Sin City: A Dame to Kill For Review: Which City is This Again?
The reviews are in for Sin City: A Dame to Kill For, and they're bleak. Many reviewers are saying that, while the visuals are still stunning, if not as groundbreaking, the sequel has not expanded on the Sin City universe or added anything of substance to its predecessor. This is all true, but does that necessarily make it a bad film? As a huge fan of the original movie, I would have been at least content if the sequel had been as good as the first, regardless of whether it justified its own existence. But therein lies the problem: it wasn't nearly as good. It was entertaining, of course, but the characterization was weak, the sense of world-building was nearly absent, and worst of all, the storylines just weren't all that compelling.
While the first film wasn't perfect, it was admirable. It had a clear, confident vision, a refreshingly complete immersion into the neo-noir genre, and a crucial self-awareness. And while it was composed of fairly disparate threads, it had a very distinct sense of place. The world-building was fairly masterful; even though they were beating you over the head with the corruption inherent to Basin City from the beginning, the narrative managed to uncover new layers of that corruption and degeneracy with every story, somehow predictable and surprising at the same time. A Dame to Kill For can claim none of that, as the only narrative that even managed to be somewhat interesting was the titular A Dame to Kill For. Only when Eva Green was on screen did it ever feel like you were really watching the movie; all the other stories felt like killed time. Joseph Gordon-Levitt turned in a great performance, and Jessica Alba wasn't as bad as early buzz would have you believe, but neither of them had much to work with, as both stories and character arcs were woefully underdeveloped. They were likely underdeveloped because the writers realized that A Dame to Kill For was their best bet (which would also explain the title), but then they should have just focused on that story alone. It often felt like they only included the other narratives for the star power; Bruce Willis, in particular, had absolutely no reason to be there, and every moment he was on screen was incredibly perfunctory and awkward.
The poor writing and general ineptness of the proceedings also made certain flaws shared by both films harder to forgive. While the first film also objectified women, the film's insistence that Sin City represented the absolute worst and basest of human nature made it seem more acceptable, as though by having these terrible characters objectify women, the film was critiquing this same treatment. The sequel didn't even try to pretend that it didn't condone this behavior, as the camera spent nearly the entire film lingering on women's body parts, particularly those of Eva Green, who spent nearly the entire movie topless. And the fact that Eva Green's character was the most interesting one in the entire movie made it inexcusable that the vignette didn't come from her perspective at any point. That would have been a brilliant way to upturn the tired "femme fatale" trope, as those conniving ladies are really just plot devices for the male protagonists no matter how much they want to claim that the women "have all the power." But that was too much to expect. Of the four vignettes, the only one that was narrated by a woman was Jessica Alba (which, shockingly enough, did not come from the notoriously misogynistic Frank Miller, but was an original story written for the film). But even that vignette was partially narrated by Bruce Willis, who needed to save his damsel in distress even when he was dead.
And then there's really no excuse for the racism in both of these films (unless "it was racist in the comics" counts as an excuse). The only black character, Manute, is a brute. His entire function is being a beast who is literally characterized as "not human." This characterization is made even more awkward by the fact that Dennis Haysbert, the only black actor in A Dame to Kill For, was replacing the only black actor to appear in the original Sin City, Michael Clarke Duncan. And then the only Asian character to appear in either film, Miho, is fetishized as a mysterious, exotic martial artist who fights with long swords. She's the only character in the Sin City universe with actual magical powers, and she doesn't speak. Again, these dynamics were problematic in the first film as well, but as the writing lost any nuance it once had, the bluntness of the stereotyping becomes more unnerving.