Did directors Frank (Sin City, The Spirit) Miller and Robert (Once Upon a Time in Mexico, Planet Terror) Rodriguez capture lightning again in their sequel? Or was this a movie that came nearly ten years too late? Non-returning actors (Michael Clark Duncan, Devon Aoki, Brittany Murphy, and Clive Owen, just to name a few) and seemingly endless rewrites of the fabled "new story" of Miller's and an abysmal marketing campaign (or lack thereof) certainly did not help. Nor did the lack of dark humor from the first film being strangely absent throughout. But was it a complete flop? Absolutely not. It was not quite as artistic, but there are several worthwhile scenes and performances. Much like Miller's other work being unnecessarily sequalized, 300: Rise of an Empire, this film suffers from being, simply put, a far cry from the original.
Returning stars Mickey (The Wrestler, Iron Man 2) Rourke, Jessica (the Fantastic Four series, Dark Angel) Alba, Rosario (Rent, Death Proof) Dawson, Powers (Justice League, Tombstone) Boothe, and even a ghostly Bruce (the Die Hard series, The Sixth Sense) Willis shine as the fan-favorites from the first one. But a dark spot on the cast comes in the form of the bland Josh (Labor Day, Men in Black 3) Brolin, a poor replacement for Clive Owen. The character of Dwight is one of intrigue, mystery, and sympathy, but all of that is lost in translation due to a wooden performance by both Brolin and actress Eva (Casino Royale, Dark Shadows) Green, who was quite obviously cast simply for her body. The chemistry is nonexistent with all of her male victims, and the only thing worse than her acting is her Kristen Stewartesque facial expressions throughout. But a surprisingly charismatic performance by Joseph (The Dark Knight Rises, Don Jon) Gordon-Levitt, a fantastic cameo appearance by Christopher (the Back to the Future trilogy, Who Framed Roger Rabbit?) Lloyd, and the powerful stage presence of Dennis (24, The Unit) Haysbert give the film an edge that would be otherwise missing. Just like the original, just about anyone and everyone who wanted to have a role, got one. The rest of the cast is rounded out quite nicely by Ray (Hannibal, Identity) Liotta, Christopher (Law & Order: Special Victims Unit, Man of Steel) Meloni, Jeremy (Entourage, Smokin' Aces) Piven, Jaime (My Bloody Valentine, Pearl Harbor) King, Juno (Atonement, Maleficent) Temple, Jamie (Once Upon a Time, Sucker Punch) Chung, Jude (The Shawshank Redemption, The Terminal) Ciccolella, Marton (The Amazing Spider-Man 2, The Lord of the Rings trilogy) Csokas, an unrecognizable Stacy (American History X, Nebraska) Keach, and even Lady Gaga. Yes, that Lady Gaga.
So what was wrong with the film? Nothing, other than simply being too late to the party. Comic book movies are a dime a dozen nowadays, and it is getting harder and harder to sell gritty superhero noir. Some great performances are bogged down by some not-so-great ones, and the overall finished product, though well-meaning and well-crafted, simply misses the spark of the original. And the hopelessness that the viewer is left with at the end of each segment is a little too melodramatic to be taken seriously. Individually, the stories work. But woven together, they simply detract from one another in all of the wrong ways. Comic fans will be forgiving and embrace the films. Non-comic fans will be disappointed. But anyone and everyone who views the film will reach the same conclusion: It was good. Not great, not necessary, but still worth the price of admission.