Review: Sin City: A Dame to Kill For

This was originally published at The Edge SUSU on August 30th. 

A prolonged wait for a sequel has historically proven to be a bad omen. Tron Legacy, Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull, the track record hardly inspires confidence. Expectations only build over the years, whilst in direct proportion, fondness for the original product only grows. The longer you leave it, the bigger the shoes that are waiting to be filled become. Sin City: A Dame to Kill For, with its near 10 year gap since the first outing, is a somewhat worrying prospect then. Making matters seemingly worse is the fact that the film has gone through something of a development nightmare type of deal. Add to that shoulder-shrug inducing trailers and mixed reviews and Sin City 2 isn’t likely to have people desperately waiting for its release; regardless of how big a Frank Miller fan they are.

It is a welcome surprise then, to say that it isn’t anything close to the disaster it appeared to be shaping up to be. It’s no Citizen Kane either but it’s a surprisingly enjoyable ride. Pitched as a semi-sequel semi-prequel to its forerunner, A Dame to Kill For jumps around a lot in terms of chronology. A brief synopsis is thus a tricky thing to provide. In short, the follow-up sees both the return of the majority of the old characters and a few new additions. Like the first film, the plot is made up of various interlinking pulp fiction noir stories with characters interweaving between them.

So what do we have this time? Well there is the titular Dame to Kill For narrative thread, a prototypical noir story involving Eva Green’s Ava and her manipulations of Josh Brolin’s thuggish Dwight. There is Jessica Alba’s return as Nancy Callahan who is attempting to avenge her deceased protector Hartigan (in a role Bruce Willis very briefly reprises) and a story focusing on cocky, arrogant gambler Joseph Gordon Levitt and the hellish night that ensues after he wins against the wrong people.

With so many competing elements you’d expect the film to be a total mess. And to be blunt it is. The pacing is all over the place, some sub-plots seem to go absolutely nowhere and characters appear for one scene and are then never heard from again (what’s with the bit with Lady Gaga?) Having said that, there is plenty to like.

The hard-boiled noir tropes are once again brought out in exaggerated fashion to the point that it borders on parody. From the incessant narration to the pulpy dialogue, to the femme fatales, every box has been ticked, every cliché acknowledged. Stylistically the film manages to use what worked so well first time and somehow build upon it. The black and white photography and chiaroscuro lighting once again masterfully bring both the dark and seedy underworld of Basin City and the graphic novel source material to life.

Performances are around the board very good. Those who return are able to slip back into roles as if no time has passed at all. In terms of newcomers, Gordon Levitt has sufficient appeal and charisma to support his role effectively whilst Green brings the loathsome yet alluring Eva to the screen vividly.

It may not add up to all that much, it may feel like a less meaty version of the original, but this is visually breathtaking, extremely violent and deliberately trashy fun. The characters are bold, it doesn’t spare on thrills and it has clearly been crafted with great care and affection.

RATING: 7/10

Sin City: A Dame to Kill For (2014), directed by Frank Miller and Robert Rodriguez, is distributed in UK cinemas by Lionsgate, Certificate 18. Watch the trailer below:

 

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