In 2005, "Sin City" broke new ground. It was a movie based on a comic book that actually looked like the comic book. Based on volumes 1, 3, and 4 of Frank Miller's "Sin City" comics series, the film was as faithful an adaptation as is possible. Every shot was made to mimic that of its print counterpart. This was due to the reverence that director Robert Rodriguez had of the source material and its creator. The results were a monochromatic joyride of sex, violence, and more sex and violence. Anyone familiar with the comics of Miller or the films of Rodriguez could hardly have expected any less. It was a fresh new genre for film: the noir comic book movie.
After nine years of waiting for the long-promised sequel, Rodriguez and Miller cooked up "Sin City: A Dame to Kill For", based on the second story of the comics of the same name. The casting is better than solid again. Gone are Clive Owen (this story takes place after the events of the first film, where he had a "new face") and the late Michael Clarke Duncan who are replaced, more or less, ably by Josh Brolin and Dennis Haysbert. Mickey Rourke's Marv is the same as before, as his character isn't exactly complicated. A deadly thug with a heart of gold is a part tailor made for him. Rosario Dawson's Gail is deliciously devilish as ever. But three performances really stand out. Jessica Alba turns up her game considerably (in both the dancing and acting departments) as exotic dancer Nancy Callahan looks for revenge for the death of her beloved guardian/father figure/possible lover John Hartigan (Bruce Willis reprises his role pointlessly in characters' delusions). Eva Green is a delight as the dame to kill for herself. In a much more prominent role this time around, Powers Boothe is at his menacing, sneering best.
If casting isn't the problem, then, what is? Even though the acting is on point, the words ring hollow. There was an inherent coolness about everything in the first film. The way Rourke, Owen, and Willis talked and moved with their flowing jackets was like Fonzi turned up ten notches. It was horrific and tragic, but also fun. In this film, the hip flow of Miller's writing is overwhelmed by misogyny. Green spends more time nude in the film than clothed (not that that is a complaint, necessarily). Yes, she is supposed the ultimate object of all men's desires but she scarcely needs to be naked and wet all the time to do that. Alba plays an exotic dancer who never disrobes all the way but still manages to leave men's mouths agape.
This is all part and parcel with the general soullessness of the piece. In the first film, happy endings were in short supply. For the most part, though, all the violence from the protagonists had a righteous reasoning behind it. In the first film, Marv goes after the Roark organization to avenge the murder of Goldie. In the opening of this film, he chases down four fraternity brothers (who, to be fair, set fire to bums) all across town just to murder them. For Goldie, this kind of determination is more justified. He believed he loved her and she was taken from him. Later on, he agrees to join up with Dwight to kill people just because he's bored.
Brolin's is a far more hardened version than that of Owen's. Brolin gets a few more dimensions to play but it was the taciturn style of Owen's portrayal that made it so cool. Likewise, Alba has more to do and handles it admirably. However, the sweet girl who strips to pay for school-turned alcoholic, gun-toting psychopath is way too forced. Nancy, whether intentional or not, was a ray of hope in the otherwise dire and depraved Basin City. A kidnapping victim that grew up to be more or less functional. At least she wasn't just another psycho killer. The sad part is that she's the only character that gets anything resembling their desired closure. But what a price she had to pay.
It's understandable that the filmmakers were looking to make a sequel very alike to the original as they are part of the same universe. "A Dame to Kill For" is a fairly solid story that would have been served better by stronger tales than the two originals that flanked it, both written specially for the film b Miller. "The Long Bad Night" starring Joseph Gordon-Levitt is little more than a less fun "The Hard Goodbye" complete with the same end result. Alba's revenge fantasy, "Nancy's Last Dance", also shares much with "The Hard Goodbye" as Marv is once again storming a house. If Miller really has run out of ideas, maybe it's time to let Rodriguez come up with something.
Things in "Sin City" have always been hopeless. Victories are hard won and seldom worth the cost. Every "win" is followed by and tainted with several chasers of despair. In this case, "A Dame to Kill For" is drowned by lackluster story and views past their expiration. It's less like something from the talented Rodriguez and more like Miller's horrendous take on "The Spirit".