Just how good of a year was 2005 for comic book movies? You basically had two groundbreaking films that turned the entire genre on its side opening within two months of each other: Christopher Nolan's Batman Begins and Robert Rodriguez's Sin City. Nobody disputes the impact of Nolan's trilogy but it can be argued Sin City, with its sleazy cast of hard-edged film noir archetypes and visuals literally popping from the pages of Frank Miller's graphic novel, was more immediately impressive. Copycats followed and Rodriguez's use of CGI technology became the new standard for by which all such films were measured. There just weren't any more Sin City flicks, at least not right away. Nine years later, after much teasing by Rodriguez, Sin City: A Dame to Kill For is finally here and it offers sexier femme fatales, more angry antiheroes, more blood and nudity. And while that may be enough to satisfy the most hardcore fans others may feel like the long wait was barely worth it.
The genius of Sin City and its pair of adaptations, co-directed by Rodriguez and Miller, is that it resembles the nasty criminal underworld of Batman comics with the hyper-stylization of superheroes. It's a place where a crazed behemoth like Marv (Mickey Rourke) can get shot a dozen times and come back to pluck a guy's eye out, grumbling one-liners the whole way. Rodriguez doesn't so much as recreate the familiar film noir elements; dark shadows, cigarette smoke, vigilantes and manipulative vixens; he glorifies them while indulging in the comical violence he's always been such a fan of. In this case, the maddeningly over-the-top violence more closely resembles that of Rodriguez's Machete Kills, which couldn't be less of a film noir than Spy Kids was.
Rodriguez's computer generated backgrounds, which blew our minds nine years ago, no longer have that element of surprise but they are still breathtaking to behold. Shattered glass and spraying blood glisten in the eye-popping starkness of this black and white world, occasionally lit up by flashes of color. Usually these brief moments of vibrancy are reserved for the ladies, who are either arm candy or scheming she-devils. Like the first film, a series of loosely-connected short stories ripped from the comics comprise the bulk of the material, with a couple of new tales that introduce a new character and expand on another. The crisscrossing chronology allows for some dead characters to be seen once again, like Marv and his demented search for answers in "Just Another Saturday Night". In that one, Marv, whose head has never been screwed on too tight, cracks heads while trying to figure out why he killed a bunch of guys. A thread from the first film is followed-up on in "Nancy's Last Dance", in which the saintly (for Sin City anyway) strip club dancer Nancy Callahan (Jessica Alba) goes nuts after the death of her savior, John Hartigan (Bruce Willis), and seeks revenge on the politically-connected Roark clan of psychos.
Because so much of Sin City: A Dame to Kill For remains unchanged from before, both in terms of tone and visual flourish, it's the new additions to the cast who are the greatest blast to spend time with. The centerpiece story “A Dame to Kill For" features the dangerously gorgeous Eva Green in various states of undress. No other actress so perfectly embodies the classic femme fatale as Green, who plays Ava Lord in a twisted tale that explains how street hero Dwight (now played by Josh Brolin) came to need that new face he had in the first film. Dwight's always had a soft spot for the ladies and Lord exploits that by calling on him for help against the torturous Manute (Dennis Haysbert) and her abusive billionaire husband. She and Dwight share a troubled romantic past and he can't resist her cries for help or her sexual advances. Of course she's not being totally honest about her situation, and when Dwight enlists Marv (who appears in practically every story) to take down Lord once and for all its bloody and kinky in all the ways we love about Sin City. Green slinks and slithers like a snake with her piercing eyes and Rodriguez lavishes us with every gratuitous shot of her shimmering body. He's as smitten with her as the many men who fall under Lord's spell, which includes Christopher Meloni as a married cop who haplessly carries out her orders. She's everything the title suggests and more.
The best of the fresh material is Joseph Gordon-Levitt's "The Long Bad Night", in which the perfectly-suited actor plays Johnny, a cardsharp riding a hot streak and decides to see how far he can take it. With a hot dame (Julia Garner) by his side he decides to take on Sin City's most heinous villain, Senator Roarke (Powers Boothe) in a poker match and wins handily. Winning may have its privileges but not in Sin City, and Roarke makes Johnny's life a gruesome waking nightmare.
Sadly we don't get to see nearly enough of Rosario Dawson as Gale, leader of the Old Town prostitutes, while brief cameos by Ray Liotta, Jeremy Piven, and Stacy Keach mostly serve as "ah ha" moments rather than anything memorable. With all the CGI violence and sexy babes this is Rodriguez right in his element, but there's never any attempt to improve on what came before. Sin City was such a game-changer that it's disappointing Rodriguez doesn't try to break new ground with Sin City: A Dame to Kill For. He gives fans all the blood and guts they can handle and absolutely nothing more.