just corny.
  • Joseph Gordon-Levitt was good.
  • Lady Gaga was also good, perhaps unsurprisingly.

About a third of the thing was worthwhile. The problem, I think, was a matter of both taste and restraint.

The thing that made Sin City so good was the finely tuned pulp factor, the noir genre turned up to eleven, combined with a sense as an audience member that the movie was made by people who cared and believed in the material. I completely bought into the ridiculous story lines and absurd characterizations because I got the impression that everyone involved in the making of the thing gave a shit, which does a lot of subtle things for a viewer that shouldn’t be discounted. If they buy it then so will we, and nearly everyone in A Dame to Kill For showed up for their paychecks and not much else.

One of the bright spots were the vignettes following Joseph Gordon-Levitt’s character, Johnny. These scenes were cut from exactly the same bolt of cloth that they fashioned into this movie’s predecessor: gritty, hard-boiled, and somehow still genuine. I found myself caring about Johnny the way I cared for Dwight. I knew it would all end badly, but that didn’t stop me from rooting for him and hoping to be wrong. Plus that plotline gave us the unexpectedly fun Lady Gaga cameo!

The only other thing I enjoyed was  Eva Green, and not because she was naked for at least half of her screen time. Quite the opposite in fact, as the nudity was downright distracting at points. She deserves a lot of credit as an actor for being capable of delivering a performance that reminded me of how I felt while reading the comics despite the diversion of the scene visuals. Ava is a disgusting human being but that isn’t immediately apparent, and until that fact is made clear Green is at least as successful (if not more so) than Miller’s original work in making the viewer second-guess their assumptions. Some will defend the amount of nudity by invoking the comics themselves, and by reminding us that it is meant to serve as a visual reminder of Ava’s weapon of choice. As far as I’m concerned, those are cheap excuses to put as much nipple on screen as they could get away with. Rodriguez and Miller could have used half as much nudity (or even less!) and accomplished more with it, which makes me confused as to whether I should be disappointed or insulted by the end result.

Taste and restraint. It’s like they couldn’t help themselves. And I know they can’t all be keepers, but I held out hope that Frank Miller’s direct involvement would shield A Dame to Kill For from mediocrity the way it did so well with Sin City. No such luck, I’m afraid.

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