I strongly believe that sequels of genre movies are best reviewed by people who appreciate the original, and ar not dumbfounded by the existence of a sequel in the first place. This is because every movie has its particular charms, and sequels prefer to dig themselves deeper into the pleasure-niche so as to attract the audience it already attracted, except more strongly. Sometimes it works, and you have Pirates of the Carribean: At World’s End, clearly the best movie in the trilogy and also the most hated by critics who didn’t think very highly of the first two. Other times, not so much, and you have The Dark Knight Rises, widely agreed among fans of The Dark Knight to be a horrible waste of potential, whereas every writer I read who didn’t like TDK thought this was significantly better. So, the question is, am I the right reviewer for Sin City 2: A Dame to Kill For?
The answer is, partly. I was extremely impressed by the first movie when I first watched it, but my ardour has rather cooled over time. On the other hand, my lack of excitement of the film is one of ideology, and I continue to think of it as extremely masterful in execution. So, I assume, I can continue to dislike the ideology and still enjoy a good sequel. Which Sin City 2, for the most part, isn’t.
First, the ideological issues with both movies. Noir is a misanthropic genre, no doubt, whose protagonists have a deep-running mistrust of everyone and everything. But what Sin City misses, and what makes noir work well, is that the world of noir isn’t Basin city. The reason Sam Spade doesn’t trust Brigid O’Shaughnessy not because everyone in his life has been horrible, but because he honestly doesn’t know how horrible a person she is. For all he knows, she has a heart of gold. In Sin CIty, no one does. Even friendships are children of convenience and alliance as much as love and the basic human need for companionship (which murderers also have, to be clear).
Now, for this film. The first sign that something was off came in the prologue, when Mickey Rourke’s Marv (protagonist of possibly the most memorable of the stories from the first) is describing his murder of four college kids who… never mind. The sequence is a narration from Marv right after he’s done… and there are shots with his face in close-up and little cars going around illustrating his narration. It’s all very wee. Now, if you feel anything like appreciation for the first film, you’ll understand how wrong it is for me to be able to apply that word to this film. But, let’s not judge the film too much, I think; and also let’s write the rest of this piece in a SIn City-style narration (except, I decide, there’s no point keeping the verbal style).
Then, there’s the first story. It has Joseph Gordon-Levitt standing over Basin city. My brain simultaneously performs fanboyish palpitations and tries to jump out of my head at the incongruity. He likes gambling, it turns out. He goes into Kadey’s bar, the epicentre of Basin city, and goes to the back – to play poker with corrupt mayor Powers Boothe.
Quick cut to the second story, that of Josh Brolin who’s mysteriously contacted by green-eyed ex-flame Eva Green (I do know the names of the characters, but that’s not where the film lives and you know it). He is very bland in the role. And why is there so much colour? What was the point of making a whole woman look colourful, especially if Gordon-Levitt has no feelings for her? The first film worked beautifully on the splash of colour principle – so much so I don’t consider it hilarious that Clive Owen’s shoes were in colour throughout the film. Eyeballing the patterns of colour, my guess is that they couldn’t resist adding a splash here to emphaisse this thematically and a hint there to emphasise that. And then you get an Oldtown (the part of Basin city ruled by the prostitutes) that has so much colour it stinks to high hell. When, clearly, Oldtown should be the dourest and scariest part of the film.
And then somewhere there’s the third story of Nancy Callahan (Jessica Alba, who actually sinks into the character) wanting to kill Powers Boothe in revenge for the death of Bruce Willis in the first film. Rodriguez seems to think he can put an emotionally pregnant scene between Alba and Willis’ ghost in the middle of a Sin City movie. Seriously, I wonder – snorting out the last bits of snort stuck in my nose by the laughter -, does he not know how noir works?
And then, we return for no particular reason to Gordon-Levitt’s completely unmemorable story – I feel a jolt of electricity sent up to my brain as I curse myself for forgetting that this story ever began – and I stare in wide-eyed incredulous horror as I see one of the most hare-brained plots ever thought up playing out in front of me.
And then all the stories draw to their endings. Nothing unexpected happens, no one is forced to accept any new fact about the world, and Marv looks extremely happy with all the violence he’s perpetrated in all the stories. The third one’s nice, I guess.
I want to call it a failure, but I get the distinct feeling that it didn’t even try hard enough for the word failure to be justified. It’s the product of a director who knows he has well-written source material and enough effortless competence to make an engaging 90-minute film without trying particularly hard to make it worth watching.