Bad writing, misogyny outweigh visual innovation in tiresome sequel
When the first “Sin City” came out, I was nearing the end of my critical theory class in college. We were assigned to take one of the varying critical approaches and apply it to piece of modern media. Wanting no truck with the intellectual rigor of Derrida or Lacan (I was and remain an incredibly lazy student), I chose what I believed to be the easiest approach: feminist criticism.
“Sin City” was the film I had seen most recently, was the freshest in my mind, and was ripe for harvest. Suffice to say, Robert Rodriguez and Frank Miller did not fare well. Miller at his best has very little interest in female characters. Even in his seminal “The Dark Knight Returns,” he takes the character of Catwoman, a highly skilled, independent, capable antihero, and turns her into an weak middle-aged madam with a weight problem and sloppy makeup.
Rodriguez, on the other hand, is so obsessed with genre film that he tends to create caricatures rather than characters. Stereotypes and misogyny abound when the two combine. The feminist criticism of “Sin City” might have been the easiest paper I’ve ever written.
With the release of “Sin City: A Dame to Kill For,” audiences should not expect any growth. “Sin City” was at least entertaining in its sex and violence revelry, not to mention new in its visual approach. “Sin City: A Dame to Kill For” is merely a retread, a repetition of themes and situations that are fun for a small, select audience.
It’s worth mentioning that the technique pioneered in the original film continues to be visually stunning. It is an exaggeration of film noir contrast, heightening the difference between blacks and whites. The style is distinct and striking, highly effective for the type of story the filmmakers are telling.
As I mentioned, Rodriguez has an obsession with genre film, and here he is overemphasizing the hard-boiled detective film. He’s responsible for the visual look of the film, and that is the only successful part of it. The film looks wonderful, and Rodriguez is clearly a talented director.
But the writing falls to Miller, and if the previous film is any indication, is a near shot-by-shot remake of the comic book. The dialogue is terrible and over-the-top. One of my problems with genre filmmaking is the insistence on aggrandizement of techniques. Film noir filmmakers were only trying to make good films; it is the audience that surmises the pattern.
Miller and Rodriguez have forgone story in favor of allusion. Again, the problem with the absurdness of the writing falls to Miller, but Rodriguez is unlikely to rein him in—anyone who’s seen one of his films knows that he’s the Baz Luhrman of genre filmmaking. The success of “Sin City” is a trick that only works once.
Among the problems with the writing is how the narrative is delivered. ‘Sin City” featured vignettes with different characters. A change in title cards indicated a change in story and in characters, which helped to move the film along. “Sin City: A Dame to Kill For” abandons this approach for fluid story lines that intersect.
Perhaps it’s just preference, but the different title cards and stories made the previous film more comic-book-like and easier to digest. “Sin City: A Dame to Kill For” wallows more in the depravity. Like its predecessor, all women in Sin City are prostitutes or strippers, an inch away from betraying the men that control them for security or power.
Nudity and flaunted sexuality is the realm of women, while violence and misguided protection is the realm of men. It’s an antiquated world view, one Frank Miller is determined to let die slowly.
The film features most of the same actors as “Sin City,” with Josh Brolin replacing Clive Owen in the Dwight role and Mickey Rourke reprising his role as Marv, the only interesting character in the series.
The performances are fine—the players say the lines with conviction and slight hints of irony. But the film as a whole does nothing to inspire any reaction beyond boredom and the occasional bitter laugh.
With the advent of “Guardians of the Galaxy,” gritty comic book films may be on their way out. Marvel has shown that whimsy and lighter fare make for a more fun movie-going experience.
There are rumors that DC will combat this with a “no jokes” rule in their future comic book films. Let’s hope not. I’d rather roll my eyes at a pun than over-the-top chauvinism any day.