Sin City: A Dame to Kill For

By on August 24, 2014
Sin City 2

When the original “Sin City” movie was released in 2005, I was completely blown away. As a film critic, it’s rare for me to see a film more than once in the theaters- sometimes you’re doing good to get me to see something once, if it looks horrible- but I saw that one at least three or four times. It wasn’t that the genre was new to me, mind you. I’d taken a class in Film Noir and had seen plenty of films of that ilk before, and I had certainly seen my fair share of comic adaptations, even then, before such things became so commonplace that you’d be harder pressed to find a month that didn’t have at least one comic adaptation that one that did.

No, it was because “Sin City” was different in a way that stood out from the pack. Not only did it perfectly capture the look and feel of the comics, but the clever combination of mostly black & white film with splashes of color for effect was like nothing I’d see ever before, save maybe in Francis Ford Coppola’s “Rumble Fish” adaptation. I loved the look of the movie, the gritty tone, the superlative casting- Mickey Rourke and Bruce Willis were born for films like this- and the excellent special effects. In short, movies as inventive and special as “Sin City” don’t come along too often, but when you do what I do for a living, you take notice when they do.

Rosario Dawson reprises her role as Gail in "Sin City: A Dame to Kill For." Courtesy of imdb.com

Rosario Dawson reprises her role as Gail in “Sin City: A Dame to Kill For.”
Courtesy of imdb.com

Now, we’ve got the sequel, “Sin City: A Dame to Kill For,” and I for one, couldn’t wait to see it. I was particularly excited by the notion of it being in 3D, which to me, would hopefully take the look of the original to a whole new level. I’m happy to report that it did.

I’d be hard-pressed to name another use of 3D I’ve seen all year that was as eye-popping and attention getting as what I saw here. Indeed, I’d been hard-pressed to name another more effective use of 3D, either. Perhaps “Avatar,” “Hugo,” and “Oz the Great and Powerful” come to mind, in terms of fantastic use of the medium, even if the movies themselves were spotty and somewhat inconsistent.

This iteration of “Sin City” isn’t quite as good as the original, but then, it would be hard for it to be, what with it being a sequel and all. Had this been the first one, I’d have no doubt been even more blown away, but having seen the original an untold amount of times by now, more than anything, this felt like more of an extension than a brand new thing.

In other words, it’s more of the same, which is somewhat disappointing, but at the same time, not. I mean, what would I want, it to be completely different? The whole point of sequels is to be more of the same, at least to a certain degree.

Sure, there are exceptions to the rule. Most everyone acknowledges films like “Aliens,” “The Godfather, Part Two” and “The Empire Strikes Back” as being almost as good as, if not better, than the original films from which they were spawned. But they also brought more to the table by being that much better than expected, which is not an easy thing for a sequel to pull off. The second “Sin City” isn’t better than expected, it’s about what I expected, but that’s not to say it’s bad, and the 3D factor does indeed amp up the proceedings just enough to make this a must-see, especially for those who loved the original.

The 3D in this film really is spectacular. Every frame of the film seems to come alive, often to jaw-dropping effect. It’s like watching the comic come alive before your eyes, and if you’re a fan of the original graphic novels, boy, are you in for a treat. Indeed, this is one of the rare films you could probably watch with no sound at all and still be incredibly entertained just by the visuals alone. Of course, the cast doesn’t hurt matters, being filled with both the cartoonish looks of Willis and Rourke’s square-jawed anti-heroes and the gorgeous likes of Eva Green (as the titular femme fatale) and Jessica Alba (reprising her role as Nancy from the original).

Granted, the storyline is nothing you haven’t seen before in a billion movies like this, and unlike, say, “Pulp Fiction,” which does something highly original and unique with these standard plots, “Sin City” doesn’t really do that much original, plot-wise. So, if you’re going for story, you’re probably going to be disappointed, especially if you know your way around the Film Noir subgenre. But, trust me, it more than makes up for it in the visual department. I’m not usually the biggest fan of green screen, but when applied to something like this, it works like gangbusters.

