"A Dame to Kill For" is a lesser version of the original "Sin City" on almost every level and fails to flesh out the corrupted sprawling city in any meaningful way, making this one of the least necessary sequels of 2014 so far.
In short: Several of Sin City's hardened criminals and residents cross paths in an anthology of dark, moody and stylized vignettes. Stars Mickey Rourke, Jessica Alba, Josh Brolin, Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Eva Green and Powers Boothe. (watch the trailer)
The original "Sin City" opened with an intriguing and sexy scene between a hitman and a lady on a balcony. This short scene's dialogue, tone and style perfectly piqued interest into where the film was going to explore next. "A Dame to Kill For" abruptly opens with a sloppily assembled bit of senseless violence and a dumb car chase - which also pretty much captures the essence of this sequel.
The good news is co-directors Robert Rodriguez and Frank Miller once again bottle the grim banter and style neo-noir style of "Sin City." This sequel is every bit a visually interesting and stylishly scripted as its previous film, so "Dame to Kill For" absolutely feels like an extension of the "Sin City" franchise in atmosphere and execution. This is a graphic novel once again fully realized for the big screen.
Despite the film's massive cast, Rourke, Green and Boothe stand out with their particularly hard-boiled, sexy and evil performances. It's absolutely difficult, if not flat-out impossible, to imagine anyone other than Rourke playing the hulking brute Marv - a somehow likeable thug who seemingly kills for fun. Eva Green is particularly effective as the titular "Dame to Kill For" - a sexy siren and femme fatale with a dangerous personality disorder. And Powers Boothe seems to be having too much fun playing the all-powerful and murderous Senator Roark - who is arguably the main antagonist of both films.
The fact that "Sin City" was released nearly a decade ago (2005) is a problem for "A Dame to Kill For" because so many plot threads from the first film are continued in the sequel. "Dame" is simultaneously a sequel and prequel to the events of the first film, so rewatching the original movie is strongly advised. But beyond even the massive time gap between the film's releases, the prequel aspects of "Dame" feel like forced attempts to set up events that occur later in "Sin City," while the sequel aspects are unnecessary continuations of stories best left where they concluded in the first film.
So much of "Dame" is simply unsatisfying. The story arcs involving Brolin's and Gordon-Levitt's characters come to underwhelming conclusions. They are pretty long narratives that wander aimlessly around Sin City, then meet pretty jarring resolutions that fall flat and succeed only in killing any momentum their kinetic stories built up. Neither narrative ever stirs any intrigue in where these stories or characters are going - they just pit their not-very-interesting protagonists against much more interesting antagonists in conflicts void of much dramatic tension.
Possibly the most damning indictment of "Dame" is that this film has too much fat to trim and feels much longer than its meager 102-minute running time. Including Ray Liotta, Jeremy Piven, Christopher Lloyd and Stacy Keach in the title credits is very generous - most of these actors only appear in one scene and their characters barely serve as plot devices. Christopher Meloni's police detective could have been very interesting, however, his character becomes one-note and pointless entirely too quickly. Dennis Haysbert, taking over the role played by the late Michael Clarke Duncan in "Sin City," is no where near as intimidating or commanding a presence as Duncan was as the brutal Manute. "A Dame to Kill For" goes out of its way to establish characters and set up expectations ... but these promises are often unfulfilled and characters are too quickly dispatched.
Finally, "Dame" prioritizes bombastic shock and awe over any sort of character development. Brolin's character is initially tortured about not unleashing some sort of inner monster - but that aspect just evaporates into nothing and is quickly forgotten. Marv, while still the most fun character in "Sin City," is barely more than a brute who bowls through waves of hapless criminals. Even his action-packed scenes are excessive in length and somehow makes brutal violence boring. Gordon-Levitt is quickly established as a skilled fighter who can handle himself on the streets - but that skill set is never alluded to or used again.
Final verdict: The phrase "style over substance" pretty much sums up "A Dame to Kill For." Anything interesting in this sequel was executed better in the first film - everything else
"Sin City: A Dame to Kill For" opens in theaters nationwide Aug. 22 and is rated R for strong brutal stylized violence throughout, sexual content, nudity, and brief drug use.