Directed by Frank Miller and Robert Rodriguez
Released in 2014
How would you react if you walked into your baby brother’s bedroom to find him flailing around a razor-sharp katana sword? With horror, I hope. Now, how about if he was just rapping the trigger to a toy machine gun, shouting lines from Predator? You’d laugh, though you might also worry that he’s watching too many R-rated movies at his age.
Sin City: A Dame to Kill For thinks it’s packing all the shock and danger of the former scenario when it’s nothing more than a clearinghouse for obscene and tedious fantasies scraped together by over-stimulated little boys. I laughed, for one, at the sheer idiocy of it all, which means there’s a bit of that “so bad, it’s good” appeal here, but as a piece of art or even coherent entertainment, Sin City 2 is a lifeless, often insidious failure.
Before I get to last week’s bomb, let me deflect with another question: Did you like the first Sin City, from 2005? I did, back in the day, but I am now reluctant to revisit it. Because while this overdue sequel traffics a formless script and some criminally underwhelming combat scenes, its worst offense has more to do with the cheap and sadistic worldview of Frank Miller’s graphic novel universe, a through line in both this film and the last. Deformed, or else mutilated, men take pleasure in snuffing out the lives of rabid frat boys, gamblers and security guards, doing so slowly so as to drink in their suffering. Directors Miller and Robert Rodriguez (Machete) deploy violence not to confront (à la Cronenberg), gross out (Verhoeven) or indict the viewer’s sick pleasure in it (Hitchcock), but to titillate. There’s no divide between the ravenous on-screen anti-heroes and the presumed straight male viewer, who savors in the parade of scantily clad or nude women as much as the splashes of white, red and yellow blood.
Credit to Eva Green, then, for owning her psycho femme fatale Ava Lord to such an extreme that, naturally, the men behind the camera have no clue what to do with her. Ava wears no clothes for about half her screen time, which will be worth the price of admission for some, and she uses her chiaroscuro-bathed body to seduce both allies and enemies. Her enforcer Manute (Dennis Haysbert, replacing the late Michael Clarke Duncan) tells scorned lover Dwight (Josh Brolin) that Ava is “a goddess” who “makes slaves of men.” She uses the same men again and again, which is awesome, but Miller and Rodriguez shackle us to the perspective of Dwight, a deathly bore, whenever she is on screen and so prop her up as a slice of buxom crazy. A better movie would follow Ava around, ruling shit, for the full duration, but that would require an actual story and a bit of feminine empathy, and besides, that’s why we have Lucy.
In case you haven’t gathered, I am not laying down the expected plot summary for this movie because it is a) needlessly complicated and b) entirely predictable. Miller’s script checks in on four characters — Dwight, Marv (Mickey Rourke), Johnny (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) and Nancy (Jessica Alba) — as they avenge, revenge and drone on in purple prose-infected voiceover that laughably feigns poetic insight. One violent scene ends with Johnny saying, “Death is just like life in Sin City.” Dwight’s first words rip off, of all writers, Edward Bulwer-Lytton: “It’s another hot night. Dry and windless. The kind that makes people do sweaty, secret things.” This is all delivered straight, in a brooding, tough guy, Robert Mitchum-mocking way. It’s macho nonsense for the child who never reads.
And the action isn’t even that good! You would think Rodriguez would be dependable for visceral, anti-humanist thrills, but he barely photographs human movement here. Punchy sounds like bone snaps attempt to hide stilted camerawork and hyperkinetic editing; in lieu of fluid, graceful combat, Miller and Rodriguez resort to the stomach-churning tactics of the YouTube Pooper. Furthermore, the utter disregard for human life backfires, in that there are no stakes, and thus no excitement, in watching bad and worse people slice each other apart. The directors have clearly seen some classic Hollywood film noir and would be eager to parrot the “film noir equals cynicism” cliché. But what they exclude from Sin City is the melancholy hiding behind Mitchum’s cigarette smoke and Bogart’s sunken eyes. To include melancholy is to admit weakness, and we all know a boy with a plastic rifle in his hands is the most fearless person in the world.Final Verdict:
1.5 Star Out of 5
This article was written for The Cornell Daily Sun and can be viewed at its original location here.