It's nine years since Robert Rodriguez and Frank Miller grabbed a handful of the latter's graphic novels off the bookshelf and splattered them onto the screen for 2005's Sin City. Comically gory and with katana-sharp style, it plundered film noir for a refreshing, modern take on the genre. Nearly a decade on, the sequel arrives with the same bag of tricks stashed in its trunk, but without a single new idea to use them on.
Where its prequel was a neatly segmented anthology of three stories bookended by a shorter vignette, Sin City: A Dame To Kill For misjudges the weighting of its various tales to damaging effect. The majority of the running time is taken up with the title story, in which Eva Green's near-constantly naked spider woman, Ava Lord, has private eye Dwight (Josh Brolin, replacing Sin City's Clive Owen) trapped in her sexy web. Before that, we get stalling starts for two other dramas which are concluded towards the end: all very well, but by the time the Ava / Dwight story is over you're pretty much ready to pull your coat on and leave. The remaining threads take a good half hour to tie up, and not very satisfactorily.
The A Dame To Kill For tale is a prequel to Dwight's adventures in the first film, which seems unnecessarily confusing when the other segments are clear sequels. Dwight's recasting is almost explained away via the old facial reconstruction chestnut, except that when Brolin's Dwight undergoes the surgery, he doesn't look like Clive Owen, he just looks like Josh Brolin with floppy hair. It's a cack-handed plot development which not only fails to tell the audience why we're looking at a different actor but doesn't even achieve its desired effect within the film: Dwight is immediately identified by the very people he's aiming to deceive.
Eva Green, on the other hand, is perhaps the film's best asset: the nearest we've got to a 21st century Rita Hayworth, she was born to play femmes fatales. It's just a shame she gets nothing interesting or original to do with her role; Green deserves her own Double Indemnity or Gilda, but Rodriguez and Miller, like two giggling adolescents, are more interested in showing her boobies and reducing her part to little more than a teenage boy's ultimate masturbatory fantasy.
Eva Green's Ava Lord forgot her pyjamas. Again.
The secondary story, The Long Bad Night, sees Joseph Gordon-Levitt as poker hotshot Johnny, a cocky card sharp with an axe to grind against Senator Roark (Powers Boothe). Rodriguez and Miller have stated they were aiming for the ultimate movie poker game in this film, but the end product is a busted flush. Gordon-Levitt seems stifled by his CG surroundings, Boothe cackles maniacally but offers little else in the way of menace and the whole segment limps towards a disappointing climax.
Meanwhile, Mickey Rourke returns as Marv, his facial prosthetics rendering him even more potato-faced than last time. Like all the film's leading men, he narrates his story in a throaty monotone which immediately reminds you of classier, more zing-laden voiceovers from film noir's golden age. Marv plays second fiddle to Jessica Alba for Nancy's Last Dance, in which Alba's stripper seeks vengeance for the death of Hartigan. Hartigan's ghost is played here by Bruce Willis, looking like a more bored version of his character from The Sixth Sense, while Alba is entirely unequipped to sell the drama of Nancy's plight. And compared to Eva Green, she isn't even very good at taking her clothes off, making her a rubbish stripper to boot.
At least six years too late, the novelty of Sin City: A Dame To Kill For's stylistic approach has long worn off, and it hasn't got enough in reserve to make up for that. Its sexed-up violence gets duller with every kill, it has nothing of any use to say and nothing of any interest to add to the first film. Briefly amusing and only very occasionally fun to watch, it's a largely unpleasant experience that wasn't worth the wait. A third instalment would be an even bigger sin. 2/5
Sin City: A Dame To Kill For is released in UK cinemas on Monday 25th August.
Do you welcome the return of Sin City? Which characters are you glad made the return? Do you miss Clive Owen? Really? Let us know in the comments.