Even as an obvious rehashing of the same elements from the first entry, “Sin City: A Dame to Kill For” is still a richly stylized and entertaining noir experience that is better than your average sequel. Thanks to a great cast and Robert Rodriguez’s creative camera, here’s a movie that avoids being the bland regurgitation of noir storylines that it appeared destined to be, leaving fans of the original with a well-made thrill-ride that is easy to get sucked into. “A Dame to Kill For” certainly won’t convert anyone left unmoved by the 2005 “Sin City,” but Rodriguez and writer/co-director Frank Miller have again created a unique world of visual splendor that only occasionally feels mailed in.
As in the first “Sin City,” the plot of “A Dame to Kill For” is mostly a side note, an afterthought that always plays second fiddle to the visual experience and overall tone. Instead of worrying too much about establishing new stories, “A Dame to Kill For” mainly borrows from well-established noir themes that plunge us right back into the unsavory underworld of shadowy villains and antiheroes. With various characters motivated mainly by greed, love or revenge, or a bit of all three, Miller and Rodriguez show us a hellish existence that cuts to the chase. You probably wouldn’t want to actually live in the shoes of any of the characters, but this is a world that is a perfect fit for the cinema, providing the angle needed to toss away reality and make up a new one.
Embedded in this alternative reality are the lives of guys like Johnny (Joseph Gordon-Levitt), an arrogant gambler who finds himself in the crosshairs of the deeply corrupt Senator Roark (Powers Boothe). Gordon-Levitt once again proves to be perfect for pulpy material and brings a charisma to the role that helps to overcome some campy dialog that could have sunk a lesser actor. It also helps that his adversary is played by Powers Boothe, a strong character actor with an oily voice that simply belongs in films of this type. Instead of a boring rekindling of classic noir themes, we end up with a fairly intriguing center point for the over-stylized insanity that ensues.
Also added into the equation this time around is Eva Green, the talented French actress best known to American audiences for roles in “Casino Royale” and “The Dreamers.” As Ava Lord, Green once again plays a bone-chilling seductress who can cut a man down to size with nothing more than a glare. Much like she did with a major role in “300: Rise of an Empire,” Green gives a spirited performance that elevates another straight-forward character. Bruce Willis is also back into the mix as Hartigan, though Willis has played so many similar roles that he comes off as if he’s stuck on autopilot. On the other hand, Mickey Rourke has some fun with his brooding tough guy Marv, who gets teamed up with Dwight (Josh Brolin) to wreak no small amount of havoc.
But while there are some well-placed actors at the heart of the movie, there’s also only so far that the material can go, which is the same dilemma that the first “Sin City” was plagued by. Splashing bits of color into a mostly black and white color scheme makes for some nice eye candy, but once the effect wears off, “Sin City: A Dame to Kill For” doesn’t have a whole lot more to show other than absurd, cartoonish violence and typical tough guy talk. Though the movie has some fun with setting up the characters, providing flashes of dark humor along the way, “A Dame to Kill For” also gets so caught up in staging over-the-top violence that it often feels like shameless pandering to the masses. By the time we get to the big climaxes, the entire experience is somewhat watered down and the shock of the extreme violence has all but worn completely off.
Still, “Sin City: A Dame to Kill For” is an adequate sequel and a solid second helping of the fictionalized urban underworld, where moral decay is standard and the idea of good is extremely relative. Is it strong enough to work as satire? Not at all, but it’s still a fun adult-minded romp that should work for anyone who got a kick out of the original. Even if those who deplore graphic violence should see just about anything else, “Sin City: A Dame to Kill For” does what it sets out to do with enough panache and good acting to make it to the finish line. In an era when sequels tend to be lame and transparently recycled, at least “Sin City: A Dame to Kill For” mostly lives up to the original. Of course, whether that is a good thing or not is in the eye of the beholder.