Comic book godfather Frank Miller’s “300” and “Sin City” attacked the big screen with the fervor of their ultra-violent antiheroes. Too bad 2014 seemed to Spartan kick both these properties into a great abyss. Like the first film, “Sin 2” features three main stories (and a minor one) set in the most corrupt, perverse and deprived city in the country — perhaps the world.
But unlike the first flick, Marv doesn’t take the lead in his own story but serves a supporting role in all three (though he does get his own intro sequence). In “The Long Bad Night”, Johnny (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) is a high roller in over his head when he beats corrupt Senator Roarke (Powers Booth). Marv’s minimal presence in this story foreshadows just how uneventful it is. It starts well enough but doesn’t know where to go.
And then there’s “A Dame to Kill For”. Dwight (Josh Brolin; formerly portrayed by Clive Owen) can’t escape the spell of femme fatal Ava Lord (Eva Green), who knows how to make the inferior sex kill for her. We hear how well Dwight knows Marv in the first film, but we finally see the two in action here as they take on Manute (Dennis Haysbert; formerly portrayed by Michael Clarke Duncan) and his henchmen.
“Sin 2” concludes with the franchise’s first female-narrated story, “Nancy’s Last Dance”. Unable to emotionally recover from the death of Hartigan (Bruce Willis), the only man she ever loved, Nancy (Jessica Alba) plots her revenge against the man responsible, Senator Roarke. But no matter how many times she trains at the gun range, she can’t bring herself to pull the trigger when he shows up for poker night where she dances. Enter Marv to help her out, not to mention the ghost of Hartigan providing a posthumous narration.
“Sin 2” is closer to a linear story than the first one –– or something that allows you to track what’s going on. Nancy’s final story is shorter than the other two, but the internal dilemma leading up to an explosive decision appears earlier in that “Bad Night”. It might all feel confusing, but part of the film’s charm is trying to connect the dots.
“Sin City” was an incredibly inventive film. Relying almost entirely on green-screen tech rather than actual sets — like “300” a year later — was obviously unheard of but is now more common. Director Robert Rodriguez — that quirky Tarantino buddy responsibl for the “Spy Kids” films, “Desperado” and both “Machetes” — stills knows how to concoct striking visuals, even if the story doesn’t attempt the originality of the first film.
Remember when a dead, throat-slit Benicio Del Toro chatted up Owen, mumbling or squeaking out lines depending on how his body rolled in the shotgun seat of a car? Very disturbing. “Sin 2” is a much more conservative affair, treading well-walked streets. The first film featured some cringe-inducing imagery; I never expected to miss that.
“Sin City” seemed morally ambiguous with a clear purpose. There was even a touch of existential hope amid the death. “Sin 2” basks in that gray area more for the sake of creating a sequel –– a sad point too since Green and Alba could’ve added more depth than the overdose of machismo. It all just feels like a wasted opportunity, hardly anything worth “killing for.”
For all its many flaws, “Sin City: A Dame to Kill For” is hardly the flop that box office figures and critics declare it to be. Sure, it’s about seven years too late and includes too many recasts, but all the pieces are there. For Rodriguez fans, this is what you expect: an experiment in pastiche more about style than substance. This is film noir for a new generation that no longer concerns itself with originality or realism. Excess is the new law.