Nine years ago, Sin City's black-white-and-red palette splashed onto the screen and it was exhilarating. This time around it never quite reaches those lofty heights, but it has its moments.
Many of those best moments come from this movie's two stars: Eva Green's femme fatale Ava, and Mickey Rourke's Marv. The new anthology leans heavily on the streetwise and unstoppable bruiser, but this blatant bit of fan service leaves little room for other characters to breathe. Fortunately the memorable Eva Green doesn't share screen time with the unabashed scene-stealer. Lovable but ungodly force of nature that he is, Marv dominates every frame he's in. By writing him into all but one of this movie's stories, his human demolition routine gets repetitive.
The movie tells four new stories that, like the last four, jump around in time, making this both a prequel and a sequel. Opening with a Marv prologue, Rourke's clipped noir narration over a bloody scene sets the tone. Marv's dialogue always reminds me of Rourke's Motorcycle Boy in Rumble Fish. Both Rumble Fish and The Outsiders are Francis Ford-Coppola adaptations of gritty S.E. Hinton novels that feel like they could exist in the same world as Sin City. And both Rumble Fish and Sin City are black-and-white noir crime tales that trade on Rourke's credibility as a believably wise street tough.
But there's a reason this movie is called A Dame to Kill For and that reason is Eva Green as the serpentine man-eater Ava. With poison green eyes, Ava sees men like a series of Turing-machine inputs with outputs as predictable as a computer script. The irresistibility of her bald manipulation leads Manute (Dennis Haysbert replacing the late Michael Clarke-Duncan) to call her "The Goddess." And the Goddess always gets what she wants. The moments when she ties Josh Brolin (Dwight), and then Christopher Meloni, up in knots are among the most fun in the movie. And she does almost all this while spending about half her screen time totally topless. It's admirable, awe-inducing onscreen nudity. Eva Green's boobs do so much work they deserve their own credits — both of them. It's the kind of brazen nudity that invites you to stare, turning the audience into the same kind of leering creeps she casts a spell over in the movie. It's an interesting contrast to Jessica Alba's innocent-by-comparison Nancy, a stripper who never takes off her top.
So Ava's awesome. Marv's awesome, too. All the pieces feel awesome, but the whole is less than awesome. It's easy to blame all this on the worn-off novelty of the movie's visual effects, but it's more than that. The first time out, Robert Rodriguez and Frank Miller cherry picked from years of Sin City comics. That movie adapted two of the comic's best yarns, Marv's tale of vengeance, "The Hard Goodbye," and Nancy's origin story with Hartigan (Bruce Willis), "That Yellow Bastard." This time only "A Dame to Kill For" comes directly from the comics. Joseph Gordon-Levitt's segment as a supernaturally lucky gambler named Johnny, and Nancy's revenge on Senator Roark (Powers Boothe) were both written for this script.
As in nearly any comic book adaptation, these complaints are easily dismissed by hardcore fans. Especially since the movie is so true to the spirit of the Sin City world. Fan-favorite Miho executes bad guys with abandon. She delivers crazy, silly violence via katana blades and ninja stars. Dominatrix Gail is back, too, as is the devilish Senator Roark.
Casual fans will likely find themselves confused by the purposefully jumbled timelines, but that hardly matters in a movie that cares way more about character than it does continuity. And the movie's greatest virtue, its gorgeous palette, still provides some very memorable images.