The novelty has worn off for stylish but late ‘Sin City: A Dame to Kill For’

Image: Miramax Films
Image: Miramax Films

Sin City was a spectacle upon release in 2005. Loaded with a visual and narrative style that was delightfully familiar for readers of the books and entirely original for non-readers, the film was one of the first to be shot completely on green screen (along with the underappreciated Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow). It was all hard-boiled grit, energy, and sick humor packed into a stark and stunning presentation.

A lot has happened in the nine year since then. Not only have several movies been made using green screen backgrounds (including another Frank Miller adaptation in 300, its sequel, and Miller’s own directorial debut The Spirit) but comic book adaptations have become gone from an occasional release to the biggest draw in mainstream cinema. As well, much has changed for Miller himself as most of his recent creative work has been widely panned (the aforementioned The Spirit), ridiculed (All-Star Batman and Robin, the Boy Wonder), and overall horrible (Holy Terror), even before his reputation took a major tumble, all of which has caused fellow creators and many long-time fans to abandon his work and decry the man as finally losing whatever lingering genius or sanity he’d previous clung to.

Image: Miramax Films
Image: Miramax Films

While none of this has anything to do with Sin City: A Dame to Kill For as a movie, it’s likely hard for those one-time readers and fans not to remember this creative and personal descent while watching. Although the original book was released years earlier, Marv’s snarled voiceover about spoiled college kids immediately invokes Miller’s own comments about Occupy Wall Street. Many of the things which made Sin City a pulpy pleasure in the first place – the stylized violence, the objectified dames, the terse narration – are less enjoyable by knowing that they aren’t created for a fiction but possibly how the creator actually sees the world. Basin City may be a fun place to visit, but it’s nowhere anyone should want to live.

Sin City A Dame to Kill For begins as it should, with Marv spinning one of his bloody guardian angel stories. It’s immediately obvious that this is definitely the same city as the previous movie, almost as though time has stood still. Unfortunately for the audience, it hasn’t, and what worked in 2005 doesn’t necessarily fly in 2014. A Dame to Kill For still exists in the over-the-top, hyper-stylized, noir-tinged world of Sin City, where everything from car to curves are amped to the highest extreme, but much of the novelty has gone and its presentation is already outdated. Visually, the stark black and white with occasional color remains beautiful, the compositions are strong, and the cinematography is striking. The occasionally ridiculous poses can be excused as directly out of the comics, but every character moves with a stilted stiffness that resembles early CGI animation. Even with all the hard hitting fights and other physical activities, there is a complete lack of weight behind anything. Similarly, the splashes of color which denoted meaning in most of the previous film no longer bear the same significance in the sequel, much as Quentin Tarantino’s one scene in the original splashed a relative spectrum across the screen with no meaning.

Image: Miramax Films
Image: Miramax Films

Oddly, of the three stories featured in A Dame to Kill For it’s the titular tale, one of the earliest Sin City yarns, which is most lacking. Josh Brolin’s Dwight is a bigger, more menacing figure, but the character suffers by not having Clive Owen reprise the part. While the other, new stories are nicely dissected, allowing the tension to build between cuts, Dwight and Ava aren’t given such a break. Meanwhile tales featuring Johnny and post-Hartigan Nancy feel meatier. For comics readers, Nancy’s story will likely be the most effecting as it presents a familiar presence in a new situation, even allowing the ubiquitous but thinly developed stripper to become something resembling a character. (It should also be noted that as great as Jessica Alba looks in the part, her casting makes Nancy the most clothed stripper ever.)

The main problem with Sin City: A Dame to Kill For is that it’s too little improvement and too late for the novelty. If the film had come out three years after the first, the narrative and visual style might still feel new enough to overcome the awkward now movement, narration, and structure. Unfortunately, after a nine-year gap, that innovative nouveau-retro feeling is gone, causing A Dame to Kill For to get old fast.

About Jess Kroll

Jess Kroll
Jess Kroll is a novelist and university professor born in Honolulu, Hawaii, and based in Daegu, South Korea. He has been writing film reviews since 2004 and has been exclusive to Pop Mythology since 2012. His novels include 'Land of Smiles' from Monsoon Books and young adult series 'The One' and 'Werewolf Council' from Epic Press.


  1. Nancy’s tale was horribly written. It detracted from the rest of the movie. I also found the presence of previously killed characters confusing.

    I dont know or care about Miller. I loved the stylized graphic novel look and fight choreography but attribute the latter to Rodriguez.

    • Well, love him or hate him, Frank Miller is definitely one of the most…erm, *interesting* characters in the comic book industry. Right along with Alan Moore, though Moore’s issue is less a misanthropic one than it is of just being very blunt. And, yes, Rodriguez has always been a flamboyent filmmaker.

    • Film noir is the old man of genres. Don’t progress one iota past the 1940s. The metaphors are as colorful and gritty as the world was black and white.

      However, silly things like equality, have no place. Wondering if there will come a time when society equally has no place for film noir.

    • I think noir will always be around to a degree because it expresses dark human qualities that are always around like greed, lust, fear, revenge, etc. i love the black and white classics

    • Jess Kroll

      Thanks for the comments Dale.
      Yeah, all the writing was pretty bad. I don’t remember if it was true of the first movie but the multiple narrators all talking in the same short, terse manner kinda made me laugh. I remember enjoying the narration then. Maybe because the speakers were more different from each other. Actually all the visuals are straight out of the books, just about everything. It’s definitely the best part.

      As for film noir being the old man of genres, that actually fits Miller himself quite well. He’s reached the “Hey you kids get off of my lawn!” phase of his life and career. But there are quite a few modern films which use the noir tropes in great ways. Memento comes immediately to mind, Fight Club has a certain noir feeling, as does Zodiac. It would be interesting to see more modern takes on the genre using the technologies and sensibilities of the present with more of the contrasts and iconography of the past.

  2. John Kim this article is pretty spot on

  3. Thanks man … will check it …

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