Sin City: A Dame to Kill For is the anticipated follow up to the highly successful Sin City (2005), the neo-noir action crime thriller based off Frank Miller’s graphic novels. The first film was an anthology that explored the dark and miserable Basin City, focusing on multiple individuals caught up in the city’s violent corruption. A Dame to Kill For follows the same anthology format, exploring further stories of Basin City’s established residents, including new faces and old enemies. The film acts as both a prequel and a sequel to the original film, featuring interlinking stories that take place before and after stories in the first movie.
Robert Rodriguez, the primary director of the first film along with Miller, returns to helm the sequel. A Dame to Kill For is divided into five segments: “Just Another Saturday Night,” “The Long Bad Night (Part I),” “A Dame to Kill For,” “The Long Bad Night (Part II),” and “Nancy’s Last Dance.” Two of the film’s stories (“Just Another Saturday Night” and “A Dame to Kill For”) are based off the second and sixth books in the graphic novel series, while the other two (“The Long Bad Night Parts I and II” and “Nancy’s Last Dance”) were made exclusively for the film, written by Miller.
Nine years after the release of the original film, the sequel was finally released on August 22nd, 2014. A Dame to Kill For was originally scheduled to begin production in 2006, but unforeseen delays by the studio prevented progress as Rodriguez refused to start official casting until the script was finalized for the studio. Production finally began in late 2012 and filming took place in early 2013.
The film’s ensemble cast featured returns by Mickey Rourke (Marv), Jessica Alba (Nancy Callahan), Rosario Dawson (Gail), Bruce Willis (John Hartigan), Jaime King (Goldie and Wendy), and Powers Boothe (Senator Roark). Newcomers to the world of Sin City included Joseph Gordon-Levitt (Johnny), Eva Green (Ava Lord), Ray Liotta, Christopher Lloyd, Jeremy Piven, Christopher Meloni, Lady Gaga, and Stacy Keach. Some roles featured in the first movie were recast, including Josh Brolin replacing Clive Owen as Dwight McCarthy, due to “A Dame to Kill For” being a prequel to “The Big Fat Kill” in the first film. Other re-castings included Jamie Chung replacing Devon Aoki as Miho, and Dennis Haysbert replacing Michael Clarke Duncan. Aoki was pregnant with her second child while Michael Clarke Duncan died from a heart attack months prior to the start of production.
The effects that made the first Sin City so unique back in 2005 return in A Dame to Kill For, such as being shot on a digital backlot with a mix of green screen environments and real objects. The black and white film-noir look returns as well, including certain subjects in a scene that are colored. Unfortunately, the groundbreaking and stunning visuals that impressed back in 2005 don’t create the same awe nine years later. However, don’t let that discourage you: A Dame to Kill For looks fantastic. There are a few shots where the CGI looks spotty, but the advancement of high definition makes the environment look crisp and beautiful, especially a scene in which Eva Green’s character goes for a swim where the water looks dark and silky smooth and the wave distortion looked flawless.
Speaking of Eva Green, her performance as the titular Dame stands out above the rest, going as far as to overshadow Mickey Rourke’s Marv. Her character, Ava Lord, is an ex-lover of Dwight McCarthy (Brolin) and defines the role of femme fatale. Ava comes off with good looks and an innocent damsel in distress, but in reality she’s an expert liar who manipulates men to do her will. The facade of Ava Lord also reflects in the colorization effects; when she’s the innocent victim, she’s bathed in black and white, her only distinguishing feature being the bright blue jacket she wears outside. When the facade drops, the her lips turn blood red and her eyes take on bright emerald. It meshes well with Eva Green’s acting, with the colors enhancing her character as a villainous, soulless woman that defines pure evil.
Joseph Gordon-Levitt has some significant screen time as Johnny, a wise-cracking gambler who goes up against the corrupt Senator Roark in a poker game. His story takes place before and after the “A Dame to Kill For” segment, doesn’t do much to stand out. While it’s still entertaining, it only enforces that Roark is a vicious and heartless individual. We also get a brief glimpse of Nancy Callahan (Alba) and her desire to kill Roark.
That’s when we come to the final act, “Nancy’s Last Dance,” which focuses on Nancy’s obsession with revenge on Roark, who contributed to John Hartigan (Bruce Willis) killing himself at the end of the first film. The four year gap between “That Yellow Bastard (Part II)” and “Nancy’s Last Dance” show how much Nancy has changed, and Alba steps up in her portrayal, going from the stripper with a good heart to a tormented, alcoholic soul bent on avenging Hartigan’s death. While Alba doesn’t kick as much butt as she did during her Dark Angel days, it was refreshing to see her as the beauty that you don’t want to screw with. After several years of drama, romantic comedies and filling space in the Fantastic Four films, it was fun seeing glimpses of what made Alba such a big star to begin with.
This is one of those sequels where you should see the first film before the sequel, especially due to the non-linear storytelling connecting both films. One of the most confusing things for viewers involves Marv, who dies in one of the stories of the first movie but is alive and well in A Dame to Kill For. This leads to confusion for movie audiences who might not have read the graphic novels or pay attention to story timelines. Since Sin City is one of those few comic book films that actually stays close as possible to the source material, the majority of stories are non-linear, much like the graphic novels. If you’ve seen A Dame to Kill For, you might be confused by the chronological order. I’ve provided a list of the stories in chronological order and what film they are featured:
- “That Yellow Bastard (Part I)” – Sin City
- “That Yellow Bastard (Part II)” [eight years after Part I] – Sin City
- “Just Another Saturday Night” [concurrent with “That Yellow Bastard”] – A Dame to Kill For
- “A Dame to Kill For” – A Dame to Kill For
- “The Long Bad Night (Part I)” – A Dame to Kill For
- “The Long Bad Night (Part II)” – A Dame to Kill For
- “Nancy’s Last Dance” [Four years after “That Yellow Bastard (Part II)”] – A Dame to Kill For
- “The Customer is Always Right (Part I)” – Sin City
- “The Hard Goodbye” – Sin City
- “The Big Fat Kill” – Sin City
- “The Customer is Always Right (Part II)” – Sin City
While it’s not perfect (there are some inconsistencies between both films), this was the best I could come up with based on some in-depth research.
Upon its release, A Dame to Kill For didn’t enjoy the success its predecessor had, earning only $6 million its opening weekend and tanking into 8th place at the U.S. Box Office. It’s unfortunate that the film didn’t do well, earning only $38 million of its $65 million budget, but the blame can be contributed to the lack of promotional marketing and the nine-year gap between films. If the film had been released in 2007 or 2008, it could have performed better than it did. If you look at the social media pages, many people were excited to see the movie but the lack of advertising and promotion didn’t help inform people when the film was released and many only found out when news broke that the movie bombed. Perhaps it can re-cooperate the losses for DVD rentals, but it’s likely we won’t be seeing a third installment.
If you enjoyed the first Sin City, you’ll be sure to enjoy the sequel. Although A Dame to Kill For doesn’t have the strong, interlocking stories that made the first film come off as one of the best comic-to-screen adaptions ever made, it will still satisfy those who enjoyed the faithful comic-book feel of the first film. Complete with blood, violence, nudity, and over-the-top comic book camp, A Dame to Kill For distinguishes itself from the comic book films we’ve become accustomed to in the past five years.
Grade: 3.9 out of 5.