Friday, 29 August 2014

Sin City: A Dame to Kill For

Sin City. Just another Saturday night. After the events of the first film, the surviving characters are still around and trying to get by in the worst city imaginable. Marv is still destroying people for fun, Nancy's still dancing but craves revenge for John Hartigan, Gail still runs Old Town, and Dwight has magically transformed into Josh Brolin. There's also a new character, Johnny, a cocky young gambler who arrive in Sin City looking for the big action but ends up having a long, bad night. There's also Ava Lord, the eponymous dame to kill for...

Sin City was one of my favourite films growing up. A visual style previously unseen in cinema and a fantastic mix of comedy, drama, grit, and excessive violence. It went down gang busters at the cinema and plans were put in place for a sequel based on the second book in Frank Miller's series: A Dame to Kill For. Those plans were made... Then put on pause... Then put on indefinite hiatus. Then, Robert Rodriguez started making Machete films. Then, all of a sudden, Sin City 2 was resurrected and everyone from the original signed back on (except Clive Owen, but we'll get to that) and the world rejoiced, I rejoiced! Finally, the film I wanted to see 8 years ago was coming my way, and now finally it's here. It's a terrible shame that this sequel didn't come out closer to the original for various reasons: It would have hit a cinema audience in the right mind set just after the release of the original, it wouldn't have been as hyped and dragged out, the cast and crew would have been in a familiar mind set instead of trying to recreate something they've forgotten, and the film might have been better. Maybe.

Sin City 2 is just a horrendous mess, and I say this after a long, carefully considered period of reflection. It's a cluster fuck. All of the charm and wit and originality of the first film is gone and has been replaced with something else entirely. Sin City 2 feels like an exploitation film when it has no right to be. You get the feeling Robert Rodriguez has made one too many Machete films and now his mindset is warped. He's only encouraged by his co-director and script author, Frank Miller, who created half the stories in the film especially for the film and didn't take out any of his critically-acclaimed yarns. Miller has clearly tried to re-create his former glory but couldn't do it. Stick to the good stuff, Frank. Above all the many faults of this film, the thing that really stuck in my craw is the editing and the post-production. Now, I'm aware that my memories of the original Sin City may been hazy and overblown, but I'm almost certain the special effects in the first film were better employed and look far less fake than they did here. I understand it's an extremely stylised film, but when everything fits together, it can look great. It doesn't here. Things stick out, look out of place, and most criminally look fake. There are also changes in the visual style that play against the established style from the first film. There are entire people in colour now, instead of highlighted features, and it doesn't ring true. It's extremely jarring, and makes for an uncomfortable viewing experience.

But let's not forget about our actors. Jeez, where to start... OK, so Mickey Rourke's Marv was spot on, but that character's hardly a stretch of his acting abilities. Eva Green is also pretty good as the femme fatale of the piece, Ava Lord, and that's not just because she's naked for 90% of her on-screen time. Seriously, that's not an exaggeration. JGL is a great actor, but he never seems to get out of second gear as Jonny, but his second hear is better than most other actors' fifth gear. Also, Powers Boothe is brilliantly evil as Senator Rourke. Apart from that, you struggle to look at anyone else's performance with any cause for celebration. The lustre surrounding Jessica Alba has definitely disappeared. She plays a broken version of her character from the original, Nancy, but there's no passion there and she really just phones it in. Then there's Josh Brolin... I like Josh Brolin, but he's no Clive Owen. Bruce Willis makes fleeting appearances as Hartigan in a different wig to the one he wore in the first film. Dennis Haysbert is no Michael Clarke Duncan (RIP) and Christopher Lloyd plays the Christopher Lloyd character. Also, Lady Gaga is no actress.

Here's the other big problem with the film: The script. The dramatic voice over monologues that were a signature of the first film have become parodies of themselves in the second film. The opening act, "Just Another Saturday Night", was not a fitting way to open the film and was clearly only used because it was a yarn short enough to act as the intro. "The Long Bad Night" yarn was solid but predictable and repetitive. The "A Dame to Kill For" yarn overtook the entire film by taking up half the run time, and featured two of the most unnecessary characters in a film I can remember, ever. The "Nancy's Last Dance" yarn was diabolical; poor writing and poor acting and poor everything and ended abruptly, which as it turned out was the end of the film as well. The dialogue was hammy and gave up any pretence of drama about two drafts ago. Frank Miller was given far too loose a leash and has not left Rodriguez much to work with (although what was there, Rodriguez overhyped too). There are so many driving scenes in this film too, and they don't look as good as they did in the first. My theory: They could afford too make the driving scenes look good in the original because there weren't many of them. They put more in the second, and the budget got stretched, and the effects suffered.

Overall, this film is not quite a disaster, but it's not good, and is absolutely not a suitable sequel to one of my favourite film of the 2000s. Everything's just a mess, with too many creative influences having too many different ideas as to what made the original work as well as it did. The stories aren't as good, the returning characters (for the most part) can't relive their former glory, the new characters aren't as well crafted as the originals, the replacement actors for pre-existing characters aren't as good as the original actors. If Sin City is Batman Returns, then Sin City 2 is Batman and Robin. Congratulations Robert Rodriguez and Frank Miller, you took your sweet time but you've successfully killed what could have been a lively, entertaining franchise after just two films. Maybe they should have gotten Tarantino to guest direct a scene in this one too.

Rating: *1/2