It looks and sounds and bleeds like the SIN CITY we know and love from 10 years ago, the one co-directed by Robert Rodriguez and Frank Miller, based on Miller's insanely popular graphic novels. There are a few familiar faces, a few new ones, narration all over the damn place, and deadly black-and-white images, splattered with blood. But strangely enough SIN CITY: A DAME TO KILL FOR is missing something that I can't quite put my finger on. Maybe it's the fact that Rodriguez and Miller haven't given us anything new in terms of the visuals; the almost-entirely CG environments feel the same, which is a shame because it limits the film in its pursuit to distinguish itself from its predecessor.
Marv (Mickey Rourke, seemingly even puffier in makeup than before) is back, still looking for a fight, but always willing to help out a friend. The one thing that isn't clearly explained (if it was, I missed it) is the timeline. Some of the film clearly takes place after SIN CITY. Bruce Willis' cop Hartigan is still dead but seems to be hovering over the shoulder of his charge, the stripper Nancy (Jessica Alba), trying to discourage her from going after the men who killed him, mostly those controlled by Senator Roark (Powers Booth, who has become more of a caricature villain than anything truly worth being scared of. But we also get stories that take place before the first film. Jaime King shows up as both twin sisters, Goldie and Wendy, one of whom we know dies in SIN CITY. I don't think the past and present storyline intersect, but jumping back and forth can get tiresome and confusing, especially to those who don't realize that Josh Brolin is playing the same character (pre-plastic surgery) he played in the first film. Good luck with that.
The best sequences are those that feature new characters. Joseph Gordon-Levitt is here as Johnny, a card shark of sorts who takes the good senator for quite a lot of money in a high-stakes poker game. Julia Garner is sweet and sexy Marcie, who acts as Johnny's good luck charm until she doesn't. Aside from the segment having a completely unexpected ending (the film was scripted by Miller as well), Gordon-Levitt just seems to get what he's doing and how this world works. His character has the requisite secrets and bombshells and reverse bombshells to remain interesting, and the actor possesses the required level of coolness to pull this off. It helps that he's also one of the only men in the film who isn't smacking a dame around at some point. But his storyline ends so abruptly, that there's no way you won't look around as say, "Huh?"
SIN CITY: A DAME TO KILL FOR endlessly hateful of women—the prettier they are, the more it seems to want to mess up their faces, to the point where Alba literally self-scars herself to complete her transformation into a killing machine. It's kind of gross.
Perhaps the most fascinating character, old or new, this go round is Eva Green's Ava, the complete black widow whose motives are vague (maybe money, control, power, sexual frustration), but her methods always seem to involve taking off all of her clothes, which I'm certainly not complaining about. The problem is that her character is so horribly underwritten, it gets to be silly. Green is clearly right at home playing this type of hell-on-wheels woman, who has no problem lying, but knows that the real pain comes from telling her men the truth. She arranges for Brolin's Dwight (a former flame) to do a job for her that of course involves him driving into the back alleys controlled by Rosario Dawson's Gail and her underwear-clad ladies of Old Town.
The violence in these chapters of the SIN CITY saga is almost too conventionally bloody. And while one or two of the new characters are amusing (a pair of police detectives played by Jeremy Piven and Christopher Meloni are pretty amusing, especially when Meloni becomes fixated on Ava), many of the newbies just seem there to add to the parade of famous faces—Ray Liotta, Juno Temple, Stacy Keach, who is unrecognizable in some pretty great makeup, Dennis Haysbert. And not much of their participation adds up to much.
SIN CITY's appeal to me was always that it took the conventions of film noir and ramped them up to a far edgier and nastier level. With A DAME TO KILL FOR, however, the filmmakers have slipped from that approach to something that feels a lot like parody, and the joke isn't funny. In many ways, this chapter can't decide what it wants to be, which is probably why it all feels so unhinged and lost in its own visual style. There's a great deal to like here, but the material and performances that don't work severely undercut a lot of what's good. It's actually a fairly close call, but I never found myself able to truly get on board with this one.