Jamie Chung takes over for Devon Aoki as the beutiful-but-deadly Miho in "Sin City: A Dame to Kill For." Courtesy of imdb.com

Jamie Chung takes over for Devon Aoki as the beutiful-but-deadly Miho in “Sin City: A Dame to Kill For.”
Courtesy of imdb.com

Filmmaker Robert Rodriguez (“From Dusk Till Dawn,” the “Spy Kids” movies) and creator and comic royalty Frank Miller have really outdone themselves visually here. Sure, it would have been that much more effective if the script were up to snuff, but if you liked the first one, you will definitely like this, and it is the visuals that make it worth the effort. It’s just a beautiful looking film when all is said and done.

Acting-wise, everyone is well-cast, save maybe Alba, who, ironically, spear-headed the effort to get a second film made in the first place. One of the original’s biggest complaints was in her casting as the iconic Nancy Callahan, who spends a substantial portion of the comics naked, being a stripper and all. Alba doesn’t do nudity, so some fans weren’t thrilled with that aspect of her casting, but the neither of the films are exactly hurting for that sort of thing, so I can’t say I was that upset by it.

Yes, it would have been pretty bad-ass to see a naked Nancy offing people, but I don’t know that it was absolutely necessary, but then again, I tend to lean towards the less-is-more approach when it comes to actresses I like anyway. Sometimes what you can’t see is better, in real life as in movies. Sometimes the power of suggestion trumps the reward.

At the same time, I’m not gonna lie and say that Eva Green, who does extensive nudity in this film, doesn’t look amazing, especially in luxuriously photographed black & white. In her case, you kind of do need to see that, as it shows exactly what all these men who fall prey to her charms are getting themselves into all that trouble for. But I’ve seen plenty of other films with similar plotlines, like “Double Indemnity,” “The Postman Always Rings Twice,” and “The Killers,” among many others, that didn’t have nudity and were still pretty effective, so it may just be a matter of taste, I suppose. (Indeed, “Postman” was remade with much more sexual imagery in the 80s, and I don’t know that it necessarily made it a better film.)

Hey, buddy! My guns are up here! Jessica Alba sizzles in "Sin City: A Dame to Kill For." Courtesy of imdb.com

Hey, buddy! My guns are up here! Jessica Alba sizzles in “Sin City: A Dame to Kill For.”
Courtesy of imdb.com

So, I’m not going to hate on Alba for not doing nudity like some have, but I will say that watching her play a good girl gone bad is sometimes unintentionally kind of funny, like watching a kid play dress-up as an adult without really having an actual conception of what being an adult truly entails. She’s gorgeous, to be sure, but do I buy her as an alcoholic, self-abusing, stripper-turned-assassin? Not really. But it still kind of works, if only because the whole film is so consciously over-the-top and cartoonish. If you’re going to a “Sin City” movie looking for realism, you’re in the wrong place.

When, say, someone punches a guy, that guy doesn’t just stand there taking a punch, they fly across the room, as blood splats out of the screen at you. When the vengeful Miho (originally played by Devon Aoki, here played by Jamie Chung, of “Sucker Punch” fame) cuts into someone with her sword or shoots them with an arrow, heads fly off and out of the screen and arrows jut out towards you as her victims fall to the ground. This is the sort of thing that makes the film so enjoyable, not the acting chops. If that sort of thing doesn’t appeal to you, then guess what? You’re at the wrong movie.

All in all, I’m going to give the movie itself a B+. It’s not quite as good as the original- sequels rarely are- but the 3D, which rates an A+, helps a lot. If you loved the original, you’re gonna love this, and you should really make it a point to see it in 3D. If this sort of thing isn’t your typical cup of tea, this isn’t going to change your mind about that. And if you’re a purist about your Film Noir, you might not care for this, either. For the rest of us, though, this is must-see viewing, and hopefully we won’t have to wait another decade for another installment, if there is one.

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About Mark Trammell

Mark Trammell is the resident entertainment critic at UAB, the University of Alabama at Birmingham, where he is also a Graduate Student and does a vid-cast movie review show. He is a life-long fan of films and has a pretty whacked-out, all-over-the-place movie collection that would give most sane people pause. He loves horror movies and Disney flicks and isn't entirely sure there is a difference. He one day hopes to put his money where his mouth is and inflict his own perverse vision on society, entirely so that he can tell people who ask: "If you think you can do better, why don't you make a movie yourself?" to shut up.
 
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