When the original Sin City hit it was an instant cult classic for obvious reasons. Bringing a gritty pulp-noir film to the screen in an iconic black and white style with brilliant splashes of color. Adapted from Frank Millier's seminal graphic novel of the same name and directed by both Miller and Robert Rodriguez (with a little help from Quentin Tarantino) the thing oozed cool, dripped smarts and presented a kind of effortless style that not only made the movie look fantastic but bolstered its straight forward machismo and subtle intelligence. It's a perfect collection of stories that play with the noir genre and themes of hyper masculinity, heroes and violence all while dishing out lines like some sort of hyper active Sam Spade. It is legitimately a piece of pop culture art.
Given all this it's easy to see why someone might covet a sequel to the film. The comic still had a story left (A Dame to Kill For) and more over-the-top hardboiled action couldn't be a bad thing. But a sequel wasn't really necessary. Sin City is such a great stand alone film that adding something more to it wasn't needed. Still, a second film could have been its own thing by branching off and pushing in a different direction. There could have been greatness to a new twist on the nearly entirely digital film. Unfortunately, Sin City: A Dame to Kill For doesn't offer anything new. Instead it feels contrived; a hollow copy of the genius that came before it that often struggles to make itself work.
A Dame to Kill for attempts to take the same approach that the original film did: separate stories that interweave with each other slightly. There's the femme fatale laden tale of Dwight (Josh Brolin), who you may remember from the first film in the guise of Clive Owen, whose lover, Ava (Eva Green) returns begging him for help only to drag him down as the best femme fataels do. Then there's Johnny (Joseph Gordon-Levitt), a card shark with incredible luck who takes on Senator Roark (Powers Booth) in some back room poker. Finally there's the return of Nancy (Jessica Alba) who is longing for revenge on Roark after he caused Hartigan's (Bruce Willis) suicide in the previous film. Throughout all this, and with a brief story of his own in the begining is Marv (Mickey Rourke) the psychotic do-gooder who causes most of the film's bloodshed.
In places the stories and characters work. Eva Green has the femme fatale on lock and is stunning, and naked, throughout the film. Rodriguiz and Miller seems to focus so heavily on making her work that much of the story around that plot line doesn't. That's a real problem since that one story takes up the majority of the film and yet doesn't feel like it should. Nancy's return, a story written for the film, is entirely unnecessary and frankly ruins its predecessor's themes of dark heroism from the original. Marv is fun to watch, but is kept merely as a brute for action sequences that feel forced. Only Johnny's story line has a punch to it, and much of that is because Gordon-Levitt delivers a fantastic performance.
The plotting mishaps aren't the real issue, however. The film just falls flat, which is ironic since the 3D looks stunning. The style of the movie is still fantastic to look at, but instead of feeling natural as the original did it mostly feels like a gimmick this time around. There's no statement being made like the previous film did and much of the time the movie feels like it's simply referencing the previous film as a throwback instead of making its own decisions. Even the violence, a subject the previous films handled wonderfully in how brutal and ludicrous it was, now feels stale and forced. Where the original actually was hardboiled noir taken to the genres extremes, this one feels like it is simply trying to be one. It so wants to be something it completely fails at being it.
What might fail it the most, as one can still enjoy the visuals (especially Eva Green's nudity), is the fact that the screenplay is often trite and bland. While the lines and dialog are supposed to be ridiculous, melodramatic and campy they very often just seem lame. Maybe this is because Brolin doesn't seem to be delivering them right or because nothing quite clicks as well as it should, but the dialog never lives up to the original comics. There are a few great lines here and there, but the overall feel of the screenplay is effort instead of fun. Again, the movie is trying so hard to be something it becomes the opposite of its goal. Instead of uber-noir we just get bad one-liners spoken gruffly.
A Dame to Kill For is definitely a disappointment and as such it is easy to come down incredibly harshly on it. Perhaps a bit too harshly. It is still visually stunning, especially in 3D. There are shots and takes here that you'll never see anywhere else that seem to have leaped off the comic page. The film's depiction of Ava is worth the price of admission alone, and that's not just because she's naked for most of it. There are moments when you get glimpses of the movie A Dame to Kill For wanted to be, but they aren't enough to make it feel like anything more than a cool looking gimmick coated over an action movie.
A Dame to Kill For might actually be the best sequel possible for the original Sin City because it is mostly inconsequential. The original still stands alone as a striking departure from the rest of cinema in the past decade and that's probably how it should be. There's art and then there's not, and unfortunately A Dame to Kill For is the latter.