When it comes to how much time should elapse between sequels, there tends to be a sweet spot. Rush new sequels out every year, and the quality is almost certain to be lacking (think the Saw or Paranormal Activity series). Wait two to five years between sequels, and the filmmakers have long enough to craft a worthy next installment while maintaining the personality, allure, and cast of the original (The Empire Strikes Back, The Godfather Part II).
But let too much time pass, and it can be much harder for your movie to make a case for its own existence and recapture the magic that attracted filmgoers to the franchise in the first place (Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull, The Godfather Part III). There are of course exceptions to these rules — Richard Linklater’s Before Sunrise trilogy only benefitted from the nine-year gaps between sequels — but, in general, it’s best not to wait too long.
Earlier this year, the people behind 300: Rise of an Empire received a Thermopylae-style whupping from critics when they dropped their sequel eight years after the original 300 sent bros racing to the gym to work on their six-packs. And now a belated sequel to yet another Frank Miller adaptation has arrived — Sin City: A Dame to Kill For. They shouldn’t have waited so long.
A Dame to Kill For still looks and feels very much like the original Sin City, which is to say stunning. The noir-inspired look and narration, the cartoonish violence, the rain-soaked grittiness — it’s all there and green-screened within an inch of its life. But whereas the original told a series of inspired, interlocking stories, ADTKF flits restlessly between its own vignettes without shape or purpose.
Instead of scenes like the ones with Josh Hartnett’s assassin that neatly bookended the original, the sequel opens with a pointless sequence featuring Mickey Rourke’s loveable thug Marv that goes nowhere. But at least that’s a beginning — the movie can’t even be bothered to wrap itself up with any kind of ending whatsoever. You can almost hear co-director Robert Rodriguez sighing “Fuck it, roll credits” as the sputtering final story runs out of gas and unceremoniously cuts to black.
It also doesn’t help that Rodriguez is now a filmmaker at the bottom of his game. The 2005 Rodriguez was already a far cry from the ’90s-era hotshot who crafted trigger-happy classics like Desperado and From Dusk Til Dawn, but he still had enough creative juice to make the original Sin City a decadent treat that perfectly adapted its comic book source material. The Rodriguez in the years since has shown none of that inventiveness, instead doubling down on the grindhouse schlock of films like Planet Terror and the increasingly awful Machete series.
Nor does it do ADTKF any favors that all the best Sin City source material was mined the first time around. What we’re left with now is the prequel story of Josh Brolin’s pre-plastic-surgery Dwight (played by Clive Owen in the original) being lured into a web of murder and deceit by a femme fatale played by Eva Green’s Boobs. Plopped awkwardly into the middle of the film, the story takes up the most running time but fizzles as it unfurls. That’s largely thanks to a go-nowhere subplot featuring Christopher Meloni and Jeremy Piven, and to the appearance of a ridiculous post-plastic-surgery Dwight that should now look like Owen but is instead played by Brolin in a floppy emo wig.
The rest of the film is filled out by new stories featuring Joseph Gordon-Levitt’s mysterious card sharp and Jessica Alba’s vengeful stripper Nancy. As always, Gordon-Levitt turns in fine work here, but it’s hard to care about his character when the film itself forgets about him for large stretches of time. Alba fares worse, curling her lips and stomping around with a bottle of liquor as she struggles to convey pain and intensity. A sleepy Bruce Willis, whose square-jawed stoicism suited his driven cop in the first film, yawns his way through a cameo as Nancy’s now-ghostly protector.
The original Sin City also had an endless parade of colorful side characters and inventive death scenes that kept things fresh. ADTKF can’t be bothered with either, so it just cranks up the monotonous violence to keep audiences entertained until the clock runs out. There are dozens, if not hundreds, of heads getting shot with bullets, heads getting shot with arrows, heads getting impaled with swords, and heads getting cut off. That might be enough to sate some fans of the series, but it’s not enough to hide the fact that Sin City: A Dame to Kill For arrives painfully short on ideas and too late for it to matter anyway.
Sin City: A Dame to Kill For opens nationwide on Friday, August 22.