As with the first one, it's an anthology film set in the perpetually rainy (Ba)sin City, whose stories take place before, after and during the gaps between the disjointed timeline of its predecessor. We pick up with characters like Jessica Alba's Nancy, who's traumatised by events from last time around, but flashback to Josh Brolin's Dwight, before he had plastic surgery to look like Clive Owen. New characters include Joseph Gordon-Levitt's young chancer Johnny and Eva Green's titular dame, Ava Lord.
Robert Rodriguez's eclectic tastes have kept him busy in between films- don't forget that he made The Adventures of Shark Boy and Lava Girl (in anaglyph 3D) in the same year as he released the original Sin City- but he hasn't stopped developing this project alongside other interests. The tone is immediately set by "Just Another Saturday Night", a story which doesn't link to the rest of the film, and finds Mickey Rourke's Marv hunting down and murdering frat boys. It's stylised, it's raining and brutalised bodies hit the floor almost right away. "And we're back", it growls, decisively.
While the previous film found a balance between its three strands, ("That Yellow Bastard", "The Hard Goodbye" and "The Big Fat Kill") the central story here is in the title. "A Dame To Kill For" forms the film's central passage, which makes it that much easier for Eva Green to dominate the whole film. Following 300: Rise of an Empire, another belated sequel to a Frank Miller comic book movie, this is the second time she's pulled off the feat this year. She hasn't let the fact that she's obviously better than this stuff deter her in either film and she's now turned in two remarkably charismatic femme fatale performances in the space of six months.
It's not that the rest of the cast aren't good- the returning cast feel particularly comfortable in their monochrome skins. It's just that there's one low note to strike and nobody else seems to feel it's necessary to raise their game to reach it. It's a huge ensemble cast and its players are largely operating with noirish monotones, which proves to be the ideal register for performers like Mickey Rourke and Jessica Alba. Josh Brolin and Joseph Gordon-Levitt could do this sort of thing in their sleep, which isn't to say that they do- it's just not a film in which one tortured male character would be hugely distinguishable from another if they weren't appearing in entirely different parts of the film.
Ava's not the main antagonist, mind. That de facto role goes to Powers Boothe, reprising his role as Senator Roark, who fathered the psychotic "Yellow Bastard" in the previous film. Outside of Green, he may be the only other performer who goes all out, as a sneering, superior bastard. He's the antagonist in two stories which wrap around the main arc, both written especially for the film by Miller. "The Long Bad Night" has the air of an urban legend in the making, with Johnny out to best Roark, and "Nancy's Last Dance" providing the most direct follow-up to the original film.
It's not a subtle film, but Miller's worst excesses are curbed by Rodriguez co-directing and William Monahan's finishing touches on his screenplay. In short, it's not as bad as The Spirit. To my count, there's only one female character who isn't either in the sex industry or the wife of another male character, and that's a waitress, played by a surprise cameo performer. That's the sort of strange territory we're in, but at least the female characters are still played as self-possessed and it's not even the worst representation of women in a new release this week- we'll get to that in good time.
Sin City 2: A Dame To Kill For is probably what fans of the original were hoping for, even though it will probably get old faster if you've watched the 2005 film recently. There are a few new tricks here. The 3D actually brings the comic book style some of its worn-off novelty, until your eyes adjust and it all looks the same as before. Plus, the more grounded nature of the stories this time around makes the world itself feel more absorbing, if a little less surprising. But largely, it's an opportunity for the cast to put on their noir voices and deliver chewy dialogue in a gamely fashion. It never moves on from that opening statement; "And we're back."
If you've seen Sin City 2, why not share your comments below? It's tough to know who the more surprising cameo was- the one who played the waitress or the actor who played the unlicensed doctor. Answers on a postcard!
I'm Mark the mad prophet, and until next time, don't watch anything I wouldn't watch.