It was another dark night in Basin City when lovers Dwight and Ava Lord were reunited. But in Sin City, a reunion is never good news. And Ava has plans for Dwight.
Back in 2005, Robert Rodriguez and graphic novel creator Frank Miller collaborated to bring Miller’s noir-heavy tales of Sin City to the big screen. Despite the success of that film, it has taken them nearly a decade to wrangle the budget and cast together for a second shot. This time around, the pair have cherry-picked elements from the second, eponymous story in the Sin City series and a short yarn from the sixth book combined with two original narratives — The Fat Loss and The Long Bad Night — that the author created for the film. Rodriguez, meanwhile, is again on jack-of-all-trades duty, acting as co-director, cinematographer, editor and writing some of the score. Given his predilection for cooking, he probably whipped up a few on-set meals to boot.
A Dame To Kill For keeps to the template set out by the first film, and even pushes the comic visuals a step further now that audiences have accepted what the directors were able to do last time. So we return to a torn-from-the-pages monochrome city of dingy shadows, driving digital rain, and the occasional splash of colour for effect. In fact, it’s a neat shot of computer-generated Mickey Spillane as before, but this time with an added femme-fatale count.
Eva Green makes for a viper of a character in Ava Lord, able to switch her behaviour according to the poor sap she’s trying to lure, and the actress is clearly relishing the chance to play such a conniving con artist who wraps men around her little finger and disposes of them when they’re no longer useful.
Josh Brolin, taking over from Clive Owen for an earlier visit to Dwight McCarthy’s tough existence, gives weary life to a man the world — and lots of people in it — just keeps wanting to beat up. Joseph Gordon-Levitt takes even more punishment as Johnny, the cocksure gambler on a mission to do more than win at poker, yet who ends up losing big. Despite being a completely original tale, Johnny feels like a natural addition to the Sin City canon, a man ready for this tough town to chew up and spit out.
The veterans, meanwhile, are still on good form: Marv fits Mickey Rourke like a glove, and he’s just as dark and dangerous as ever, whether he’s punishing frat boys for killing tramps or helping Dwight with a mission of his own. Jessica Alba’s Nancy adds a few shades from the woman we met before — she’s now a damaged, gun-toting version of herself, scarred and sadistic, channelling her fury through her dancing and building up the guts to slaughter the powerful, dreadful Senator Roark (Powers Boothe, back on smug, cigar-chewing form).
Of course, hewing so closely to the feel of the original means that its inherent problems still exist: even Ava Lord’s slinky power and the weapon-hefting ladies of Old Town (led once more by Rosario Dawson’s Gail) can’t banish the idea that women get treated terribly in this world, and the men don’t come out looking much better. The stylish noir treatment lends a surreal aspect that helps mitigate a lot of that, but the issues remain. Some of the dialogue slides from hard-boiled noir narration to sounding like the feverish dream of a teenager working himself into a Chandler-fuelled frenzy, and not all of the performances fit as well as you might expect.
Yet Rodriguez and Miller have pulled off a sequel that feels truly of a piece with the original, exploring and expanding the world of Sin City and delivering a heady brew of noir, danger and style that will either make you wish you could visit or glad you don’t live within a thousand miles of anywhere like it.
A Dame To Kill For shares some of the downsides of the first, particularly dubious female characterisation. But this retains the gritty, gruelling vice-grip on graphic-novel noir that made Sin City so enjoyable.