Since I saw the sequel to 2005’s Sin City the Sunday of its opening weekend, in a theater of less than ten people, I’ve been trying to figure out what went wrong. I’ve been looking forward to this sequel ever since I saw the first film in a theater back in 2005, and after what seemed like endless delays as this film circled the drain in development hell, I didn’t think it was ever actually going to happen. The jokes I’ve been making on twitter about not believing this movie was actually going to be released weren’t far from the truth, to be honest. I’d gotten my hopes up about it again and again, only to have the release date pushed back over and over again.
So when I saw the lackluster reviews for A Dame to Kill For, I wondered how this film could go so wrong.
The answer is that it didn’t.
If you go into A Dame to Kill For looking for the same kind of thing that Robert Rodriguez and Frank Miller gave us in 2005, then you shouldn’t be disappointed. It has the same over the top noir dialogue, the same great visuals, and most of the characters and actors that were great in the first film. I even thought that the 3D was an upgrade from the visuals of the first. The action sequences popped, and the colors that were used were vibrant. It looked damn good.
Of course, the film isn’t perfect. There are problems, as there were with the first one.
In the hyper-noir world of Sin City, the depiction of female characters is a serious problem. Women are either prostitutes, helpless canon fodder, or, in the case of Ava Lord, evil and manipulative and only seeking to ensnare and trick men. It’s a pretty fucked up way to showcase women, and there are only a couple of exceptions. The main characters, our supposed anti-heroes, have some pretty sexist views that they spout in gritty monologues. I’ve seen a lot of flack for a line of dialogue that we get from Joseph Gordon Levitt’s character, Johnny, pretty early on:
“A city’s like a woman or a casino. Somebody’s gonna win.”
Honestly, I think that in a movie where our main characters, the guys we’re supposed to root for, are as flippant about murder and crime as they are, making a fuss about their misogynist attitudes is a bit short-sighted. These guys we’re seeing– Marv, Johnny and Dwight– are protagonists, but they are not good guys. I’m not giving them a pass here, but the complete lack of criticism for Marv’s killing what are essentially innocent guards is equally as problematic.
A Dame to Kill For does make a valiant attempt at fixing its female problem, by inserting a new story– most of this film and the previous one are based entirely on existing comics, but Frank Miller wrote two new tales for this sequel– one that stars Jessica Alba’s Nancy Callahan.
It’s a good idea, in theory.
Giving Nancy a story where she attempts to avenge the death of John Hartigan (played by Bruce Willis), gives the character agency, where she’s not a woman to be saved or won. It’s pretty kick-ass, and while I’m not normally a Jessica Alba fan (and haven’t been since Dark Angel), she did a decent job with the material she was given. It was good to hear a female voice-over in such a male-dominated film. The problem here is, this new Nancy story, written just for the film, doesn’t fit into the main continuity AT ALL. The first film established the following timeline of events:
1. That Yellow Bastard part 1/A Dame to Kill For
2. The Big Fat Kill
3. That Yellow Bastard part 2
4. The Hard Goodbye
Nancy’s story, which takes place after (SPOILER ALERT!) Hartigan is dead, heavily features Marv. It makes sense for Marv to want to help out Nancy, but by all accounts, he should be dead, after being sent to the chair in The Hard Goodbye (There’s a scene in Marv’s tale from the first film that features a noticeably not-distraught Nancy). So while I enjoyed Nancy’s story for what it was, I spent the entire time trying to make sense of how it fit into Sin City’s continuity as a whole.
(I also had the idea of Nancy’s entire story being a revenge fantasy suggested to me by Leshia, which makes a lot of sense and makes me feel better about Nancy’s story as a whole, but until Miller comes out and says that this is the case, it’ll remain a hopeful wish.)
However overall, I found the film enjoyable, a worthy sequel to the original film that did a good job expanding the world of Sin City and introducing new conflicts and characters into the mythology. It’s not one I’m going to rush out to see again, but I’m not regretting the money I spent on a ticket, and I’m going to be all over whatever two-film boxset they release this Christmas.
So where did Sin City: A Dame to Kill For go wrong?
In its opening weekend, the film only made $6.3 million dollars, and it dropped all the way to number 14 at the box office its second weekend in theaters. By all accounts, this movie was an absolute bomb at the box office, and nothing short of a miracle would bring us To Hell and Back in movie form.
I think the main problem with this film is that it wasn’t released seven years ago. While I know quite a few people who were just as excited for it now as they would have been in 2007 or 2008, the majority of film-goers probably didn’t give this film a second thought after such a lengthy delay. After nine years, the novelty of shooting much of the film in front of a green screen has passed, and while, as I’ve said, the 3D of this particular film definitely ads to the viewing experience, people are even growing tired of both paying for and viewing films in that particular format.
It probably doesn’t help that a considerable number of the first film’s stars also don’t appear in the sequel. Michael Clark Duncan, who played the menacing Manute, passed away in 2012, and Devon Aoki, who did such a great job as Miho, was replaced by Jamie Chung. They’re not the main characters of their stories, but their presence was definitely missed. The one omission that was particularly glaring was Clive Owen. Those of us familiar with the comic book source material are well aware of why he’s not featured in the sequel, but I think a lot of people who only have the first film as a reference point will be confused by Josh Brolin’s appearance in this film, unfortunately (MORE SPOILERS!) even after we should have gotten Clive Owen instead. If this film had gone into production sooner after the first was released, I doubt that many of these casting issues would have been problems at all.
So when it comes to A Dame to Kill For, the internet backlash seems grossly unwarranted, but I can almost understand why people are disappointed. They were hoping for the same surprises that they got back when the first film was released. But after such a long wait that saw filming techniques catch up to and then speed past the original Sin City, and casting opportunities come and go, the same punch that impressed us last time is just more commonplace in 2014.