You know, I really think that I won this whole Sin City thing. While many of you had to wait nine years to see what other blood soaked adventures the inhabitants of this black and white hell-hole could get up to, I only needed to endure about half a day. It’s for the better really, because many of you will probably go into this film with jaded, tired eyes, because after so long, it’s hard to really care about something silly and pulpy like this, but in the meantime, I went into the theater tonight rather pumped. Sure, I didn’t love the original, but I had hope that this film would improve upon it’s shortcomings to give me the experience that so many people had with that film. I wasn’t exactly encouraged by the marketing, which has done an absolutely terrible job at restoring fan interest, but I have to say, against all odds, I really liked this one. Hell, I may have even loved it.
We find ourselves thrown into another group of three stories (along with a brief introductory one) that seem to skew themselves before, right in the middle of, and after the events of the original, depending on which character we’re talking about. In ‘Nancy’s Last Dance’, we find the heartbroken Nancy Callahan (Jessica Alba) hell-bent on revenge for her beloved John Hartigan (Bruce Willis appearing in ghostly form) after he killed himself to prevent Senator Roark’s (Powers Booth) men from coming after her after he brutally beat Roark’s son to death. In taking Roark down, she teams up with Marv (Mickey Rourke), who is as hulking and almighty as ever. Marv also plays heavily into the centerpiece story, ‘A Dame To Kill For’, where we center on a Dwight (Josh Brolin) before he gets the plastic surgery that will turn him into the Clive Owen character from the original. He finds himself getting re-involved with the maliciously manipulate Ava Lord (Eva Green), a former flame who enlists his help in saving her from her new husband. We are also introduced to a brand new character in ‘The Long Bad Night’, a supernaturally lucky gambler from out of town named Johnny (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) who finds himself in a poker game with Roark that…well, doesn’t quite go his way.
Often times when a long dormant franchise comes back for another run, the results are often borderline sad. That certainly seemed like a possibility here, especially after Robert Rodriguez recently threw together cheap, haphazard sequels to Spy Kids and Machete. However, I’m happy to report that this film is far from a hack job. Rodriguez steps right back into this depraved world like it’s an old pair of shoes, and for my money, addresses many of the problems that I had with the original film.
The major problem I had with the original was how repetitive, and plodding it got, even at such a blazing pace. Not only did we hardly ever take a second to relax and let these people interact with each other, but all of the stories basically followed the same basic revenge structure. In this one, each story feels completely unique, and as such, the hyper stylization stays exciting for the entire film, because it’s serving different purposes in each narrative. This doesn’t feel like just a two hour excuse for killing people in cool ways, but a genuine effort to portray the motivations and desires of these people, even in a world that so exaggerated. Sure, ‘Last Dance’ is mostly just a revenge tale, but the other two serve as beautiful parables. ‘Dame’ deals with how obsession with the most manipulative, unhealthy people in one’s life can lead to destruction, and ‘Long Bad Night’ vividly and brutally shows the price of arrogance, particularly in a place like Sin City.
The performances are far more even this time around, with nearly everyone at least turing in something workable. When it comes to our leading men, Rourke is every bit as intense, and darkly humorous as before, even if his character is given less to do this time around, Brolin does a solid job filling in for Owen even if he certainly lacks a great deal of the sociopathic charisma that his predecessor brought to the role, and Gordon-Levitt is his usual endlessly likable self. However, it is doubtless who the real highlight is here. Eva Green sprints away with every scene she’s in here, and although it’s certainly a very evil, sexualized role, I’ve got to hand it to Frank Miller for creating a very strong and compelling female villain here. She’s the femme fatale that nightmares are built off of, wild and sexy, but also cold and calculating as she finds new ways to manipulate every man she can, and Green sells every single sultry word of it. I’m so happy she’s starting to blow up, because she’s insanely talented. Also more impressive than usual here is Jessica Alba, who actually gets a couple moments to do some of the most emotive, expressive acting she’s even done, and Powers Booth chews every inch of scenery here as the power hungry senator. The only one who didn’t come here to work is Bruce Willis, but considering that he’s a ghost who only has a few lines anyway, I can’t really blame him too much. Bottom line, there are so many great actors here, several who I’m not even mentioning, and they all have such a great time playing in this world.
The action sequences in here are still plentiful, but since they are fewer and further between than in the first, we get a chance to appreciate the hyper-violent mayhem even more. There are a couple moments in here that make the first movie look tame by comparison, and it is all once again wonderfully framed and captured my Rodriguez, who really does seem most at home in a world utterly removed from ours. Also, the movie is perhaps even more visually stunning than the original, the black and white making every frame jump out, especially when seen on the big screen.
I only have a couple of gripes here. The first is that in the movie’s newfound focus on interesting stories, the characters themselves definitely take a hit despite being well acted. For example, Marv doesn’t have something really driving him like he did before, so he’s basically just a hired gun, and as mentioned before, Dwight just isn’t the same, because he can’t be in order to serve the story he’s in. Also, the way the narrative will definitely confuse some who haven’t seen the original in awhile. I find it very odd that there is really no effort made to bridge the gap as to why we’re seeing some of these deceased characters again. There’s really no sense of time here, with only Nancy’s story really feeling like a progression of things, but I get the sense that for many, that won’t matter. It just made for a bit of a rough transition since I practically watched these two back to back.
This is one of the most pleasant surprises of the year. Not only is it a radical improvement over the original that gave me the same feeling that entranced fans of that film so deeply, but also, it’s one of the rare movies that I didn’t want to end. At a brisk hour and forty two minutes, everything caps off right where it needs to, and leaves you wanting more (which unfortunately we probably won’t be getting). I would say that even if you weren’t a fan of the first one, or didn’t see it at all, you’ll find something to enjoy here. It’s a big, juicy slice of nior.