'Sin City: A Dame to Kill For' Is Almost Lightning in a Bottle

Is two-thirds of a decent Sin City sequel enough? After nine years of waiting, almost.

Sin City: A Dame to Kill For

Director: Robert Rodriguez, Frank Miller
Cast: Mickey Rourke, Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Jessica Alba, Josh Brolin, Powers Booth, Bruce Willis, Eva Green, Dennis Haysbert
Rated: R
Studio: Dimension Films
Year: 2014
US release date: 2014-08-22

They say you can't capture lightning in a bottle, that a once novel paired with a fresh concept can't be reused to the same stunning effect a second time around. This is the main critique of sequels, in fact. Whatever made the original hit movie a cultural phenomenon cannot be rediscovered and maintained over a follow-up (or franchise).

So when Robert Rodriguez and Frank Miller decided to wait nine long years to revisit their visionary Sin City, many wondered if the near-decade away from their pioneering digital neo-noir would result in something dull and derivative. The answer, luckily, is "No!" Is it as good as the first groundbreaking film? Well...

The problem here can be placed squarely at the storytelling source. Using a prequel/continuation concept, the filmmaking duo decide we need to see more of Marv (Yea!) and even more of Nancy (Ummm...). They especially believe we will swoon over dozens of scenes featuring a naked Eva Green and will buy that Clive Owen used to look like Josh Brolin before some identity changing plastic surgery (talk about a suspension of disbelief).

Still, Sin City: A Dame To Kill For trades in the hardboiled grit of the fascinating '40s/'50s crime subgenre while continuing the directors' obsession with all things monochrome and greenscreen.

Intertwining three stories, we begin with Marv (a terrific Mickey Rourke) waking up along the side of the road. Surrounded by dead bodies and wondering how he got a bullet in his shoulder, the granite faced thug tries to piece together what happened. Of course it has something to do with Nancy (Jessica Alba), her haunted - and booze-induced memories of Jack Hartigan (Bruce Willis), and her desire to get revenge on Basin City's evil powerbroker, Senator Roark (Powers Booth). Vowing to always protect her, Marv agrees to help her plan an ambush.

In the meantime, Roark is also being menaced by a undeniably lucky card sharp (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) who never seems to lose. He's carrying a secret that could destroy the political despot, as well. We then go to events prior to the first film, when Dwight McCarthy (Josh Brolin) looked different and was making a living as a private investigator. An old flame named Ava (Eva Green) rings him up, hoping he will help her escape from her abusive rich husband and his hulking, sadistic manservant Manute (Dennis Haysbert). Naturally, after agreeing, he finds himself set-up for a crime he didn't commit.

Like a Turner Classic Movies marathon played at maximum speed and volume, Sin City: A Dame To Kill For is violence, vice, and victimization trimmed of all necessary trifles. It's a pair of brass knuckles to the cranium, the incessant stink of bad liquor and bad men melded with cheap perfume and an aura of lust. It's pulp, familiar and yet still a bit fresh, a collection of cinematic clichés made new by technology and tenacity.

It takes nerve for Rodriguez and Miller to come back to this material so late in their legacy. If that had done it back in 2007 or 2009, that might have been better. By waiting almost a decade, they're almost hoping for a kind of bizarro-world nostalgia, where the audience that was mesmerized the first time around now feels a pang of wistfulness for all the machismo and mammaries.

On that note, there's a lot more sex this time around, almost all of it revolving around a topless Eva Green. As she showed in 300: Rise of an Empire, no one turns nudity into a nuclear weapon like this French babe. When she can't convince Brolin's Dwight to do her bidding via words and vows, she sneaks into his hovel of a home and waits for him, unclothed.

During another sequence involving seduction (of a different kind), those fleshy feminine wiles are, again, put to use. Honestly, Green's costuming is more birthday suit than hard boiled dame, and she uses it to empower her character. Oddly enough, no other main character is treated in such a fashion. Even Alba's "stripper" Nancy is never seen without some manner of major cover-up.

And speaking of Nancy, hers is by far the weakest storyline here. While Joseph Gordon-Levitt is chewing on toothpicks and flipping coins, as Marv is mowing down adversaries with Neanderthal ease, Alba mopes about, plays Snake Pit, reacts to imaginary visions of Willis, and swigs from bottles that might as well be labeled in big type, "rot gut".

By the time she steps up and starts shooting arrows into bodyguards' heads, the transformation is tired. We've watched the character waste so much time in a pointless potent potable haze that we wish Rodriquez and Miller had dumped her and, instead, focused on the girls of Old Town, or perhaps, the story of how Dwight saved Miho (which we get about 15 seconds of).

