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Private detective Dwight McCarthy (Josh Brolin) is trying to put a life of crime behind him when he gets a call from an ex-flame, Ava Lord (Eva Green), who claims that her husband, Damian Lord (Marton Csokas) is torturing her and threatening her life. Dwight enlists the help of a lovable ruffian named Marv (Mickey Rourke) and mounts a rescue. Elsewhere, a cocky card shark named Johnny (Joseph Gordon Levitt) makes a fool of Basin City’s most powerful politician, Senator Roark (Powers Boothe) during a private game and pays a painful price. Meanwhile, a stripper named Nancy Callahan (Jessica Alba) is racked with guilt over the death of her surrogate father, John Hartigan (Bruce Willis), and plots her own bloody revenge against Roark.

 Sin City: A Dame to Kill For
Some film franchises have the legs and nostalgia factor to continue making sequels, despite decades between movies. Stuff like Star Wars and James Bond can even improve its reputation after time away. But other films, like Robert Rodriguez and Frank Miller’s Sin City, succeed because they’re unique visions that are released at the ideal time to make an impact. Sin City felt like a completely new kind of movie at the time – a literal representation of a mostly black & white comic featuring an all-star cast portraying an array of hyperbolic, hard-boiled tropes. Had Rodriguez & Miller managed to get a sequel off the ground in 2007 (when it was first planned), I’m sure it would’ve gone over well, especially if it had been released alongside Zack Snyder’s literalized version of Miller’s 300 comic. But the near decade it took to finally get A Dame to Kill For into theaters certainly buffed the shine off of the apple.

In good news, Rodriguez really got a handle on his Sin City style in the nine years between movies. Anyone bothered by the first film’s occasionally faulty effects and misaligned shots should be pleased with the sequel’s slicker look. A Dame to Kill For is probably the closest a movie can look to Miller’s original comics without being entirely animated. There are some brilliantly striking images here to remind us of a time when Rodriguez was still considered one of his generation’s most promising filmmakers. But, as the aesthetic slickens, it also starts to lose some of its outrageous punch. Sin City’s community theater stage-play look was downright beguiling, like a grindhouse extension of early German Expressionist horror movies. This more studied and precise look is impressive on its own merits, I suppose, but we’ve seen this kind of thing done a million times since 2005 and I miss the simple charms of Sin City’s sloppier, speedier filmmaking. Rodriguez’ editing is off as well. With minor exceptions, Sin City sharply divided the three major stories into an anthology structure. This time, Rodriguez challenges himself by impressionistically intersplicing the stories into an interlocking tapestry, but the effort only muddies the narrative’s timeline and trims some scenes so bare that we can’t score more than a glance at the most evocative compositions.

 Sin City: A Dame to Kill For
The cool look has lost its luster, but I think the bigger issues are Miller’s script, about half of which is adapted from his own comics. Miller’s shortcomings are harder to parse, because the stories are generally the same as the ones he wrote for the first movie. Perhaps it is the familiarity that dulls the impact, but it’s more likely the lack of entertainment value. With A Dame to Kill For, Miller is taking himself and his goofy franchise much too seriously. His fascist and sexist tendencies aren’t particularly cute anymore, but it is the repetitive storytelling and abated sense of humour that really kills the experience. The final section, Nancy's Last Dance – an original story (i.e. not one that appeared in the comics) that continues the final (and weakest) story from the last film, That Yellow Bastard – is a particularly ugly melodrama and the endless internal dialogues with their endless descriptive analogies are revoltingly tedious. The cast doesn’t appear to be having very much fun, either. A few actors stand out against the fray – newcomer Joseph Gordon-Levitt and returning villain Powers Boothe (who was underutilized in the first movie) read Miller’s stiff words with the most gravitas – but even Mickey Rourke, Sin City’s standout performer, leaks boredom through layers of prosthetics.

