2014 has been one hell of a summer for comic book movies with Captain America: The Winter Soldier, X-Men: Days Of Future Past, and Guardians Of The Galaxy all feeling like new classics of the genre. So it only makes sense that the summer movie season wrap up with one last jaunt down comic book lane in Sin City: A Dame To Kill For. It’s been almost a decade since Frank Miller and Robert Rodriguez made audiences’ eyeballs round the world explode with an at-the-time experimental combination of animation and live action filmmaking that vividly brought the pages of Sin City to life like few other comic adaptations ever have. So much time had passed that the long overdue sequel risked feeling like a relic given that the production style has long since been standardized. Thankfully and surprisingly, A Dame To Kill For works pretty much from the first frame. The movie isn’t exactly high art, but it sure plays like glorious trash, offering some damn fine filth for audiences worn down after a summer of kiddie fare. There’s something downright admirable about Miller and Rodriguez’s commitment to delivering the raging id fantasies of a perverted 15-year-old with absolutely no concessions made to political correctness or good taste. Even when the movie fails, you’ve at least got to laugh at the audacity it took to do so.
Things kick off with a brief prologue in which Mickey Rourke’s Marv returns to action and doles out a big steaming pile of violence without quite understanding why. Like the first movie, it’s a very direct adaptation of one of Miller’s comic stories. Later on, the titular A Dame To Kill For is also played out verbatim with Josh Brolin’s grizzled photographer getting into a series of blood-soaked tussles while being manipulated by the delightfully vamping Eva Green. The other two stories in the film were written fresh by Frank and feel exactly the same (in the best possible sense). Joseph Gordon-Levitt plays an obscenely lucky gambler who engages in a battle of wits with Basin City crimelord Powers Boothe and ends up punished severely enough to enlist the filthy alley surgeon services of Christopher Lloyd. Finally, a wrap-around narrative sees Jessica Alba return to her role as a heroine stripper, this time chugging booze and training to seek revenge against Boothe in between visions of Bruce Willis’ ghost (who looks like he maybe spent 15 minutes on set and wasn’t thrilled about it). Just like the last movie, the stories bob and weave together, but mostly stand alone, This concoction does play a little smoother than the last movie though, movie likely because it was written to function as a single movie rather than adapted entirely from previously existing stories.
The most surprising aspect of Sin City: A Dame To Kill For is simply that it still works all these years later. There’s no dramatic shift in the formula beyond updated animation software and some eye-gouging 3D (Rodriguez is one of the few filmmakers who embraces the gimmickry of 3D and delivers some wonderfully goofy pop-out shots here). Other than that, the movie is simply more of the same and not in a bad way. All of the gorgeous monochrome images, absurd slapstick violence, overcooked dialogue, objectified fantasy women, and monstrous depictions of men return. Sin City is essentially a peak into Miller’s deepest and darkest fantasies and while he should never go over that material with a psychologist, it sure is fun to watch in a sick and slick way. There’s no denying that the film is incredible to look at and a hell of a lot of guilty pleasure fun. The fact that there’s essentially no meaning or purpose beyond the glossy surface, booze, boobs, and blood is practically the point. A Dame To Kill For is style as substance as imagined by the noir obsessed comic book guru Frank Miller and the neo-exploitation trash master Robert Rodriguez (who has made a few bad movies, but never a boring one). If you can’t have fun with them, you might not be capable of experiencing the emotion known as “fun.”
Clearly the actors are all having fun with returning Sin City vets like Rourke, Alba, and Boothe slipping right back into their roles like a dame in a satin gown and the new faces add nothing but good to the proceedings. Brolin is at his frowny/growly best, Levitt can barely contain the joy he’s experiencing beneath a smirk, Christopher Lloyd reminds everyone why he should be constantly employed, and Stacey Keach steals his single scene under a mountain of monster make up. Yet, the best part of the whole movie is Eva Green, who is so mesmerizingly evil as the titular dame that she makes a 2D caricature feel three dimensional (she’s also mesmerizingly naked for most of the film if your disgusting mind cares about such things). For all the technical show off set pieces that Miller and Rodriguez employ oh-so-well, the film works best when the cast have some meat to chew on beyond dishing out ultra-violence and the filmmakers may have even assembled a better cast this time out.
Of course, it would be idiotic to pretend that Sin City: A Dame To Kill For is perfect. It’s excessive, overdone, meaningless, offensive to anyone who clings to good taste, and brings nothing new to the series that wasn’t accomplished in the last movie. If you hated the last Sin City, then you’ll hate this one for all the same reasons. However, it’s also a sequel that manages to live up to the original movie while aping everything that went well last time. That’s harder to pull off than it sounds, especially with nine years separating the two productions. Like all of the best Robert Rodriguez productions, it’s a riot of trash entertainment that is completely unapologetic in its desire to titillate and thrill above all else. He is the modern B-movie master in the purest sense, sticking to the hard R origins of 70s exploitation without any pretensions of art or concessions to a family friendly audience. The Sin City movies just might be the highlight of the work he does at Troublemaker Studios and it’s a pleasant surprise that despite the endless delays, he’s delivered he’s a sequel that’s an equal. Whether that’s good or horrible news depends entirely on how you felt about the last movie and you’ve had nine years to work that out. Just make sure to see it in 3D if you go. It’s actually worth it for once.