The best part of a decade ago Robert Rodriquez and Frank Miller joined forces to bring Miller’s comic-noir vision, Sin City, to life. They did so using, then groundbreaking, special effect techniques and a huge cast of A-listers which made for something fresh and exciting.
Nine years later they reunited to bring another set of Miller’s stories to the big screen with a similar set of special effects and a similar cast, but unfortunately something seems to be missing.
While Sin City is a noir fever dream of almost-superheroes and almost-supervillians set in the hyper-stylised Basin City, A Dame To Kill For feels, for the most part, like they’ve taken that dream and turned it into some hellish nightmare version of the same source.
While the violence and general dubious gender politics exist in both films there is much more in the second that feels genuinely nasty. While in the first, the evil Senator Roark (Powers Boothe) was a shadowy background figure, here he is the overarching villain for two of the three threads and is one of the most charismatic characters in the movie.
This sets the balance between the good guys and bad guys on the wrong side from the start and isn’t helped by the fact that the new good guys don’t really have the necessary motive they did in the first film to really make us root for them.
The titular story is the most coherent with Eva Green standing out as Ava Lord, chewing through the virtually scenery and clearly having a lot of fun hamming up her extreme femme fatale in fine style.
In contrast her beau, Dwight McCarthy (Josh Brolin), a chronologically earlier incarnation of the character played by Clive Owen in the first film, is unfortunately bland, much like McCarthy was compared to Marv (Mickey Rourke) and Hartigan (Bruce Willis) in the first movie and he isn’t enough of a hero to carry the plot.
That said, neither are Joseph Gordon-Levitt’s underdeveloped Johnny or Jessica Alba’s damaged Nancy.
Crucially, what seems to be missing is a sense of experimental innocence and a joie de vivre that made the first movie barrel along but now feels like Rodriquez going through the motions of this being the sort of thing he does, particularly following the hyper-silliness of the Machete movies. While he has become very slick at this, Rodriquez’s style has lost something that made the original, and much of his earlier work, much more enjoyable.
On top of this it seems Frank Miller is trying to rekindle what it was that made the original run of the comics such great stories. He too though seems to have lost this view of Sin City, making the new stories feel like pastiches of his past work that try too hard to be brutal noir and just end up a bit too bland and a bit too nasty.