There Is No Justice Without Sin
Do you know what Godfather: Part 3 Syndrome is? It’s the diminished return after a long wait. The cast and crew are largely the same, the stylistic elements are present but the golden window of opportunity has long since passed. It’s no secret that I really enjoyed Sin City. For me, it was the perfectly timed release; I was in my early twenties, an avid comic reader and the stylistic elements were so bold and unprecedented that it stood out spectacularly. Nine years later we’ve finally got a sequel and any good grace Sin City bought has been squandered by the likes of The Spirit, 300 and .. basically everything Rodriquez has released in the interim period. Had this been put out in 2007, it’d be a roaring success, instead, I can only feel rather disappointed.
For those that don’t know, the source material is made up of seven collected editions of stories. The first film drew on three large tales (The Hard Goodbye, The Big Fat Kill, That Yellow Bastard) and one short piece (The Customer Is Always Right). That left a The Big Fat Kill prequel (A Dame To Kill For), a The Big Fat Kill sequel (Family Values), the rather lengthy Hell And Back and a lot of other little stories. What we end up with, however, is a very brief Marv story (Just Another Saturday Night) which admittedly sets the tone neatly, the full pelt of A Dame To Kill For and two original stories (The Long Bad Night and Nancy’s Last Dance). Let’s start with A Dame To Kill For – arguably the best of the Sin City graphic novels – this plays out very well as the typical noir/femme fatale story and exercises every trope in the genre. Eva Green plays Ava Lord, a mysterious sultry figure from Dwight McCarthy’s [Brolin] past who seduces and coerces McCarthy to kill her rich sadistic husband. Once the deed is done, she turns on him and reveals that he was being played all along. Furious, Dwight seeks vengeance. Then we have The Long Bad Night, featuring a gambling prodigy named Johnny [Gordon-Levitt] who has honed his hustling skills and returned to Sin City for one last big score. Finally we are presented with Nancy’s Last Dance; after the death of Hartigan [Willis], the cop who saved her from being raped as a child, Nancy [Alba] descends into a drunken depression and slowly twists herself into the hand of retribution, targeting the man responsible, Senator Roark [Boothe].
As Sin City is such a stylistic series, let’s start with the technical aspects. It’s been nearly a decade since we’ve graced the streets of Sin City; remember how ground-breaking the original was? Imagine how things will look now. Turns out, they look exactly the same. Sure the rendering on the backgrounds are a little smoother perhaps but the only real development in this technology is that it’s become cheaper and more readily available to amateur/low-budget filmmakers. But that’s fine, maybe they’re pioneering in other areas, such as sound and music? Nope, Rodriguez has pumped out the same score. Not just the same themes and harmonies but the exact same score, even reusing the same song for Nancy to dance to in Kadie’s Bar. So while everything is still rather impressive and serves to entertain visually, it’s nothing we haven’t seen before and the green-screen/CGI-heavy environments soon take their toll (as we’ve been force fed them for almost every release over the last decade). The pacing and direction are no different. With more money Rodriguez seems to have lost a lot of that energy and passion that defined his early career. Several scenes and circumstances are tired, simple and unimaginative. Where he once pushed the envelope, everything looks more like a sequel under the reins of lesser hands. The pacing is shoddy, the episodic arrangement loses all fluidity, leaving the ending abrupt and cold, the action sequences are flat, the stark monochrome negative space cut-aways feel brief, rushed and out-of-place; the word I would use to summate the whole thing is amateur.
As with the first film, the cast are great and every segment has at least one standout moment but nothing holds the same weight. Overall, the stories don’t gel well enough and the references to things that have happened in the last film and things yet to happen (but still shown in the last film) can be a little disorientating. For the returning cast, everything is exactly where they left it. Alba’s character develops nicely but not nearly enough time is awarded to her, so by the time we get to her story, we don’t really care anymore. Mickey Rourke once again feels completely at home in the role of Marv but it’s obvious this is one of Miller’s favourite creations as he is brought back time-and-again – much in the same way Stallone would happily write Rocky films from now until his dying day if the studios would let him. And then there are the new additions. Eva Green is, as mentioned before, fantastic and perfectly cast as the part of the twisted seductress. Brolin and Gordon-Levitt are also wonderful and somehow obvious inclusions, as if they always belonged to this curious hyper-reality. I have no qualms with recasting roles, I completely understand the necessity but let’s just see how this movie could have looked had it been put out on time: Brittany Murphy would be alive, Michael Clarke Duncan would be alive, Devon Aoki could return as Miho, Michael Madsen could return as Bob and more importantly Clive Owen could have returned and saved this film from one of the most hideous uses of a cheap wig and facial prosthetics – but more on that a little later.
Sin City: A Dame To Kill For isn’t a bad film, it’s just a badly timed one. With a little tweaking, rearrangements, more attentive editing and a fucking time machine, it would be a glorious success but as with most of Rodriguez’s recent releases, this just fell depressingly short. It’s quickly becoming apparent that Mr. Rodriguez is carving out a b-movie niche with a-list casts but to what end, I have no idea. But if the cinema I attended is anything to go by, the audience simply won’t be there for it.
29th August 2014
The Scene To Look Out For:
Not that it makes much of a difference but continuity-wise Nancy’s Last Dance doesn’t make any sense. It’s supposedly set four years after Hartigan kills himself at the end of Sin City but at the end of The Hard Goodbye (when Marv is executed), Nancy has long blonde hair, no facial scars and there’s a newspaper article in which Senator Roark (who is apparently now dead) outcries the murder of Cardinal Roark. It’s this kind of all-over-the-place shit that really sullies this film. The messy timeline is largely to blame but ultimately it suffers in the same way that 300: Rise Of An Empire did; in that it’s simultaneously both prequel and sequel. And on top of that, Bruce Willis plays a ghost. And I don’t mean just in Nancy’s head but a goddamn ghost. He appears in a mirror during a flash of lightning and scares Roark just long enough to distract him. That’s a fucking ghost. And that is bat shit. And now that I think about it, Roark visits Nancy in a dream and says a bunch of weird shit then disappears. Later, when she confronts him, he alludes to said conversation. This points to one of two things: a.) it’s all a dream and Nancy’s a crazy drunk or b.) Frank Miller can’t write any more. Hmm.. which seems more likely?
**Spoiler.. I guess.. in a way.. but not really if you’ve seen the first film**
Dwight’s new face. Dwight’s fucking new face. In the book Dwight gets shot to pieces and messed up by Ava. During his rejuvenation period he has an exceptional amount of plastic surgery done and arrives in Sin City with a new face. In the comic, this works really well, in the film, not as much; especially as we’ve already established that said new face is that of Clive Owen. So what did they do instead? I have absolutely no idea but it was bloody hideous! Brolin steps off a train pretending he’s somebody else, neither imitating the comic Dwight or Clive Owen’s Dwight. They slap a cheap floppy wig on him and a weird looking pointy chin that felt reminiscent of a character in the 1990 Dick Tracy flick. Terrible choice, terrible effect, terrible reasoning.
“Hell is watching the ones you love in pain”
In A Few Words:
“Let this be a lesson to all budding filmmakers. There’s no need to rush to sequels but there is a definite time and a place for follow-ups and if you have the opportunity, strike while the iron is hot, lest you end up with Sin City: A Dame To Kill For”