When it’s all over, after you’ve wallowed in the den of scum and villainy wrapped up in the spiky heart of Sin City: A Dame to Kill For, you may come away with a sense of hollow indifference. That’s really surprising and achingly disappointing if you have fond memories of the original Sin City from nine years ago. That film was as hardboiled as any modern film noir tribute is every likely to get, and it worked because it employed visuals and story arcs that we hadn’t seen before. It had a tone that suggested what a Tarantino film might look like as an underground comic. Back in 2005, when the first Sin City debuted, this stuff was a shock to the system. The first tentative steps into CGI were new, and so a movie like this seemed revolutionary. Now, nine years later, we’ve seen so much CGI from so many sources that it is now past its freshness date.
The problem with the sequel Sin City: A Dame to Kill For is that it offers almost nothing new. It repeats the tone and broken narrative of the original without that film’s energy. It’s easy to get wrapped up in the visual trickery but when you try to give a rip about anything else, the movie – at about 2 hours – wears out its welcome around the 45 minute mark. Like the original, this film is a series of stories both in short and long form, but this time they’re hard to care about. Of course, the Tao of Sin City has never been about finding an emotional foothold. They’ve been about mixing the bleak world of film noir with the screaming nightmare of visuals in which heads split like watermelons and naked bodies seem like the glowing fantasies of a photo-shopped girlie magazine. The energy level has been turned down here. This movie is slower-paced so we feel less of a firecracker effect.
We’re back, once again, in the dark heart of Sin City, a hell-bound vision of urban decay in which evil finds its way to riches while the good-hearted find only broken dreams and sadness. The film tells several stories, all of them threaded together with the theme of revenge and lust. Some of the stories interconnect, others do not. Most all involve one form of vengeance or another. In one story, a slick card shark (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) looks to beat a monstrous senator (Powers Booth) at a high stakes poker game. In another, an emotionally wounded stripper (Jessica Alba) wants revenge for her murdered lover (Bruce Willis). Jug-headed Marv (Mickey Rourke) grabbles with memory problems, while a grimy shutterbug (Josh Brolin) grapples with Ava (Eva Green), an emerald-eyed succubus whose effortless sexuality leads otherwise good men to their doom.
This story makes up the film’s center section and it is Eva Green’s performance that’s really the only joy here. A gorgeous French actress who has been, up till now, known mostly for roles of devastating or devastated women, Green has a presence and a form that is perfect for the film noir seductress. She reminds us of every noir villainous from Veronica Lake to Barbara Stanwyck to Sharon Stone to Jessica Rabbit. The function is the same. She plays Ava as a scheming terror, a woman of luminous form (mostly unclothed) who can turn on a dime, leading a good cop (Christopher Meloni) to commit an unthinkable act.
Green is the only fresh element in this film. The rest wears out its welcome pretty early. It opens well, drags in the middle and then comes to an ending that is as abrupt as it is unsatisfying. That’s too bad, because after nine years, you find that it wasn’t worth the wait. Here is a good-looking movie that never quite gets off the ground.