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Taking A Deeper Look Into Sin City: A Dame To Kill For

I would rank the original 2005 Sin City as one of my favorite comic book movies. Waiting 9 years for a sequel that was announced pretty shortly after the release of the first one felt like an eternity. Especially after it was given an October 2013 release date and then pushed back to August 2014. Needless to say, I was looking forward to this movie yet as the reviews started to pour in after opening weekend I got real nervous.

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I immediately noticed a trend in the reviews. Ones that seemed to be from comic book related websites spoke favorably and seemed to “understand” it. While mainstream media outlets all had pretty damning things to say. Typified with Rotten Tomatoes listing it at around 40% yet IMDB ranking it at about 7/10. What’s the truth? I’d say somewhere in the middle (good, but not great) but not nearly as bad as some websites would have you believe. I figured I’d do my best to address some of the facts.

Most of the negative reviews sighted the following problems with the movie:

1. The characters aren’t given much depth for a sequel.

This is true, but that is not how these stories were designed. The characters never really evolve and the film isn’t a true sequel say in the way that The Dark Knight is to Batman Begins. It’s basically little snap shots and vignettes of the life in Sin City.

2. The visuals are not as ground breaking as the original.

Again this is true, but they aren’t supposed to be. Technology has caught up and surpassed the 2005 original. But, this movie is intended to look like the first one which in turn looks like the comics they were based on. I would rather have this than a situation with the original Star Wars movies vs. the prequels where the look and feel is vastly different. It’s better to keep it as a unified whole.

3.  It’s overly violent.

I don’t have much for this one, that’s how Sin City is. You’re either ok with it or you’re not.

4. The women in these movies are portrayed in a bad light.

There’s not much to argue here. It’s basically true, partly because of its film noir roots and its 1940s sensibility within the genre. The typical femme fatale comes into the man’s life and ruins it usually by luring him in with her body and the promise (or delivery) of sex. All the women in the movie seemed to be doing something for or because of a man.

The series (as always) is film noir turned up to 11 pumped in with some comic book steroids. Over stylized, over sexualized, over violent with dialogue so insanely hardboiled, pulpy and over the top it’s hard not to laugh when you hear it, but I also love it. Its noir meets Tarantino. I think a big part of why A Dame To Kill For flopped is because of the reviews as well as the 9 year gap between films based on a comic book series from the 1990’s that less and less people know about. I also don’t recall seeing one trailer for it at any of the multiple comic movies I’ve seen this summer. Yet, the Guardians Of The Galaxy trailer I felt like I saw every single time I sat down in a movie. It seems like I only knew about the new Sin City movie because I wanted to know about it.

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A Dame To Kill For is set up similar to the structure of the original movie which includes 3 main stories interweaving with each other and opening with a vignette.  Of the 4 pieces 2 were written specifically for the movie. One of the new stories “The Long Bad Night” features Joseph Gordon Levitt as a cocky gambler with some hidden motives and plays out excellently (not to mention a surprise Christopher Lloyd cameo!). “Nancy’s Last Dance” is the other telling about Nancy’s breakdown after the death of Hartigan in the first movie. This is not nearly as good and would have been just as well excised from the film or replaced with another pre-existing story or newly created one. It also seriously helps to muck up the movie’s timeline (which Den Of Geek has done an excellent job putting it together here) It all seems like an excuse to shoehorn fan favorite Marv into more screen time but by the time you get to the last fight scene it feels like you’ve already seen the exact same thing earlier in the movie.

These two new stories however, gravitate around Senator Roark which is a godsend. Powers Boothe is fantastic as the slimy, corrupt string puller of Sin City. He lights up any scene he’s in and was tragically underused in the first film which they more than make up for here. How do you get a name like Powers Boothe that’s almost always cooler than the names of the characters you are playing?

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The story “A Dame To Kill For” forms the center of the movie and I knew going into it that it would be the best part. It’s certainly my favorite of the comics and the most true to the series film noir roots. It translated on the screen beautifully. Of course there’s Eva Green and as virtually every review has pointed out she was excellent. As a femme fatale she was as cruel and deadly as (the gold standard) Barbara Stanwyck in Double Indemnity. Delectably sadistic, cold and beautiful, she was positively stunning as Ava Lord. Josh Brolin also nailed his performance as Dwight and was a welcome and seamless addition to the cast.

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I’ll be honest; I was a little hesitant when they first announced that Frank Miller would be writing two new stories to accompany the movie. While he certainly is a legend in the business and crafted some of my all time favorite stories his recent comic book output has been downright awful for the last decade or so. I’d go as far as to say deplorable. So the fact that he’s 1 for 2 with these stories isn’t bad. Perhaps “The Long Bad Night” works better because he was free of having to write something that connects so tightly to the tapestry of the film’s bigger storyline and can stand alone.

It’s a shame it’s not doing well at the box office. I read in a few interviews that both Miller and Robert Rodriguez said based on the film’s financial success they would get to work on Sin City 3 very soon now that the juices were flowing again. Miller even said that he was thinking about going back to writing more Sin City comics after almost 15 years away from it. We may have even gotten a glimpse in the credits where they show the character’s name and a corresponding drawing from the comic book. They showed a drawing of Joseph Gordon Levitt’s character Johnny who does not appear in the comics.

Is A Dame To Kill For as good as the original? Definitely not, but it’s exactly what I wanted it to be. Another journey deep into the streets of Basin City that was meant for the big screen with images that will continue to stand out and haunt you.

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About Biff Tannen

Film Noir, Pulp, Comic Books and Hitchcock.

Posted on August 27, 2014, in Movies, Reviews and tagged , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 1 Comment.

  1. Douglas Yancee Funnie

    Couldn’t agree more. If you’re a fan of the first and are looking for more stories in that setting you’ll love it. Gotta love my boy marv. His one liners are classic

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