Walking out of Sin City: A Dame to Kill For, I kept coming back to the same question: was the first Sin City really that bad? It’s been years since I saw Robert Rodriguez and Frank Miller’s first adaptation of Miller’s pulpy noir comics, which came out in 2005 and used green-screen technology to render his panels as faithfully as possible and unite a starry cast without them ever having to even meet on set. I was never a huge fan of the 2005 Sin City, even as a college student who didn’t know any better, but I know I didn’t walk out of the theater feeling as nasty as I did with A Dame to Kill For.
The sequel is so demonstrably similar: over-the-top, thuddingly obvious narration throughout; exaggerated action that sees people constantly thrown through windows, blasted apart with guns and dismembered with samurai swords; faint homage to the great ‘40s noir films mixed with thick, sludgy, violent pulp nonsense to amp the violence and sex to 11 every time. The first Sin City drew almost exclusively from Miller’s comics, framing its narrative around three of his stories; this one adapts only one of his illustrated tales (the titular “A Dame to Kill For”) and adds a lot of original material, also written by Miller. That may be where the biggest problem lies.
We follow three broad storylines that occasionally cross over, set within the ridiculously corrupt Basin City, where one neighborhood is run by gun-toting prostitutes, everywhere else is controlled by the corrupt Senator Roark (Powers Boothe), and people are seemingly getting into gunfights every five minutes. One thread sees a young gambler (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) seeking to best Roark at cards; another follows Dwight (Josh Brolin, playing Clive Owen’s role from the first movie) as he’s sucked into a web of intrigue by his old lover Ava Lord (Eva Green); and finally, we see bruiser Marv (Mickey Rourke) assist the haunted stripper Nancy (Jessica Alba) in avenging the death of Hartigan (Bruce Willis), who died in the first movie protecting her and now stalks around behind her in ghostly form.