After nine years of promising a sequel to their 2005 hit “Sin City,” Frank Miller and Robert Rodriguez finally have something to show for it in “Sin City: A Dame to Kill For.” The original film has lost its luster in some critical circles for its reduction of noir to its broadest (and, frankly, dumbest) form and commitment to being “cool” above all else. But that doesn’t necessarily make it ineffective, and Mickey Rourke’s turn as the brutally principled Marv has lost none of its power. So how does returning to the well with three of the same major characters (albeit one changed actor, with Clive Owen being swapped for Josh Brolin) turn out? Judging from the early reviews: “Eh.”
A handful of highly positive notices aside, the best that can be said for “Sin City: A Dame to Kill For’s” early reviews is that not all of them are scathing. Most of them agree that any novelty from the first has faded, which only exacerbates the shortcomings of Miller and Rodriguez’s ultra-macho and leery approach. Eva Green’s performance as the titular dame has earned near-universal praise, but most critics can’t find much more to recommend the film around her. Between this and “300: Rise of an Empire,” she’s had a hell of a year being the best thing about crappy movies (OK, she also has “White Bird in a Blizzard” and the acclaimed show “Penny Dreadful,” thankfully). Maybe next year we can resolve to put her only in good movies?
First Reviews of “Sin City: A Dame to Kill For”:
Chris Cabin, Slant Magazine
It’s Miller’s contributions, including the script, that stall the film out. His world is noir on steroids, which precludes the most memorable and crucial elements of the noir genre. There’s no danger, no patience, no true mystery to Miller’s world, which jumps between the barbed doings of bruisers like Dwight (Josh Brolin), Marv (Mickey Rourke), Johnny (Joseph Gordon-Levitt), and, finally, Nancy, all of whom are after Senator Roark (Powers Boothe), Sin City’s absurdly corrupt head honcho. The script is overrun with talk and voiceover, and the directors rarely allow the atmosphere to speak for itself, as they’re constantly cutting to more rampant action. In a sense, the film is a mescaline-fueled parody of noir, but its creators have absolutely nothing to say about the genre it’s both mocking and clearly indebted to. Whereas a single, stinging one-liner would have sufficed Jacques Tourneur or Fritz Lang, Miller’s overcompensating flood of pulpy dialogue only renders his characters flat and sans empathy. Read more.
Justin Chang, Variety
As ultra-stylized comicbook movies go, there’s no denying that Rodriguez and Miller’s lurid canvas has been realized with a certain single-minded purity. But it’s a deliberately airless, static vision, devoid of honest thrills and, aside from a few flakes of stereoscopic snow, absent the novelty that made the first “Sin City” so fascinating, at least before it bogged down in its own sadism. Once again the filmmakers have smothered Miller’s mean-street archetypes in a thick patina of cool — equal parts cut-rate nihilism and self-admiring style — but as a hundred Tarantino knockoffs have long since established, cool is not enough. It takes at least a sliver of human interest to make a noir pastiche more than the sum of its influences, and anything resembling authentic feeling has been neatly airbrushed away from this movie’s synthetic surface. The endless striped shadows that creep into Steve Joyner and Caylah Eddleblute’s production design don’t express the characters’ inner darkness; they merely put it in quotes. Read more.
Robbie Collin, The Telegraph
Besides, you soon realise it’s not sex that turns on Miller and Rodriguez, but power, especially the abuse of it. The erotic charge in a hotel-room clinch between Ray Liotta’s married businessman and yet another good-time girl, this one played by Juno Temple, comes from neither participant, but from Brolin, furtively snapping photographs through a skylight. That’s typical of the film’s fetishisations — elsewhere there are lots of baby-doll nighties, black leather bras and steel studs — but at least “Sin City 2” has the courage to play its perversions dead straight, unlike Rodriguez’s recent Machete films, which smirked their way into oblivion. Read more.
Tony Dayoub, Cinema Viewfinder
The most successful of the new sequel’s stories is the one that gives the movie its subtitle. “A Dame to Kill For” features the movie’s most commanding performance, that of “Sin City” newcomer Eva Green as Ava Lord. Wealthy, manipulative and irresistible, the character is a perfect marriage of actor and role. Ava is reminiscent of “Double Indemnity’s” Phyllis, a woman so carnal that Barbara Stanwyck’s slinky stride could make you forget she wasn’t naked. Green has the added advantage of contemporary cinematic mores which allow her to spend most of the film in the nude. But even for natural exhibitionists like actors, it is rare to find one so inarguably in control while so exposed. Read more.
Alonso Duralde, The Wrap
Green is the only female performer who sees through this movie’s ludicrousness and dares to one-up it. Her nudity feels defiant — she and even Brolin show a lot more skin than any of the strippers – and she turns Ava’s rapaciousness into one of the few tangible objects in this movie made up principally of special effects. (Mickey Rourke, once again, brings soulfulness to the role of Marv, a monstrous tough-guy with a heart of tin.) This is Rodriguez’s second sequel in a row, following last year’s “Machete Kills,” in which he turns sex, violence and general exploitation into an occasional for dullness. All either movie had to be was entertaining, but neither accomplishes that task; for a film loaded with decapitations and gun-toting ladies in bondage gear, “Sin City” gets really tedious really quickly. Read more.
Matt Prigge, Metro
Miller co-directed both films with Robert Rodriguez. Both have issues. Miller, for starters, has aged into a tiresome crank. His already questionable dream project — in which Batman fights Osama Bin Laden, as Superman did with Hitler during WWII — curdled into “Holy Terror!” in which American beefcakes machine gun down Muslims. He’s also, despite his “Sin City” run, not a pulp storyteller. He’s a man with a lot of crazy ideas, some good, some very bad. He gets tangled up trying to tell a simple story…Miller’s partner has his own problems. Rodriguez works fast and cheap, which can result in sloppy work. He can sometimes charm his way out of this problem, but his movies — some of which he, admittedly amazingly, makes out of his garage — can look like crap. Read more.
Joshua Rothkopf, Time Out New York
Amazingly, one performer does emerge from the sludge of ‘Sin City: A Dame to Kill For’ with an emerald-eyed fury, and that’s Eva Green, fully committing to the title role’s silky monstrosity. Her frequent, brazen nudity – swimming pools and bathtubs are a big part of her day, apparently – is going to short-circuit some viewers (not just the overgrown boys, but anyone expecting a femme fatale with a hint of shame). Yet Green is the only one able to excite this silly material into the spiky shape it’s supposed to take. You wish the rest of the cast was as clued in. Read more.
Drew Taylor, The Playlist
But ultimately, ‘A Dame To Kill For’ is a boilerplate film. You wish the filmmakers would have found a way to advance their well-drawn and stylized world. “Sin City” was a breakthrough genre picture with a unique visual flair, but that flair has a ceiling, one that’s certainly been hit. Where could the series go from here? That answer isn’t explored at all, and one gets the distinct feeling the filmmakers were more interested in revisiting the world than revising it. Read more.
“Sin City: A Dame to Kill For” hits theaters Friday, August 22.