In their Recut, Extended versions, these will be far better companion-pieces to the original tales
Back in 2005, a sequel to the sleeper hit Sin City should have been a no-brainer, but almost a decade on and audiences are understandably more hesitant to embrace this faithful but flawed follow-up.Indeed, watched back-to-back with the original, this return feels far more enjoyable, and whilst it does not have quite the same spark, passion or even punch, fans should still embrace the welcome return to the black-and-white-with-a-splash-of-colour Basin City limits, where sex and violence are traded in almost equal measure.
Stripped down to a slightly abrupt 100-odd minute runtime, we speed through the four new tales with little care for building characters or developing story, instead taking the style-over substance approach with fast-paced, highly stylised action and a rogue’s gallery or colourful souls who crack wise through gritted – and often bloodied – teeth. Nothing new here then, because you certainly didn’t come to this town expecting well-developed characters or deep and meaningful stories.The Miller-flavoured noir-esque tales – as lensed through the vision of both Robert Rodriguez and Frank Miller himself – were always better on paper; where their pulpish brutality and minimalist design allowed the reader’s brain to fill in the gaps in whatever way they wanted. But these often straight-from-the-page interpretations certainly do their best to bring the acquired taste stories to life, and often benefit from the strength of the eclectic cast on board for the ride.
Certainly this sequel is the weaker of the two collections, but again that is in part due to the source material – with many of the best tales having already been used up first time around. In part, it is also because they have been streamlined again to suit a cinema-friendly runtime, and the Recut, Extended home cinema versions are undoubtedly going to fill in some rather frustrating gaps along the way. Either way, though, they make welcome additions for any Miller/Sin City fan.
There’s four fresh tales on offer – two based on old Frank Miller novels and two new ones written specifically for the movie, with one of the latter split into two parts. Just Another Saturday Night sees Mickey Rourke’s scene-stealing brute, Marv, return for a short story where he wakes up after a car crash with no memory of the events that led up to it. The Long Bad Night Parts I and II bring us the new character of Johnny, as played by Joseph Gordon-Levitt, a spectacular card-sharp who decides to take on the biggest game in town – Powers Boothe’s omnipotent Senator Roarke, playing him at high stakes poker. The highest stakes.
The title story – A Dame to Kill For – provides the backbone for the entire saga, playing out as a prequel to Sin City’s A Big Fat Kill, and featuring Josh Brolin in the role formerly played by Clive Owen. Brolin’s Dwight finds himself seduced back into a dangerous game with femme fatale Ava Lord (played by Eva Green), and will need the help of both the one-man-army Marv, and his gun-toting ladies-of-the-night friends in Old Town to clean up the mess. Finally we close out with Nancy’s Last Dance, which sees Jessica Alba return as the now-haunted Nancy, obsessed with taking down Senator Roarke, and again enlisting Marv’s help to finally avenge Bruce Willis’s Hartigan.
"At least I know they're bad guys. Nothing wrong with killing the bunch of them. Hell, it's practically my civic duty."
Certainly the strongest story – at least on paper – is A Dame to Kill For, and Brolin seems like a decent enough choice for a pre-surgery Dwight (Clive Owen was originally set to return to the fold to play the post-surgery Dwight, but scheduling conflicts made him yet another casualty of the protracted decade-long production process), but it’s Eva Green’s femme fatale who steals the show in this particular tale. Although it’s questionable whether the original choice of Angelina Jolie would have been a better one, Green is certainly not unfamiliar with seduction-and-betrayal (Casino Royale), even if her role here is considerably more black-and-white. Unfortunately, it probably also suffers the most from the streamlining of the movie as a whole, cut down to an all-too-short centre chapter which really needs more time spent on it (not wholly unlike Marv’s The Hard Goodbye in the original Sin City).
Speaking of Marv, Mickey Rourke’s lovable psycho is still one of the best things about this universe, and it’s only a shame that they didn’t serve up these short-burst tales of his exploits first time around, and saved the big guns – The Hard Goodbye – for the sequel. His confrontation with Elijah Wood in the first film was far more tense, and far more rewarding, than his going toe-to-toe with the man-monster Manute this time around (Dennis Haysbert here replacing the late, great Michael Clarke Duncan). Still, he gets a lot more involvement in the surrounding chapters and whilst he doesn’t have as much meat to chew on, he still spits out some great lines, and racks up an impressive bodycount.
Then there are the new additions – with the poker-based face-off between Levitt’s Johnny and Powers Boothe’s Roarke providing for a few nice moments (including a fun cameo for Christopher Lloyd), although distinctly lacking the same impact as many of the other tales, and the face-off between Roarke and Alba’s revenge-obsessed Nancy proving far more interesting. Indeed, Nancy’s new tale – with Willis returning on surprisingly good form as the spectre of Hartigan, who, cleverly, doesn’t ever interact with Nancy, instead providing something of a narration to the increasingly dark exploits. Alba also transforms quite nicely from angel-like stripper (no, she still doesn’t actually strip) to drunken obsessive to gothed-out avenger.
Returning to Sin City should have been a much smoother and easier journey than this, but you shouldn’t always equate Box Office failure with a shoddy product. This sequel may well be undeniably flawed, but it’s also been unfairly treated by the Studios along the way. By all accounts, a sequel has been in the making ever since the success of the original, with Rodriguez himself citing The Weinsteins as the reason behind the delay.
This is not the first time that the Weinstein boys have fatally damaged the chances of Box Office success for a good product – they frequently cut off their own noses in spite of others’ work (Snowpiercer) – and there’s no question that delaying this film for almost a decade almost certainly sealed its fate. Even fans of the original are ten years older now, and teens who have newly-turned 18 probably have little knowledge of Miller’s work, or of the original hit –when it was released they would have been far too young to watch it. So there’s no doubt that the delay would cause damage to the success of the feature. By now we should have had not one, but two sequels at least – there was the material there to make them – but instead this is likely the last we’ll hear from Sin City.
Unfortunately another long-delayed, badly-advertised distribution-only deal from the Weinsteins sealed its fate at the Box Office.
It’s actually a tough call recommending this for a cinema viewing, and not for obvious reasons. Personally, I think that the almost-certainly-inevitable Recut and Extended home formats version will make for a much more enjoyable, true Sin City, experience. That said, the new angle that they brought with this sequel is the implementation of 3D. And it actually works very well indeed. You’d think that a film bathed in darkness would be simply awful in 3D, but Miller’s distinctive visual style actually lends itself well to 3D replication, with plenty of welcome layers, depth and floating objects. It may not quite justify not waiting for the inevitable superior extended cut, but it certainly gives you an additional reason to not only see it at the flicks, but see it in 3D.
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