Is there anything more heartbreaking than a gorgeous film that can’t live up to its graphics? Probably. But as we watch Joseph Gordon-Levitt (Looper, Brick) drive down into Sin City, it’s hard not to let the excitement build up beyond what the movie ends up fulfilling.
His chapter is just one of many in Robert Rodriguez and Frank Miller’s co-directed return to Sin City. “A Dame to Kill For” follows a pattern similar to the first one: three stories clenched together with dark scenes and stunning graphics in Basin City. Gordon-Levitt plays Johnny, the new kid on the block who’s set to take the spot of Sin City’s highest roller. Meanwhile Dwight (Josh Brolin, Guardians of the Galaxy, No Country for Old Men) chases after the dame broad that stole his heart, while elsewhere Nancy (Jessica Alba, Machete, Sin City) loses herself in life post John Hartigan (Bruce Willis, Moonrise Kingdom, Die Hard), who (nine-year-old spoilers) died protecting her in the first “Sin City.”
All three sagas are told in serial form, just like its prequel. Except where the former managed to glide — or at least distract — with its sleek graphics and creative storytelling, “Sin City: A Dame to Kill For” misses its mark. The movie is sluggish, weighed down by the amount of attempted grit that peeks through with every move. Though it picks up a bit in the middle, the film feels more like a parody than an homage — except nobody told Rodriguez and Miller.
Maybe it’s too much to expect from a film (or maybe, more accurately, Miller) that’s constantly harkening back to the gritty days of noir to have better treatment of women. But the film is irresponsible at best. Gone are the highlighted femme fatales of old, back are the damsels. They may not always be in distress, but they always need a man — either to sexualize or complete them. The first one at least felt it needed to justify when someone (a woman) dies; “A Dame to Kill For” practically keeps a score card.
Sure, it was all probably there in “Sin City.” But with “Sin City: A Dame to Kill For” the formula feels devoid of the energy that was there; stale in a way that feels more like trashy pulp than the slow-boiled noir of its predecessor.
Some say fans of the original “Sin City” flick won’t be disappointed, and certainly those hoping to return to the grungy city and its vivid visuals won’t be. But for anyone looking for the wit and artistry of the first “Sin City” keep looking. It may be “A Dame to Kill For,” but by the end it just feels like a two-hour exercise in male bravado.