The world of Sin City is built upon the notion that it essentially is an absolute power: and thus, it corrupts absolutely. There are no “good guys” or “bad guys” in Sin City stories – there are slightly more positively motivated guys who happen to beat, brutally, on the slightly more evilly motivated guys.
That’s the essential truth about Sin City and it plays out in a larger, more overt way in Sin City: A Dame to Kill For, the sequel that comes almost a decade after the first. There are some likable performances in this movie, but if you’re looking for a clear-cut hero to cheer for, you’re out of luck. After all, “This rotten town. It soils everybody.”
Without question, the standout performance in this sequel is the one centered around a brand-new character and brand-new story. Johnny, played by Joseph Gordon-Levitt, is not a nice guy, but he has a tremendous bit of luck. He also has a secret connection to a major character in the Sin City mythos. Walking out of the theater, a conversation with a fellow critic had us saying, “It’s time to just start casting JGL in everything,” and that’s what this performance does to the viewer. It cements him as the unquestioned superstar. Outstanding performances from Rosario Dawson and Josh Brolin, a solid and creepy performance by Powers Boothe, Mickey Rourke doing more of his signature confused tough guy shtick and a much-improved turn as Nancy by Jessica Alba rounds out the cast. Newcomer to the series, Eva Green as Ava Lord (the titular “Dame”) is a likewise disturbed, broken character. Her sexiness is played up, as if to balance out how utterly depressed she really is.
That, it seems, was the theme of the movie: depression. While the signature look and feel from the first film is there, as well as some awesome and crazy action sequences, the movie is really about what it is to be sad and broken down. There’s not a character in this film that is happy with their lot in life – many of them have accepted it, but they’re clearly joyless. Probably the closest to happy with how she lives is Gail, but even she has a sadness inherent to her character. The one upside to all of this is that each of them are fighting that pain in their own way (unfortunately – most of them are horrible ways, through violence, drugs, alcohol, and sex).
When you start to view Sin City: A Dame to Kill For through this lens, it’s impossible to stop. Every character introduced seems sadder than the last and their struggles all the more depressing – but powerful. It really seems like you’re getting a very unique look inside the brain of someone going through powerful pain (not to purport to know anything about Frank Miller or Robert Rodriguez’s intention or personal lives there). It’s a topic a lot of filmmakers or other creative types skirt but then shy way from. Presenting it with the backdrop of gorgeous drawn-in scenery, outrageous violence and noir sensibilities and dialogue torn from the 40s makes it somehow easier to view, and thus easier to confront.
But I digress – people looking for just another chapter of Sin City will find plenty to enjoy here. From the pitch perfect adaptations of “Just Another Saturday Night” and “A Dame to Kill For” to the brand-new story featuring Johnny, the movie takes the formula cooked up for the first one and ramps it up with unique shading, color-add, and quick cuts that are built around every punctuation mark. The cinematography and direction are really used as additional dialogue here, and likewise every word cuts as hard as deadly little Miho’s katana.
Sin City: A Dame to Kill Foris more of the same – in the best way. What could have been a tired gimmick still works, and I’m convinced it works because of the underpinnings. Some people may feel put off, and if you’re looking for an uplifting film going experience, you simply won’t find it here. If you’re looking for an artistic view of what it means to live in a world where pain and pleasure are one in the same, this movie presents it with a unique and devastating flair.