Stunning monochrome visuals fail to supersede shallow female roles, lack of novelty in ‘A Dame to Kill For’
If presented as a shameless satire, “Sin City: A Dame to Kill For” would have been a smashing success. The darker-than-dark noir oozes with brooding figures, melodrama and gorgeous monotone imagery that slaps you right in the face.
It’s gritty and a pleasant visual treat, but almost a decade later, the perversity, violence and conceptual novelty that made “Sin City” a critical and commercial success is lost.
That hyperbolic style is what gives the film series its flavor, but the sequel feels too self aware of this idea.
It plays it safe. Without the kitsch, it just doesn’t feel worth the time. The expectation for the same ludicrous elements — the yellow-faced villains and talking severed heads — never comes to fruition.
Of course, there’s violent excess, but it feels tiresome. Even when martial arts master Miho (Jamie Chung) is splitting skulls like a little girl picking daisies, it felt like no one was waiting to see what would happen next.
The film begins with a familiar face. Grimy hooligan Marv (Mickey Rourke) acts like the thin glue that keeps the film’s story arcs together. He wakes up on the interstate overlooking the projects in Sin City.
He cracks a few jokes, commits some felonies, and the story proceeds.
Joseph Gordon-Levitt plays Johnny, a smooth-talking card shark that wins against the wrong man.
We see him roll up to the seedy Kadie’s Bar and by some mixture of confidence and magic, beats the corrupt and powerful Senator Roarke (Powers Boothe) in a game of poker.
Boothe does an excellent job of blending the class and intimidation you’d expect from a dirty politician.
The film transitions into Josh Brolin’s Dwight McCarthy. A freelance photographer with a troubled past, Dwight’s ex-lover reemerges to disturb his quiet life. It’s in his old flame, Ava, the film finds its silver lining.
Played by Eva Green, the lustrous femme fatale dominates both within the context of the film and outside of it.
Women in Sin City often have to take a backseat, letting men brawl in their stead, but Ava takes control.
She’s manipulative and there’s a glimmer of insanity in her eyes. Her grip on Dwight, her husband and every man in between bleeds off the film to the point that the audience feels her absence when she’s not on screen.
Elsewhere in Sin City, Jessica Alba reprises her role as stripper Nancy Callahan, and this time around, she’s seeking vengeance.
The ghost of John Hartigan, Nancy’s savior from the first film, haunts her conscience, and she wants nothing more than to wipe the slate clean.
Her performance, of which a good portion is spent traipsing around the stage at Kadie’s Bar, is lackluster. Her scowls, scorns and rage aren’t enough to match the grit of the city around her.
Rosario Dawson also returns as Gail, the hard as nails overseer of Old Town.
She’s still as raw and sensual as the previous film, but her storyline and development isn’t given priority this time around.
Apart from Nancy’s determination to seek revenge and Ava’s magnetism, the film does a poor job in its portrayal of women in general.
If you consider the thematic inspiration for the film, most notably pulp fiction and film noir, then, the portrayal of women makes some sense.
Depictions of women in these genres often focused on their questionable virtue, rather than their strengths and identity.
But, perhaps, a world where Nancy, Ava and every female role in the film is allowed to really take control is that novel element the film desperately lacks.
For all the film’s bare bodies, gory detail and fast-paced action, it feels underwhelming.
“Sin City 2” unfortunately suffers from sequel syndrome. It takes itself too seriously all while sitting comfortably in its predecessor’s shadow.
When the credits suddenly start rolling, there’s a sense that the film doesn’t really offer anything that the 2005 original didn’t have.