 Sin City: A Dame to Kill For

Video


The original Sin City was shot using Sony CineAlta cameras at a time when Rodriguez (who acts as his own cinematographer) was one of the few Hollywood filmmakers that were using digital rigs. Now it’s a regular practice and the format’s capabilities have evolved quite a bit over the last nine years. For Sin City: A Dame to Kill For, he and Miller shot native format 3D video using Arri Alexa cameras. For this review, I watched the 2D Blu-ray, which is presented here in 1080p, 1.85:1 HD video. The improved effects and cinematographic techniques keep things crisper, including a sizable uptake in detail. The high contrast textures and heavy outlines are supported by glowing, soft highlights that give the frame a sense of depth without requiring Rodriguez to pull artificial focus on his CG compositions. The black levels are also notably thicker than they were in the first film (for comparison, see the HD trailer on this Blu-ray). The spot colour separation is much tighter than it was in the original movie, including both the punchy little tweaks, like Dennis Haysbert’s golden eye and Eva Green’s blue jacket, and more delicately blended hues, like Juno Temple’s hair and Julia Garner’s entire glowing body. There are no notable blocking or banding issues along any of these sharp edges. Some of the quicker actions/movements have too much motion-blur that apes ghosting and interlacing effects at times, but I don’t believe these are compression issues.

 Sin City: A Dame to Kill For

Audio


The DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 is big and burly when it needs to be, but, in the apparent Sin City tradition, the basic soundscape is kind of hollow. The important sounds, including incidental foley work and impact noises, have been over-cranked for comedic effect. They move between the channels effectively, but are very thinly layered. The action scenes are more expressive and thickly coated, and include some really punchy, deep-set bursts of sound – stuff like gunshots, whizzing arrows, slicing swords, and crashing cars. Dialogue is uneven throughout, sometimes clearly for the sake of differentiating narration from spoken dialogue; other times, because the interacting cast members were recorded months apart in different locations, then not very well mixed. The music, by Rodriguez and his usual collaborator Carl Thiel, rattles and hums over most of the film, giving it the same saucy, vulgar tone as the first film – though I wouldn’t go so far as to call it a ‘good’ score. Given the shallow nature of the ambient effects, the music is left in place of sound effects, so it does play an important aural role. Preferably, someone would’ve dialed back on the reverb, because the whole soundtrack sounds awfully ‘wet.’

 Sin City: A Dame to Kill For

Extras


  • A high-speed, untouched, all green screen version of the entire film (16:30, HD) – One of these appeared on the Sin City DVD as well and it is very entertaining to see the actors working without the effects, even at triple speed.
  • Character Profiles:
    • Eva Green is the Dame to Kill For (4:10, HD)
    • Jessica Alba is Nancy (3:50, HD)
    • Josh Brolin is Dwight (3:30, HD)
    • Joseph Gordon-Levitt is Johnny (2:10, HD)
  • Makeup Effects of Sin City with Greg Nicotero (6:40, HD) – A quick rundown of KNB Effects Studio’s work on the sequel.
  • Stunts of Sin City with Jeff Dashnaw (5:40, HD) – A look at stunt coordination.
  • Original Sin City trailer


 Sin City: A Dame to Kill For

Overall


Sin City: A Dame to Kill For is a mostly boring shell of Robert Rodriguez and Frank Miller’s first crack at the popular neo-noir comic book. Perhaps it would’ve played better if it had been released within a couple of years of its predecessor, which felt so fresh and fun at the time, but it fails enough on its own merits that I assume even the die-hard fans were disappointed. It certainly can be a good-looking movie at times and that mix of stark black & white and poppy colour looks very nice on Anchor Bay’s Blu-ray release. The DTS-HD MA soundtrack is a bit thin overall, but punchy when needed, kind of like the one that accompanied the first film. The extras are mostly promotional pieces alongside an amusing all green screen version of the movie that plays at triple speed.

 Sin City: A Dame to Kill For

 Sin City: A Dame to Kill For
Note: The above images are taken from the Blu-ray release and resized for the page. Full-resolution captures are available by clicking individual images, but due to .jpg compression they are not necessarily representative of the quality of the transfer.


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