Sin City: A Dame to Kill For (2014)
If you’re a fan of Frank Miller’s Sin City graphic novels, or you were a fan of Robert Rodriguez’s 2005 film adaptation, then you may be curious about the long-awaited 2014 sequel Sin City: A Dame to Kill For. Just like the original, A Dame to Kill For is made up of several intertwining short stories, three of which are adapted from Frank Miller’s graphic novels, and two of which were specifically written for the film, that follow the exploits of some of the tough-as-nails residents of seedy Basin City.
Unfortunately, it’s been almost a decade since the original, which feels like a lifetime ago in terms of comic book adaptations, and all the visual trickery and green-screen world-building that felt original and fresh ten years ago feels pretty unremarkable now, which is only compounded by the fact that the stories included in this installment are a lot less compelling, as we’re about to see.
The film sets the mood with the return of Marv (Mickey Rourke), the most memorable character from the previous film, as he regains consciousness near a car crash. He’s unsure how he got there, but he’s surrounded by dead bodies. He searches his memory, leading to a flashback of the last thing he remembers: being at Kadie’s Club Pecos, a strip club where he watches fellow returning character Nancy (Jessica Alba) dance, and continue to have what’s likely the biggest fan following of any stripper who never gets naked.
Outside, he spots a bunch of frat boys setting homeless guys on fire and decides to take them on. The lead frat boy shoots Marv, and when he doesn’t go down, the frat boys get scared and run. So Marv steals a cop car to chase them into his old stomping grounds of the projects of Basin City, where his unseen friends fire arrows at them. Two frat boys survive and drive off, so Marv chases them and eventually rams their car, causing a massive wreck that brings us right back to where we started. And this movie is already suffering from comparisons to the original; Marv killing some scrawny college kids (or rather, just chasing them around until other people kill them) doesn’t hold a candle to his single-minded pursuit of Goldie’s killer that made up the Marv storyline of the first film.
In our next story, we meet a hotshot gambler named Johnny (Joseph Gordon-Levitt). He walks into Kady’s Club and asks one of the strippers, Marcie (Julia Garner) to be his good luck charm. After hitting it big on the slots a couple of times, he asks to join a backroom poker game, where one of the players is the corrupt Senator Roark (Powers Boothe), who you may recall from the first movie as the father of the Yellow Bastard, as well as the guy responsible for putting Bruce Willis’ John Hartigan away for a crime he didn’t commit.
Here, Johnny manages to clean out Roarke, and then is told by one of the other players to get out of town as quickly as possible. Obviously, his days are numbered.
Instead, the overly cocky Johnny decides to take Marcie on the town. Their fun is short-lived as a limo pulls up, and Johnny is forced inside with the senator. Soon, Roark has his men break Johnny’s fingers with a pair of pliers. They then dump him on the side of the road where Roark confronts him, saying he knows that Johnny is really one of his bastard sons, but the late Roark Jr AKA the Yellow Bastard is the only son he truly thinks of as his own flesh and blood. Eventually, he shoots Johnny in the leg and leaves him to die.
Later in the film, Johnny manages to find an unlicensed doctor (Christopher Lloyd) to take out the bullet and fix his fingers. He then remembers Marcie, but returns to his hotel to find Roark and his men got there first, and Marcie has been chopped up into pieces. Roark considers killing Johnny, but prefers to leave him crippled and broken.
Now desperate for money, Johnny stops at a diner, where a waitress (a rather lame cameo by Lady Gaga) takes pity on him and gives him a dollar. That’s all Johnny needs to make a comeback, as he rushes back to Kady’s and plays the slots and amasses another small fortune.
He goes back to the high-stakes poker game for a rematch with Roark. Unfortunately, Roark wins this time, and this extremely predictable story gets a somewhat surprising finish when Roark finally just shoots Johnny in the head.
In the next story, we’re re-introduced to Dwight McCarthy (Josh Brolin taking over the role previously played by Clive Owen), a private investigator taking pictures of a rich businessman (Ray Liotta) as he hires the services of a hooker. As the businessman goes to kill the hooker to keep his wife from finding out, Dwight crashes down through the skylight and comes to her rescue.
Later, Dwight receives a phone call from his ex-lover, Ava Lord (Eva Green). The two arrange a meet-up at Kady’s. Dwight is bitter about how Ava left her for a rich man, but Ava begs for forgiveness, and also wants protection, because supposedly her husband has threatened to kill her.
That’s when we meet Ava’s bodyguard, Manute (Dennis Haysbert, taking over for the late Michael Clarke Duncan). Manute takes Ava away and threatens Dwight. Marv just happens to be at Kady’s that night and tries to step in, but Dwight tells him not to get involved.
But alas, Ava has put her spell on Dwight. A love-struck Dwight sneaks off to Ava’s mansion to spy on her, and ends up taking pictures of her swimming naked in her pool. Of course, he’s busted by the guards and given the beating of a lifetime by Manute. But when he returns home, he’s greeted by Ava, stark naked in his bed. She again pleads for help and they have sex, but then Manute materializes out of the shadows to once again beat up Dwight and take Ava back.
