Sin City: A Dame To Kill For 3D Review

The Movie

Coming a full 9 years after the original film wowed audiences, director Robert Rodriguez revisited Sin City with A Dame To Kill For, based on Frank Miller’s series of typically lurid graphic novels. Using an intertwined structure similar to that of its predecessor, the movie blends several stories and is part sequel and part prequel, showing us Nancy's Last Dance as she struggles to cope with Hartigan’s death, whilst revealing how Dwight got his "new face" thanks to his involvement with Ava, the Dame To Kill For whose seductive power leaves a trail of human wreckage in her wake. Threaded throughout their bloody schemes of deception and revenge is Marv, the granite-hewn lunk who you'll remember was killed off in the previous film - but not before helping out his old friends Dwight and Nancy here. The third story strand is that of Johnny, a cocky gambler who’s breezed into town to teach the evil Senator Roark a thing or two about poker in The Long Bad Night.

Unfortunately, this latest batch of tales doesn’t mesh together particularly well, nor do they have a framing device like Josh Hartnett’s ice-cool assassin which beautifully bookended the first film. The slightly hazy timeline of events also causes confusion (even when watched straight after the first film I had trouble lining them up) and adds to the feeling that this follow-up is going through the motions, putting all the main characters on display and having them fighting and f***ing like usual without giving them compelling narratives. It seems as if the general public felt the same apathy towards the film, as it pulled in tepid reviews (at best) and an utterly dismal US box office take of $13 million dollars against a budget of $60 million, which only serves to highlight the seemingly terminal decline of Robert Rodriguez’s directorial career.


I can’t lay the blame at the feet of the cast because they all do a great job, both the newcomers and the existing Sin City alumni. Mickey Rourke's Marv is just as hard-as-nails as he was before, and Rosario Dawson also returns as Gail, the gleeful dominatrix-in-chief of Old Town. Jessica Alba shows us a different side to Nancy which is one of the movie’s few bright spots, the character drowning her sorrows and losing her mind as she tries to shut out memories of Bruce Willis’ Hartigan. Sadly, two original cast members had passed away in the interim, so Brittany Murphy’s Shellie was quietly written out while Michael Clarke Duncan’s Manute - being an essential part of the Dame segment - was recast with Dennis Haysbert, who’s surprisingly imposing as the gigantic chauffeur with the golden eye.

Dwight had just gotten a “new face” in the original film so he’s also been recast in this earlier take with Josh Brolin, who infuses Dwight with more latent rage than Clive Owen’s smoother portrayal. (Brolin still plays Dwight under prosthetic makeup and a floppy fringe after he gets his surgery because Owen was unavailable, which makes the reveal of his new visage play a bit dafter than it should do.) Eva Green is Ava, the scheming temptress of the title, and she brings her usual glacial demeanour to the role mixed with no small amount of vampish allure. Joseph Gordon-Levitt is the doomed chancer Johnny, with Christopher Lloyd in a small cameo as a back-street doctor who fixes up Johnny’s wounds. Jeremy Piven and Christopher Meloni are two cops who get caught under the Dame’s spell (Piven is supposed to be Bob, Hartigan's partner from That Yellow Bastard who was played by Michael Madsen in the previous film).


It’s difficult to fault the movie from a purely technical standpoint because it looks gorgeous, with spot colours isolated against those handsome monochromatic environments, but what was once a fresh and exciting attitude holds few surprises nearly a decade later. I’ll give Rodriguez & Miller points for the way that they’ve lensed Eva Green, and I don’t mean the constant nudity but the way in which she’s usually associated with water (she's constantly swimming and bathing, and Dwight says she’s “slippery with sweat” even before he makes love to her) as if she’s some sort of elemental force rather than a mere human being, a notion enforced by Manute calling her a “goddess”. As intriguing as that concept is, it can't elevate her or her story above that of the classic noir femme fatale, which has been done to death (if you'll pardon the pun) in movies over the years.

