Taken on its own terms, for what it’s trying to achieve, Sin City: A Dame to Kill for is almost an unqualified success – it sets out to bring Frank Miller’s words and pictures into 3-D as literally as possible, and it does (the major exception to that fealty, as you certainly know by now, is brought to you by the letters J.A., and NOT by the letters T&A).
Despite viewing it at a press screening in a theater that should never, ever be used to project 3-D (when I closed one eye, it was STILL in double-vision, which is a technical error), I was engrossed every time the effect actually worked. A shower of shattered glass here, a late-night dive into a swimming pool there, and the rain that falls on the just and unjust alike. While the backdrops of the original occasionally looked and felt like backdrops, this is a tangible world with depth that you want to lose yourself in – and that made me wish for an open-world video game where I could go anywhere in the city by myself.
Now, the question you have to ask, then, is this: is it a good thing that there’s a literal adaptation of Frank Miller on our screens? Do you like watching what is essentially pro-wrestling if the wrestlers fucked and murdered each other onscreen, and are you okay with dialogue that sounds like it was written during the worst hangover ever? Is white blood erupting onto a black screen from a disembodied neck like a cum shot something you’re into seeing over and over? Do you like seeing Eva Green naked? Are you correct in noticing that Josh Brolin makes a far better comic-book character than Clive Owen?
My answers are in the affirmative. Not everyone’s will be.
Like the other Frank Miller adaptation this summer that starred Eva Green, the second Sin City movie isn’t quite a sequel – it’s about 70% prequel, with the remaining 30% following Jessica Alba’s Nancy as she seeks to avenge Hartigan (Bruce Willis, unsurprisingly a natural in the role of a dead person who is seen). As with the comics, a lot of this feels like fan service – initial protagonist Marv died at the end of the original miniseries, but proved so popular and synonymous with the title that Miller brought him back as often as possible. Given how perfect Mickey Rourke is for the role, this time under even more grotesque latex, that’s not such a bad thing. By way of contrast, we have ladies man Johnny (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) in a new story written specifically for the movie, as the city’s best gambler who gets in over his head.
Marv appears in both the opening segment, “Just Another Saturday Night,” and the main story from which the movie’s title is derived, in which he teams up with Dwight (Josh Brolin in the Clive Owen role, which makes a sort of sense when you see where the plot goes) to wreak bloody revenge on femme fatale Ava (Eva Green) and her bodyguard/possible lover Manute (Dennis Haysbert, adding a slight wink and a smile to the late Michael Clarke Duncan’s character of the Big Scary Black Guy). Finally, there’s another original-to-film segment, “Nancy’s Last Dance,” in which Nancy also seeks the help of Marv as she goes hunting for Senator Roark (Powers Boothe, who also serves as antagonist in Johnny’s story).
Sin City stories tend to be predictable: one character runs afoul of another character, violence ensues, the main character of the segment tries to get away, figures out there are bigger and more powerful people responsible, goes back in with guns blazing, gets his (almost always his, not hers, though this film’s final segment makes a bit of an exception) ass handed to him, and either dies or is saved by a sexy woman or two. You don’t read the books or watch the movies looking for surprise plot twists – this is comfort food for hard-drinking assholes who wish they were tough guys but wouldn’t want to seriously risk their lives, and I reckon I’m probably one of those.
Since anyone remotely interested in seeing this is probably familiar with the first film and all its returning cast, it’s time to rate the new folks. Jamie Chung looks more like the comic-book Miho than Devon Aoki did, and her facial expressions don’t seem quite so bored. Eva Green already proved in 300: Rise of an Empire that she’s a perfect Frank Miller woman, and that’s borne out here. Most satisfying, though, is Brolin as a Dwight who feels like he belongs, rather than an acclaimed English actor slumming it with an unacceptable “American” monotone. Even the way Brolin refers to the head-slashing Miho as “deadly li’l Meehoe” has a smirk and a swagger to it, where Owen’s cold fish utterance of “Dodly luttel Meehow” brought the movie down every time he said it.
Sorry if this poster got your hopes (and other things) up…
Now, even though the pretext for the actor change is that Dwight gets reconstructive surgery on his face, what’s hilarious is that they show that in this movie, AND they show its after-effects, so you get to see Brolin with Clive Owen-like prosthetics in a scene or two. No, he doesn’t try to do the voice. Probably for the best. Definitely for the more amusing.
So let’s deal with the one area that departs significantly from recreating Miller’s drawings – Nancy Callahan is supposed to be a stripper who’s naked for most of her comic-book appearances; in this movie, we see Jessica Alba complete an entire dance routine at her club without shedding a single stitch. Given the way Sin City residents resort to punching and shooting at the drop of a fedora, it’s hard to imagine these patrons wouldn’t feel cheated – and many fanboys definitely do. At the recent Los Angeles press day, Robert Rodriguez (who again codirects the movie with Miller) addressed the issue head on by saying that he knew Alba wouldn’t go topless, but he wanted the best actress for the part, and that that was more important. (Miller, in a rare show of possible political correctness, voiced his support for this decision.)
Four seats down, Eva Green and Josh Brolin – both of whom bare almost all in this film and others – did an admirable job of not facepalming.