Sin City 2 – A Dame To Kill For (2014)
Whatever the merits or lack thereof of Robert Rodriguez’s new film Sin City 2 the manufactured controversy around that risqué film poster made me grin in amusement when it was tantalizingly revealed earlier in the year. To me it proved that the B-movie aficionado like his grindhousing ancestors understands the nature of moral molesting publicity, the sight of a couple of nipples generating more column inches than any straight-laced marketing campaign could ever hope to generate. That said the film has opened with all the concussion of a poorly detonated squib, barely seducing a $10 million haul out of 3,000 worldwide screens, proof perhaps that the cinema going public prefer the day-glo heroics of the Marvel Cinematic Universe© to the hyper-stylised chiaroscuro noir of Frank Miller’s graphic novel series. The critics have also mauled the picture for its abstract failure to drive the series forward thematically or technically a near decade after the original films release, as well as slamming the film for the inherent misogyny which we can all agree springs from Miller’s rather one-dimensional presentation of women – trophy whores, scheming vixens, murderous prostitutes or at his most progressive diligently mute wives. As I’m sure I’ve mentioned here before I was fortunate enough to attend the first film’s Leicester Square premiere way back in 2005, I enjoyed the film immensely as a fan of the graphic novels despite being slightly troubled at the film and the series central moral nexus – all females are sex objects of one sort or another, and every problem can only be resolved through bone-crunching violence. If that confession makes me some horrible hypocrite then so be it, I love noir and perhaps I was overwhelmed by the incredible visual dexterity, despite loathing Miller’s gender and partisan politics (his Occupy rant was nauseous to behold) I’m ashamed to say I had much the same reaction to A Dame To Kill For. Yes, evidently I’m a bad, bad boy as I thoroughly enjoyed this film with a few technical reservations, even while I instinctively reject some of the wider problematic pitchforks as a genre exercise this was another welcome prowl through the cities dank and noxious green-screened streets.
Centring on two loosely intertwined stories from the second graphic novel of the series A Dame To Kill For returns to the noir drenched environment of Sin City, a realm which takes the paradigms of the genre to a nebulously accelerated nadir, including a darkly corrupt urban milieu, duplicitous sultry females, gravel voiced psychopaths (and that’s just the cops) and venomous, vengeance laced lust. In the first tale Josh Brolin steps into Clive Owen’s boots as Dwight, a blackmail proficient photographer who receives a seductive visit from a blast from his past, the titular dame Ava Lord (Eva Green) which is casting wrought from some bizarre vocabulary coincidence. She allegedly still holds a flame for her seething and panting former paramour, trapped in a trophy marriage she deploys her feminine assets to convince Dwight to murder her society husband, but of course you don’t have to be Mike Hammer to suspect that other angles are being weaved with a black widow’s brutality. In the mirroring tale a cocky young gambler (Joseph Gordon Levitt) flirts with disaster by besting the powerful Senator Roarke (the growling Powers Booth reprising his Deadwood persona) in a high-stake backroom poker game, after being violently curtailed for his impetulant lack of respect he seeks restitution, unearthing his secret history which promises a lethal conclusion. The membrane muscle between the tales is the hulking figure of Marv, played with the usual granite stone incredulity by Mickey Rourke, as a few other characters from the first tale also get some face time including the flashback framed Hartigan (Bruce Willis) and the troubled Nancy (Jessica Alba) who also has her own murderous designs on the corrupt regime of the all-powerful Roarke……
Whilst I don’t wish to sound like some pathetic and panting idiot male there’s no dancing around this as I suspect that Eva Green’s voluptuous charms has once again disrupted my logical & critical facilities – I thoroughly enjoyed this film and in particular her delirium inducing femme fatale which anchors the film among the same manipulative depths as Barbara Stanwyck or Rita Hayworth. Just like 300: Rise Of An Empire I find myself completely out of lockstep with the rest of my critical brethren, but in my defence perhaps my reaction was partially due to seeing this movie twenty minutes after the first of a double bill, the first phase of which was an actively terrible movie but more on that mis-fire later. Upon further reflection I am failing to understand what a faithful, stylish and amusingly violent translation of Miller’s comic book was going to be, other than an appropriately stylish, accelerated and violent rendering of the source material. Is it ridiculous, morally suspect and garishly fierce? Yes. Will it have you shaking your head in mock disbelief at some of the testosterone fuelled antics and wince inducing S&M costume designs? Absolutely. So here then is the nodal point, if you understandably dislike Miller’s comics then this film clearly isn’t going to change your mind, as a guilty pleasure however the admiration is in the eye of the beholder, and pushing the gender politics discretely aside both noir and comic book fans should appreciate the transference which is obsidian pitch perfect in tone and technique.
After the lacerating disappointments of the Machete movies Rodriguez has built a seething morally void universe through this franchise with much to entertain the more discerning viewer, the 3D is discreet but punches the frame into deeper waters, although like Miller’s comic the deeper nihilistic genius of the noir genre is sorely absent. Although this has the visual trappings of the movement it does lack the fatalistic core of the original cycle of films, the doomed struggle against an implacable and silent fate, of simple coincidence damning the righteous to burn in an unyielding moral void. Some of the action scenes are deliciously executed (the mute ninja Miho is back in all her lethal glory despite being recast from the original) and the visual design remains as intoxicating as the original Sin City, you can almost smell the rotting garbage, overflowing ashtrays and stale bourbon bubbling in the strip joints and flop-houses, standing in stark social opposition to the opulent mahogany homes of Roarke and his elitist oppressors. It’s a great collection of faces despite the badly miscast Gordon-Levitt, he doesn’t have the noir aura of his companions and his sequences in the film don’t quite smoulder with the required sulphurous tone, but his trajectory which has caused much disarray in the reviewing fraternity does, in reflective analysis, make perfect narrative sense. The central A Dame To Kill For lifted sequence however is fantastic due to Green’s pernicious performance, not to mention some small winks to exploitation fans including a hilariously grotesque Stacey Keach lurking like a moistened tuxedo clad slug. Not for everyone then but I mostly fell under the films stimulating spell, as comic book movies go at least someone is giving us lapsed fans a welcome stumble down memory lane;