“Sin City: A Dame to Kill For” was apparently made for me and about five other geeky guys, as almost no one went to see it on its opening weekend. One of the theories for the low interest level is that a sequel was not needed because the 2005 original, a stylistically perfect comic book come to life, already made its point.
Indeed, there’s not exactly a new thematic statement made in “A Dame to Kill For,” but I was happy to visit the hopelessly dark, dirty and crime-ridden Basin City again, particularly since stone-jawed Marv (Mickey Rourke) and down-in-the-dumps stripper Nancy (Jessica Alba) are among the featured characters. There are plenty of giggle-worthy moments, like when Marv casually runs a Basin City motorcycle cop off the road without missing a beat of his conversation with Dwight (Josh Brolin, another featured player). And the way swordswoman Miho (Jamie Chung, taking over for Devon Aoki) slices through bad guys is so over-the-top that it’s through the ceiling – literally: At one point she jumps vertically through a skylight and slices off four Uzi-toting henchmen’s heads in one stroke. (There isn’t a skylight in this movie that goes unsmashed, and that’s as it should be.)
I still find the style shepherded by director Robert Rodriguez, working from Frank Miller’s comic books (which double as storyboards), to be wondrous for the way it punctuates Dwight’s bandages and Nancy’s wig in stark white, or the way titular dame Ava’s (Eva Green, whose voice appropriately sounds like Asajj Ventress from “Star Wars: The Clone Wars”) green eyes and red lips pop off the screen. I love moments like when the damsel (in full color) cowers in an alley while a fight takes place in silhouette against a brick wall.
“A Dame to Kill For” isn’t all style, though. While the statement about political corruption is the same as in the 2005 film, crisply drawn characters again drive the action. And again, the actors are up for playing this hardboiled game – in fact, I’d argue that Rourke was born to play Marv, and likewise, there’s never been a role more tailor-made for Powers Boothe than corrupt-to-his-core Senator Roarke. (I had to giggle whenever Roarke remembers his son by looking at photographs of him in his Yellow Bastard form. Talk about choosing an unflattering photo.)
The sequel pieces together five of Miller’s yarns in staggered fashion, but it ties together in the end and is ultimately a more singular story compared to the first film’s anthology approach. Nancy wants to kill Senator Roarke for causing the death of John Hartigan (Bruce Willis, here in hardboiled ghost form), as seen in the first movie. But rather than piling on a ton of flashbacks, the sequel grafts on a fresh example of Roarke’s ruthlessness, as he makes enemies with card sharp Johnny (Joseph-Gordon Levitt, the highlight among the saga’s newcomers).
“A Dame to Kill For” doesn’t have the original’s giddy newness, and I think the visual effects are a slight step down, not offering as many “wow” moments. Also, while there are some pitch-perfect one-liners (Marv, after getting beat up, popping a bunch of pills and washing them down with hard liquor, most of which dribbles down his chin: “Just another Saturday night.”), I would’ve liked even more hardboiled voice-overs.
However, I’m pleased that I got to visit Sin City one more time, as it appears the box office numbers have doomed the franchise to two-and-done status. Maybe I’ll have to dip into some of the old comics.