No, Sin City: A Dame to Kill For is not perfect, but neither was the original. Drag out your DVD or Blu-ray and revisit the film and you'll see a pointless Josh Hartnett, an underused Carla Gugino, and a lot of loose ends. Here, most of the stories seem wrapped up pretty tight, though we never get to actually see Senator Roark's proposed comeuppance.

Instead, Rodriguez and Miller seem to be setting things up for yet another go-round, and while this movie makes it clear such a trequel will be highly entertaining, it may no longer be necessary. Especially if they decide to wait until 2023.

Sin City: A Dame to Kill For pushes the boundaries of what this material and this artistic approach can do to the point of self-parody. The action sequences are excellent (including Dwight and Marv's infiltration of Eva's home), but the rough and tumble narration becomes obnoxious after a while. The acting is uniformly good, though it's a bitter pill to swallow that Clive Owen and Devon Aoki couldn't comeback to reprise their roles. While Rourke is his usual overblown self, Brolin is more dour than deep.

In fact, the biggest flaw in something like Sin City: A Dame To Kill For is how shallow and superficial it is. The original noir was all about nuance. Here, Rodriguez and Miller go for the gaudy and the gauche.





Dancing in the Street: Our 25 Favorite Motown Singles

Detroit's Motown Records will forever be important as both a hit factory and an African American-owned label that achieved massive mainstream success and influence. We select our 25 favorite singles from the "Sound of Young America".


The Durutti Column's 'Vini Reilly' Is the Post-Punk's Band's Definitive Statement

Mancunian guitarist/texturalist Vini Reilly parlayed the momentum from his famous Morrissey collaboration into an essential, definitive statement for the Durutti Column.

Love in the Time of Coronavirus

What Will Come? COVID-19 and the Politics of Economic Depression

The financial crash of 2008-2010 reemphasized that traumatic economic shifts drive political change, so what might we imagine — or fear — will emerge from the COVID-19 depression?


Datura4 Take Us Down the "West Coast Highway Cosmic" (premiere)

Australia's Datura4 deliver a highway anthem for a new generation with "West Coast Highway Cosmic". Take a trip without leaving the couch.


Teddy Thompson Sings About Love on 'Heartbreaker Please'

Teddy Thompson's Heartbreaker Please raises one's spirits by accepting the end as a new beginning. He's re-joining the world and out looking for love.

Love in the Time of Coronavirus

Little Protests Everywhere

Wherever you are, let's invite our neighbors not to look away from police violence against African Americans and others. Let's encourage them not to forget about George Floyd and so many before him.


Carey Mercer's New Band Soft Plastics Score Big with Debut '5 Dreams'

Two years after Frog Eyes dissolved, Carey Mercer is back with a new band, Soft Plastics. 5 Dreams and Mercer's surreal sense of incongruity should be welcomed with open arms and open ears.


Sondre Lerche Rewards 'Patience' with Clever and Sophisticated Indie Pop

Patience joins its predecessors, Please and Pleasure, to form a loose trilogy that stands as the finest work of Sondre Lerche's career.


Ruben Fleischer's 'Venom' Has No Bite

Ruben Fleischer's toothless antihero film, Venom is like a blockbuster from 15 years earlier: one-dimensional, loose plot, inconsistent tone, and packaged in the least-offensive, most mass appeal way possible. Sigh.


Cordelia Strube's 'Misconduct of the Heart' Palpitates with Dysfunction

Cordelia Strube's 11th novel, Misconduct of the Heart, depicts trauma survivors in a form that's compelling but difficult to digest.


Reaching For the Vibe: Sonic Boom Fears for the Planet on 'All Things Being Equal'

Sonic Boom is Peter Kember, a veteran of 1980s indie space rockers Spacemen 3, as well as Spectrum, E.A.R., and a whole bunch of other fascinating stuff. On his first solo album in 30 years, he urges us all to take our foot off the gas pedal.


Old British Films, Boring? Pshaw!

The passage of time tends to make old films more interesting, such as these seven films of the late '40s and '50s from British directors John Boulting, Carol Reed, David Lean, Anthony Kimmins, Charles Frend, Guy Hamilton, and Leslie Norman.

Collapse Expand Reviews

Collapse Expand Features
PM Picks
Collapse Expand Pm Picks

© 1999-2020 All rights reserved.
PopMatters is wholly independent, women-owned and operated.