sin-city2[xrr rating=1.25/5]For those of us who were teenage boys when the first Sin City came out, the combination of Frank Miller’s grit and the flatteringly trashy art of Robert Rodriguez’s digital recreation of Miller’s high-contrast b&w panels was heaven. Despite carrying a rating nominally intended to keep people that age from seeing it, Sin City was perfectly targeted for that demographic, a magnet for dumb kids who believed that they were being discerning by liking a slightly idiosyncratic version of the same ol’ shit being spoonfed to them by massive marketing campaigns. God knows I obsessed over the movie as a 15-year-old, but revisiting the film several years ago exposed fissures that erupt into full chasms with this long-delayed sequel.

A Dame to Kill For emerges long after tediously panel-faithful aesthetics have become de rigeur in comic-book adaptations, stripping it of the surprise that the original enjoyed. To make up for this shortcoming, Rodriguez amps up every other aspect of the production: there are more moving parts of blood splatter, severed extremities and shattered glass (if you take a drink every time someone is chucked through a window, have a paramedic on call). The wet squelch of fists and lead on flesh sloshes on the audio track, and mumbled dialogue tumbles out of scarred larynxes in voiceover. Women appear on-screen exclusively in plunging dresses, S&M gear or nothing at all.

The point, of course, is to push noir tropes beyond the point of parody, but neither Miller nor Rodriguez have sufficient grasp of the genre’s fundamentals. One of the defining characteristics of noir is the knowledge of when to shut up, both verbally and visually. Even the most decorously arranged entries in the genre leave a degree of ascetic quietude to let death makes its presence known. And therein lies the problem: classic noir, for all its B-movie nastiness and fermented pulp, had a fundamental respect for life that made its double-crosses and murders hit so hard. Sin City belongs to our current age of flippant mass-murder, and as such it never lets a moment breathe and never lets bloodletting go uncelebrated. Furthermore, Miller’s clumsy, overly wordy dialogue has none of the concision of great hard-boiled speech, nor its evocative, macho poetry. A classic like Out of the Past—which you should buy on Warner Archive’s newly minted Blu-Ray instead of supporting this trash—says everything without seemingly saying anything, but Miller’s characters can only thuddingly relate what they are feeling, what their objectives are, and how they plan to kill somebody.

Given the decade separating this sequel from its predecessor, the film’s cynical play to its fading fanbase is almost strange. We get a lot more of Marv, the seemingly indestructible, hyperviolent brute with a heart that set the stage for Mickey Rourke’s comeback, but Rourke himself appears a lot less game this time around, rushing through his lines and performing the script’s parodic elements instead of matching the intensity of his first take on the character. Still, thank God he’s hanging around, for every story in this episodic film is vastly inferior to the already-dated tales in the first film. Marv has no motivation this time around other than a simple desire to kill, but that’s no worse than Johnny (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) showing up as a hotshot gambler looking to impress, or embarrass, Sin City’s all-powerful Senator Roark (Powers Boothe, still more terrifying than this goofy franchise deserves) through deft poker skills. Dwight returns, with Josh Brolin subbing in for Clive Owen, and he’s still a misogynistic schmuck who still, somehow, wins the undying love of badass prostitutes who don’t need his help. (You do, at least, get to see Brolin undergo plastic surgery that makes him look like a police sketch of Harrison Ford.) And before I forget, because I’m forgetting already, Jessica Alba’s Nancy has a story about seeking revenge for the death of her savior/true love Hartigan (Bruce Willis), though Hartigan’s ghost gets to weigh in on her story as much as the woman herself.

It is past time that Frank Miller should be put out to pasture as a has-been. The casual misogyny, infantile arms race and teen-humor of his self-seriousness is manifested in its rawest form here, and whatever spark of inspiration resulted in his Daredevil run or The Dark Knight Returns has long evaporated. But at least most people agree that Miller is washed up. Less acknowledged, but no less important, is the fact that Rodriguez is a terrible, artless director, a perpetual juvenile who perhaps gave too much blood too fast when he was raising money for his first film and left his brain unable to fully recover. Sin City 2 is a hodgepodge of mismatching cuts, irrelevant shots and lazy compositions that rely on digital animation that somehow looks shoddier in 2014 than it did in 2005. The first Sin City prompted breathless raves, from professional critics as much as teens, that individual shots could be framed and exhibited. (That in and of itself is extraordinarily stupid and indicative of an anti-comics bias, given that it simply duplicated panels from Miller’s graphic novels.) But now it becomes clear that Rodriguez’s work on these films is nothing more artistic than the margin-scrawling of a mildly talented teenage boy on school notebooks, images with no connection to each other besides their shared indulgence in fetishized objects of guns, boobs and blood.

The lone ray of light in this dreary, insipid film is Eva Green, who is saddled with a character so telegraphed as a femme fatale that initially even she cannot do anything with the part. Once her Ava Lord successfully goads ex-lover Dwight into killing her husband for his money, however, Green comes alive. Her features—those tapering eyes, a figure seemingly lab-designed for maximum impact, a smile so wide it always has hints of mania—are at once erotic and grotesque, and when Ava’s manservant refers to her as a goddess, it’s hard not to concur. Green is a shapeshifting warrior deity, curling around the heart (and other organs) of each man in sight to bend them to her will. For all the weak digital effects and tacky compositions, there is one truly arresting moment in the film, as Green sits in a bath playing up her scared widow routine to a detective (Christopher Meloni) she’s seduced. Breasts floating on the water as if willing that image into the man’s head, Green contrasts a look of unrelenting boredom on her face with coos and purrs of innocence and loneliness in her voice. This is the second time this year that Green has elevated a shitty film based on a Miller property, and if she deserves far better, it’s nice to be reminded, after a lengthy absence from mainstream screens, that this woman is a born star. Now, for the love of God, put her in something worthy of her charisma.

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