We have, literally, been here before - not just in the "hardboiled" crime thrillers whose hold on contemporary imagination persists since its 1940s/1950s introduction and heyday, but also in the stylized, chiaroscuro paneling that acclaimed/controversial artist Frank Miller created on paper with his Sin City series of graphic novels in the early 1990s and Robert Rodriguez impeccably transposed to the big screen nearly ten years ago. There's no doubt Mr. Miller managed to distill the essence of disenchanted, cynical post-war film noir in his visually striking work; there's even less doubt that Mr. Rodriguez's use of modern technology to bring the comics' vision to vivid, graphic life in his 2005 Sin City was an inspired gambit. His use of state-of-the-art technology to recreate the stylized artifice of the stories, having the all-star ensemble cast play against a green screen and placing it in digitally rendered sets straight out of Mr. Miller's artwork, developed into a truly artistic approach at once faithful to the origin material and extraordinarily cinematic.
But this belated return to the universe of Basin City seems to have lost the "magic touch" of 2005. Though Mr. Rodriguez has always been at his best working within the restraints of "pulp fiction", revelling in the energy and in the tropes of disposable low-grade cinema (as seen in his Grindhouse contributions Planet Terror or Machete), there is a sense both he and Mr. Miller (again co-directing and contributing two new storylines for the film as well) are trying too hard to recapture the drive of the original film and end up not really succeeding.
Part of it comes from Sin City: A Dame to Kill For being essentially more of the same; it's another set of visually stunning pulp noir tales within the well-codified universe of the genre, but with no discernible difference in approach or storytelling from the previous film. These could very well be "out-takes" from the 2005 production, heightened by the presence of returning cast members that are seriously underused, such as Mickey Rourke's good-hearted lug Marv or Bruce Willis' now ghostly incorruptible police officer (the use of 3D doesn't really add much either).
Part of it is the creaking narrative: the four stories included aren't really interwoven, turning A Dame to Kill For into a portmanteau of isolated tales connected by the occasional common character and setting, and spending most of its running time on the titular storyline, adapted from one of the earliest Sin City comics. That tale of a Barbara-Stanwyckian femme fatale who seduces men for her own devious ways but makes the mistake of deciding to use the one man who truly loved her is, however, the saving grace of this sequel. Not only a smart riff on the hardboiled genre, it's the most cohesive and most fully realized of the four stories, also features another blisteringly stellar villain performance from the great Eva Green, ably backed by a coiled, moody Josh Brolin as her patsy.
While there's no denying this is not so much a sequel determined by box-office expectations as it is a film borne out of the genuine desire of its makers to further explore the universe created in 2005, there is also no denying that A Dame to Kill For doesn't really go any further than the original went. It becomes a predictable, over-familiar thrill ride that no longer excites you as it did the first time around.
FRANK MILLER'S SIN CITY: A DAME TO KILL FOR
USA, France, India 2014
Cast: Mickey Rourke, Jessica Alba, Josh Brolin, Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Rosario Dawson, Bruce Willis, Eva Green, Powers Boothe, Dennis Haysbert, Ray Liotta, Stacy Keach, Jaime King, Christopher Lloyd, Jamie Chung, Jeremy Piven, Christopher Meloni, Juno Temple, Marton Csokas, Jude Ciccolella, Julia Garner
Directors Robert Rodriguez and Frank Miller; screenwriter Mr. Miller; based on his stories "A Dame to Kill For" and "Just Another Saturday Night"; cinematographer and editor Mr. Rodriguez (b&w with colour elements, 3D); composers Mr. Rodriguez and Carl Thiel; designers Steve Joyner and Caylah Eddleblute; costumes Nina Proctor; co-editor Ian Silverstein; effects supervisor Stefen Fangmeier; special make-up Greg Nicotero and Howard Berger; producers Mr. Rodriguez, Aaron Kaufman, Stephen L'Heureux, Sergei Bespalov, Alexei Rodniansky and Mark Manuel; production companies Aldamisa Entertainment, Troublemaker Studios, AR Films and Solipsist Films in co-production with Davis Films Productions, in association with Dimension Films, Prescience, Altus Media and Prime Focus Films
Screened August 22nd 2014, NOS Alvaláxia 6, Lisbon (distributor press screening)