Rodriguez’ return to Sin City simply doesn’t recapture the crackling intensity of the original. While the ultra-violence and gratuitous sex & nudity are all present and correct, it manages to make those things seem routine because the stories (two of which Miller created for the film) just aren't terribly interesting. The ultimate resolution of Johnny’s segment appears to be quite pointless, Dwight’s troubles with his Dame are curiously unmoving and even the mighty Marv is reduced to being a mere heavy. It’s only Nancy’s episode which resonates as she sets about avenging Hartigan’s sacrifice by taking on Senator Roark, but even this installment soon devolves into a simplistic shoot 'em up which lacks the urgency and momentum which drove the first set of cinematic adventures in Sin City.


Sin City: A Dame To Kill For isn’t as disastrously bad as the reviews and its dismal box office takings suggest but it serves up little in the way of new tricks, and it takes a special kind of talent to make the brutal action and Eva Green's near-omnipresent nakedness seem dull and uninteresting. Robert Rodriguez can’t buy a hit at the moment, and it’s a shame to see him endlessly rooting around in the grindhouse garbage cans after more than 20 years in the movie business.

The Blu-ray

Anchor Bay Entertainment have served up a decent package on US import. This region A LOCKED release includes a 3D Blu-ray, 2D Blu-ray, standard-def DVD (1.85 widescreen, Dolby Digital 5.1) and a UV digital copy, enclosed in a smart slipcase with embossed title. The UK version will be available from December 15th, and you can order it through our links here if you don’t want to import: Shopping @ TheDigitalFix.


The movie was shot digitally on Alexa using a native 3D rig and finished on a 2K DI. Rodriguez was one of the earliest proponents of the modern 3D revival (shooting Spy Kids 3-D back in 2003) and he's in his element here with the stark images and comic-book framing of A Dame To Kill For. The 3D layering is unerringly clean and precise thanks to the native stereo photography, and while the CG-generated backgrounds aren't as expansively deep as I might've hoped, the overall effect is so crisp and punchy it's a delight from start to finish. It also makes sporadic use of letterbox borders top and bottom for certain shots to highlight the negative parallax as people & objects fly out of the screen (see the shot of Marv on his bike below, all the images have been capped directly from the 3D disc).

Both 2D and 3D versions are presented in 1.85 widescreen, and both share the same underlying picture quality, with superbly nuanced greyscale, deep blacks, sharp (but not overcooked) detail and vivid splotches of colour. Images that are as consistently dark and gloomy as this could've been a nightmare to encode but it's been handled with an expert touch, showing no overt banding and very little noise. There's a hint of aliasing in the 2D version which shows on the venetian blinds in Nancy's bedroom as the camera swirls around, but it's not enough to stop this visual presentation from getting a perfect score for both 2D and 3D versions. Marvellous stuff.


The sound is represented by a lossless DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 mix and, as is characteristic of Rodriguez' work, it kicks ass. The bass is good and loud yet it's not just noise for the sake of it, as it digs deep in the more explosive moments but it also underpins Marv's gravelly, gutteral voice. All of the speech in general is crystal clear, from the raspiest voiceover to the loudest shout, and the various bone-crunching impact sounds are delivered with a crack as fierce as any gunshot. Tinkling glass gets sprayed around the sound stage at regular intervals and the steerage in general is excellent, with a nice use of the front spread as things move from speaker to speaker and the rears aren't just there for the big action scenes, as they provide plenty of ambient support like the patter of rain, the hollow timbre of Roark's huge mansion and the murmurings of the drunken denizens of Kadie's bar.

Extras amount to a few paltry featurettes. You get the 16-minute high-speed greenscreen version, a 7-minute feature on the makeup effects and 6 minutes on the stunts. There are profiles for four characters which run between 2 and 4 minutes apiece. The features contain movie clips and bland interview soundbites and offer little insight into the making of the movie. Lastly there's a trailer for the original Sin City.


Sin City: A Dame To Kill For fails to recapture the verve and the spirit of the original, but it's hardly the trainwreck that I'd been led to believe it was; it's just rather boring than outright bad. But there are no such quality concerns with this US import Blu-ray because the picture (both 2D and 3D) and sound are utterly superb. The movie is supported with a small selection of inconsequential extras, and so this package is for Sin City completists only.


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