Infuriated, Dwight gets Marv involved, getting him drunk enough that he’s ready to kill, and together they head back to Ava’s home. They arrive at the mansion and Marv plows through the guards, including the practically immortal Manute. He not only subdues Manute, but rips out his right eyeball, so I guess this is a semi-prequel to the first movie and now we know why Manute has a golden fake eye.
Meanwhile, Dwight makes it into Ava’s husband’s office and ends up beating him to death. Ava enters and reveals that it was her plan all along to have Dwight murder her husband so that she could inherit his fortune. Now that he’s done the job, she shoots Dwight in the face, sending him flying out of a window.
Marv finds Dwight barely alive, and manages to get him to Old Town, better known as the part of the city where the hookers run the show and the cops never dare to tread. Marv brings Dwight to his old flame Gail (a returning Rosario Dawson), who wants to help him, even though her fellow hookers Miho (Jaime Chung, taking over for Devon Aoki) and twins Goldie and Wendy (played again by Jaime King) think they should just kill him. However, Miho is swayed when she realizes that Dwight is the same man who saved her from two thugs years ago.
Then we get a strange subplot where two cops investigate the death of Ava’s husband, and one of them (Christopher Meloni) has an affair with Ava and becomes so obsessed with her that he kills his partner (Jeremy Piven) and then himself. I’m not sure what the point of this tangent was, other than to get Eva Green naked a few more times and include Piven saying the title of the movie.
When we finally see Dwight again, he’s had major facial reconstructive surgery (possibly to make him look more like Clive Owen?), and he sneaks back into Ava’s mansion during a party, while Gail and Miho take out the guards. But Dwight is immediately recognized by Manute, who beats him up yet again. However, Ava manages to steal one of his guns, and kills Manute before he can finish off Dwight. Ava then uses this slaughter to prove her loyalty to Dwight and try to convince him to be with her. However, before he can fall under her spell again, he shoots her mid-kiss, thus bringing to an end this dull, talky storyline occasionally punctuated by bursts of violence.
The movie closes out with the conclusion of a story from the previous film. Nancy (Alba) is still grieving over the death of John Hartigan (Willis). John’s ghost follows her around as Nancy tries to drink the pain away. While she’s on stage dancing, she catches sight of Senator Roark, who she blames for Hartigan’s death, and aims a gun at him in front of the entire crowd, but can’t work up the nerve to shoot him.
Instead, she decides to cut her hair and face in order to make it look like Roark attacked her. This sends Marv into a rage and the two take off to kill the senator.
Marv takes the brunt of the damage, but Nancy makes it to the senator’s chambers. He shoots her several times, but then Hartigan’s ghost appears to Roark, distracting him long enough for Nancy to finally get her revenge.
In theory, this movie sounded like a good idea. However, after the first few minutes, it seems like the narrative drones on and on until it comes to an abrupt end almost two hours later. Sure, you get the same comic book feel that the first one successfully delivered, but the whole concept seems to have reached a plateau with the first film, and this one fails to kick things up a notch. All in all, it feels like there’s no reason for this movie to have even been made, apart from the first film becoming a cult hit, and comic book adaptations now being even bigger business than they were in 2005. There’s no real story here, just emptiness that you’ll forget as soon as the movie’s over.
As far as the visual design goes, the classic black and white style adds to the intensity with various splashes of color here and there. Of course, the use of color doesn’t stray any further than basic symbolism that you’d learn about in high school English class. Also, there’s really nothing bringing the five stories together into a cohesive whole. While you get glimpses of the same characters and settings in each story, it never really comes together like the first film. And after looking for deeper meaning as to why these particular stories were chosen, you’ll probably be disappointed to find out there is actually none. Thus, it’s hard not to wonder what the point is.
The acting, on the other hand, is one of the strongest aspects of the film. Eva Green is probably the standout, giving a performance where you feel that she’s totally in control of everyone and everything, even while she’s walking around completely naked. For me, the weak link was Joseph Gordon-Levitt; I know he has his fans noawadays, but it’s hard for me to see him as anyone but the anxious little kid off Roseanne or the boy who saw angels playing baseball. But all of the actors are let down by a predictable script that’s mostly talking, talking, and more talking, which stands in marked contrast to the relatively breakneck pace of the original.
All in all, Sin City: A Dame to Kill For was a pretty big letdown, and naturally, it ended up tanking at the box office. Let’s face it, after so many similar films like Sucker Punch and The Spirit and 300 (and all of its many imitators), there’s probably not a whole lot of interest anymore in this type of film. Instead of wasting his time on two Machete movies and a Spy Kids sequel no one wanted, this is the movie Robert Rodriguez probably should have made six or seven years ago.
[—This review contains additional material by Dr. Winston O’Boogie.]