Frank Miller and Robert Rodriguez bring the long-awaited “Sin City” sequel to audiences after nearly a decade’s absence. Unfortunately, “Sin City: A Dame to Kill For” proves that no matter how many clouds and thunder you put on a screen, it’s hard to catch lightning in a bottle a second time. The characters are engaging, the over-the-top violence is there in spades, but the magic that made fans scream for a sequel is somewhere between the pages of the graphic novel and the cutting room floor.
Everyone’s favorite jawline with muscles, Marv (Mickey Rourke), is back in full noir fashion. The film opens with him awakening to no memory of the cool trenchcoat he’s wearing and the not-so-cool injuries that came with it. Before he can put things together, he witnesses a guy being set afire by a bunch of frat boys. He teaches them a lesson that they’ll never forget in this world or the next. Just as in 2005’s “Sin City,” Marv is willing to nearly kill himself to bring people to justice. Although seemingly indestructible, he racks up scars by the dozens. Of course, with the six inches of prosthetics Rourke wears on his face, it starts to grow on you.
Joseph Gordon-Levitt joins the cast as the unstoppable gambler, Johnny. Levitt is continuing to fuel an argument as being one of the most versatile young actors in Hollywood. Expect this performance to only add to that. As the slick-talking Johnny, it’s easy to believe that he can do no wrong. He’s a suited force of nature, emptying slot machines almost without pulling the handle. But Johnny boy has his eyes on the sinister Senator Roark (Powers Boothe), and as bad guys go, Roark takes the cake and smashes you in the face with it. He doesn’t suffer fools or losing lightly and quickly shows Johnny why he’s feared by almost everyone with a pulse. Another guy on the wrong end of Roark is Dwight (Josh Brolin), a private investigator who uses his fists to get to the bottom of a case, especially when it’s involving a damsel in distress. And this particular damsel is the titular dame to die for: Ava Ford (Eva Green).
As femme fatales go, Ford sets the bar. Her sex appeal is like a pot boiling over, whether she’s wearing clothes or not (and most of the time, she’s not). With ruby red lips and emerald green eyes, she plays with every man she comes in contact with like a cat with mouse-flavored yarn, including good guy cop (Christopher Meloni). Brolin’s Dwight picks up from Clive Owen’s version in “Sin City,” but Dwight’s manic obsessiveness is carried over into this film with a smoothness that will be hard to look away from. Brolin’s body count pales next to Marv’s (like most wars would), but Brolin’s facial expressions seem to kill long before a weapon is raised.
The opposite to Ford’s faux innocence is the return of Nancy (Jessica Alba) as the broken stripper, both haunted and heartbroken over the loss of her beloved Jack Hartigan (Bruce Willis), who brought it (and bought it) in “Sin City.” Willis’ Hartigan shows up to pick up a paycheck… uh, keep watch over Nancy, but don’t expect any supernatural powers to come from the former Moonlighter. Instead, all he really contributes is a running commentary of how much he loves Nancy and hates seeing her self-destruct.
With such an amazing ensemble cast and proven directors, it’s almost too easy to look past the failings of “Sin City: A Dame to Kill For.” The stylized black and white sets with occasional, but well-timed splashes of color are evident here. Blood squirts, splots and spills all over the place, but rarely is it crimson. The effect adds to the feel of a comic book that’s often missing in other films based on, you know, comic books. The “Pulp Fiction”-like flow of the separate stories is gone in the sequel. The seamless intersecting themes and characters in the original “Sin City” are replaced by violence used as a transition tool like a misplaced fade or cut. Story endings are left a bit anti-climactic and you may find yourself caring less and less as the movie wears on.
The film doesn’t seem sure if it’s a sequel or a prequel, and it shows. Despite enough voiceover to make writing coaches pull their hair out, new audiences are never given enough to be truly brought up to speed about the residents of this godforsaken place. There’s enough violence, betrayal, sex and neo-noir mystery to keep audiences engaged, but this well-intentioned sequel is hardly enough to kill for.