Before watching Sin City 2: A Dame to Kill For, I was aware I’d have to lower my expectations in order to have an enjoyable experience. For example, I knew that when keeping in step with someone like Frank Miller, the way women would be treated in this movie would be somewhere between “terrible” and “shit-tastic” and that the misanthropy would be off the charts. So I merely yawned when boobs were flying at me faster than I could process them during the screening. Similarly, when a cronie jacked off a pistol with glee, I held in my vomit (like a lady) instead of spewing it all over my fellow reviewers. The main reason I’m not harping on these aspects of the movie is that Sin City is supposed to be a pulpy, visually captivating male power fantasy where men are tough, killing is fun, and women are decorative. Expecting Robert Rodriguez and Frank Miller to treat women as more than just sentient blow-up dolls with guns would be tantamount to expecting Michael Bay not to murder your childhood with TNT. It’s just not their way.
Would movies in this genre be better if women were fleshed out in more than just a literal sense? Of course they would. Any movie that gives women something to do other than just be rescued and ogled at automatically makes for a more interesting and less predictable story. A bad grade in the female department, however, doesn’t necessarily impede a movie from achieving greatness.
The original Sin City, despite its disappointing portrayal of women, was a groundbreaking artistic work that showcased how far the comic-book movie genre could be visually pushed. While the movie lacked certain humanity, filmmakers Robert Rodriguez and Frank Miller made up for it by flooding the viewer with adrenaline-pumping stories of revenge and the realistically ruinous consequences of trying to be a hero. The sequel, however, amplifies the original’s flaws and dampens all of the qualities that made it so special. The result? A sad, muddled, and unforgivably dull mess. This new film paradoxically expects the viewer to both remember and forget details of the original. Not even ten minutes in, the plot becomes confusing, causing the viewer to do unnecessary mental gymnastics to try and keep anything straight.
Sin City 2 opens with Marv (Mickey Rourke) waking up unconscious amongst the dead bodies of young men. Due to Marv’s death in the previous film, the viewer is immediately led to believe they’re viewing a prequel. Supporting this notion is the fact that Marv’s deceased paramour, Goldie (Jamie King), is also alive. Despite the past timeline indicators, we’re told that beleaguered Detective John Hartigan (Bruce Willis) has been dead long enough for Nancy Callahan (Jessica Alba) to become an alcoholic driven insane with grief. Weirdly, half of the previous movie has apparently already occurred, while the other half hasn’t and neither Rodriguez nor Miller cares to explain how or why.
Although it’s arguable Marv’s death in the previous film happened long after Nancy’s plotline in Sin City 2, this type of reasoning goes against the brisk story pacing that it established in the previous film. The inclusion of Nancy’s storyline (which was created specifically for the film) feels not only ham-fisted, but also frustrating. The movie seemingly wants to fill your loins with the nostalgia of seeing Jessica Alba as a stripper (with guns!) and then smother you with chloroform once you start asking too many questions. The timeline issue is further exacerbated once Nancy and Marv team up to take down the powerful family that we assumed had Marv killed in the first film. This inconsistency could have easily been fixed by writing Nancy’s plotline in the past, but apparently putting in yet another revenge story was too delectable to pass up despite none of it making a lick of sense.
When the movie isn’t confusing its viewers with haphazard timelines, it’s boring them with repetitive and hole-ridden plots. The movie repeatedly re-uses the same general story over and over again for the same unexciting tales. Characters have to break into mansions to get to their baddies countless times, forcing the audience to wonder whether the movie couldn’t afford additional sets. Joseph Gordon-Levitt’s “Johnny” storyline (also created specifically for the film) is the only one that escapes the repeating plot devices, and unsurprisingly, it is the most interesting to watch.
Much like sets, Marv too is re-used. Once the hero of his own story, Sin City 2’s Marv is relegated to an indestructible deus-ex-machina that seems to exist only to save the day whenever things get too hard for the other characters. This Marv has absolutely no defining characteristics beyond being a thug who loves to fight. When he first wakes on screen, Marv has many questions such as “how did I get here?” and “where did this fancy-ass coat come from?” We never get to find out any answers, because sadly this movie never gave a shit.
Similarly, the other characters are given little to no motivation for their actions. They murder and maim because there’s nothing else to do. You’re given no reason to take interest in them beside the fact that they exist on screen. When they die, you weep no tears; you only check your watch and gaze in wonderment at the amount of running time you still have left.
Clive Owen’s recasting also makes the film’s quality suffer. Much like Marv and Nancy, the character of Dwight McCarthy was memorable specifically because of the actor who embodied him. Perhaps due to his own hubris, Frank Miller seems to have forgotten that the majority of his prospective audience has not read his Sin City novels and that the mere utterance of the name “Dwight McCarthy” isn’t enough for such an audience to make the connection between the character Owen played nine years ago and the one embodied by Josh Brolin in the new film. With no other clues as to Dwight’s significance or identity in the Sin City universe besides his name, Josh Brolin’s Dwight struts around Sin City 2’s main storyline “A Dame To Kill For” like a brand new person. Thus, the audience is once again left confused as to why they should care about a character’s woes.
Novel fans might try to defend the necessity of the recasting by noting that Clive Owen’s timeline in the original film happens after Dwight’s facial reconstruction in Sin City 2. That would have been a clever twist if this movie was actually good. In real life, Dwight post-surgery in Sin City 2 looks exactly like Josh Brolin but with different hair (it’s parted in the middle now!).
While the film has many, many faults, there are some redeeming features. Christopher Meloni (Mort) is a hoot, and Eva Green (Ava Lord) and Powers Boothe (Senator Roark) are perfectly cast villains. Green in particular delivers a devilishly magnetic performance that has the unfortunate side effect of making her scene-mate Josh Brolin’s shortcomings even more glaring. In addition to some great baddies, the film’s diorama-like visuals are quite stunning, especially in 3D.
Now comes the ultimate question: were the pretty visuals worth slogging through a long, confusing, and tedious movie wherein you’re left checking your watch every few minutes?
Dear god, no.
Sin City 2 fails to live up to its promises of being a fun, macho fantasy, instead delivering a bloated two-hour bore. Don’t do it. It’s not worth it.