If you’ve seen 2005's Sin City, there’s not much that will surprise you about its sequel Sin City: A Dame to Kill For. Aside from using 3D and telling two new stories not found in Frank Miller’s pulp comic series, Robert Rodriguez covers almost exactly the same ground he did in his previous movie. There are more subtle differences between A Dame to Kill For and its predecessor, although they’re not positive ones.
A Dame to Kill For’s strongest segment is its opening “Just Another Saturday Night,” because it perfectly captures the comic’s brutal sarcastic tone. This funny tale featuring Mickey Rourke’s big brute Marv involves the confused goon trying to recall how he became surrounded by dead men. Marv is in the other sections too, but Rourke’s performance in this scene comes the closest to matching his excellent turn in the first Sin City. Sadly Rourke seems to be phoning it in during the rest of his parts, since Miller’s screenplay gives Marv little to do aside from serving as backup muscle.
“The Long Bad Night,” the film’s next best piece, is a new one that Frank Miller came up with that still fits nicely into the Sin City lore because of how unsentimental it is. The segment is anchored by its gritty noir narrative about a gambler named Johnny (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) who just won’t quit even when the chips are down, and a lead performance with just the right amount of bravado. Seeing Christopher Lloyd play a back-alley doctor is an added bonus too.
At 98 minutes, A Dame to Kill For is significantly shorter than the prior movie, so it moves faster. Two weak portions still manage to drag though. Despite Eva Green’s exceptionally gratuitous nudity and delightfully devilish femme fatale Ava Lord, the other main characters Dwight (Josh Brolin) and Gail (Rosario Dawson) feel uninspired in “A Dame to Kill For.” Another new outing, “Nancy’s Last Dance,” falls flat due to Jessica Alba's flimsy performance as the troubled stripper Nancy and a stupid subplot where the ghost of her protector Hartigan (Bruce Willis) follows her around.
Just like the first Sin City, A Dame to Kill For's greatest asset is its well-defined aesthetic. The film's effects are arresting and there are even noticeable refinements to the technology that recreates Frank Miller's unique visual style. Billowing smoke and falling snow definitely pop more in 3D. A Dame to Kill For is more psychedelic in its cutting and transitions though, which makes for a distracting movie. Switches between the regular world and the 2D silhouettes from Miller's comic, happen mid-action so it's very interruptive to the experience. This tonal inconsistency is exacerbated by frenetic editing during the picture’s hand-to-hand fights.
The most detrimental difference between A Dame to Kill For and its predecessor is that it takes itself too seriously. The film fails to achieve the same balance of over-the-top violence and biting humor that Sin City pioneered. In that way it’s more gruesome than amusing. There are a few decent one-liners, but nothing quite like the first movie’s gems. Another detractor is A Dame to Kill For’s lack of creativity in regard to its story and style. Although it could be argued that Sin City broke so much new ground, that it didn’t leave many places for future installments to innovate. Visiting Frank Miller’s deranged world again is fun in this film, but it’s disappointing how familiar Robert Rodriguez makes everything feel, especially given how long we’ve waited for this sequel.