Sin City: A Dame to Kill For is exactly what you’d expect it to be – more of the same, says MacDara Conroy
Frank Miller is an arsehole – and a racist, misogynist Islamophobe, if his recent graphic fiction is anything to go by. Not that any of it matters to him a jot; for all the criticism lobbed his way, he’s got enough cred among the comic fraternity (and it’s most definitely a fraternity) thanks to his legendary turns as writer and/or artist with iconic characters such as Daredevil, Wolverine and most of all Batman, and the attendant sycophancy that comes with it.
Chief among the sycophants has to be Robert Rodriguez, who first indulged the crank (such arseholes are often euphemised as cranks, aren’t they? Like wealthy madmen are described as ‘eccentric’) with their co-directed big-screen adaptation of Miller’s Sin City graphic novels. To give that film some due – and it’s where much of its initial appeal lay – it didn’t look like anything else that came before, with the duo literally bringing Miller’s gritty comic panels to life thanks to liberal use of prosthetics and CGI.
Sin City the movie was certainly a success in that regard, achieving exactly what Miller and Rodriguez set out to do – to a fault. In staying so blindly faithful to the source material, it fails to work as cinema. Zack Snyder’s adaptation of Watchmen a few years after would suffer from some the same problems, taking panels of expositionary dialogue that work on the page and turning them into ridiculously overwrought voiceovers, without changing a word.
Sin City is nearly all voiceover, so make of that what you will, but it’s got another big problem. Its broad-stroke monochrome look screams film noir, but it’s a simulacrum, cherry-picking visual tropes to build a world that simply doesn’t fit together. With one notable exception (Powers Boothe revelling as the eeeevil Roarke) the men are gravel-voiced macho lunkheads who think with their dicks. The women are either perfect dames, double-crossing broads or leather-clad tarts with hearts, existing variously for the men’s amusement or salvation. Everything else is mere set dressing.
Nine years down the line comes the wholly unnecessary sequel (or prequel; the timeline is all over place) and it’s hardly surprising that Sin City: A Dame to Kill For is exactly what you’d expect it to be – more of the same. Same paper-thin characters and am-dram performances (does Jessica Alba have more than two emotions?). Same portmanteau structure (even more disjointed than the first, which at least plays off like a series of self-contained vignettes). Same deliberately provocative exploitation fodder (in place of Carla Gugino’s breasts we get the ever-game Eva Green’s). Same flimsy grasp of noir-ish tropes (flipping from stately Gotham mansions to palm-lined winding roads to grimy Chicago tenements) peppered with heat-seeking grindhouse spice (in the slur-strewn dialogue and vigilante kung-fu flick references). And it’s all surface, absent the knowingness that makes the kind of cinema this film references so liberally such a kick.
Worse still, one can’t escape the feeling – I mean, despite giving himself three separate cameos – that Frank Miller’s living vicariously through his characters, that he really wishes he were up there on screen chewing the scenery like the superhuman Marv (cinder-block-faced Mickey Rourke) or private dick Dwight McCarthy (chisel-jawed Josh Brolin doing a better job than Clive Owen) or even baby-faced gambler Johnny (a charmless Joseph Gordon Levitt). Miller might actually believe his own shit, which is really fucking sad.
Sin City: A Dame to Kill For opens nationwide on Monday August 25th