"Sin City is a place you go into with your eyes open, or you don’t come out at all," growls the trailer to this – a second round of adapted stories from Frank Miller’s seminal ‘Sin City’ series of comics.
The likelihood of you ever closing your eyes is slim, since much of what is on screen is gorgeously rendered, high contrast black and white eye-candy, punctuated as before with dazzling splashes of vivid colour: a blue silk dress, a crimson knife wound, piercing green eyes.
As with the original film, Robert Rodriguez (Desperado, Dusk Till Dawn) directs alongside the comics’ creator, Frank Miller, sharing the directorial credit. But Rodriguez’s long-time friend and collaborator, Quentin Tarantino, is absent this time.
Revenge and redemption
Mickey Rourke reprises his role as Marv, the perpetually lovelorn, moon-faced muscle-monster and – aside from the seedy joint ‘Kadies’ that all the characters frequent – he’s the only constant throughout an otherwise disparate collection of lives as they seek revenge or redemption.
In the first of these hard-boiled tales, Marv struggles to recall how he came to be surrounded by several dead bodies and a decimated police car.
And then a second introduces a new character, Johnny (Gordon-Levitt), who wins big in poker against the local senator (Booth), a corrupt official who later ensures that Johnny pays dearly for his victory.
Josh Brolin then enters the fray as Dwight, a character previously played by Clive Owen – his gravelly voiced gravitas giving us a tantalising taste of the Batman we’ll certainly never get from Ben Affleck.
Hopelessly drawn by the allure of classic femme fatale Ava (Green), an ex-lover, Dwight enlists the help of Marv to break into her abusive husband’s estate and take him out.
Naturally, all is not what it at first appears to be.
The latter two vignettes see characters from these earlier stories (and in one case, from the original film) exact revenge on those who have wronged them.
Difficult fish to fry
With regards to Rodriguez, I find him a difficult fish to fry. His filmography features far more misses than hits – for every Dusk Till Dawn or Machete, there’s a sloppy, even amateurish mess like Once Upon a Time In Mexico.
Despite this, he and his ever-growing film family (he regularly works with the same cast and crews) imbue everything with such a playfulness, that even when things don’t really hang together, there’s always a sense that he’s enjoyed himself and ultimately, this is what drives him.
Frank’s black heart
Miller, on the other hand, gives the impression that he might be the sort of embittered old creep who crosses the street simply to give you a hard time for cycling on an otherwise empty pavement.
These films amplify the über-violent misogyny and misanthropy already present in his comic writing to an unsettling degree.
Where Rodriguez’s pure enthusiasm and Miller’s black heart seemed to complement each other in their first outing, here the balance tips to Miller – to the detriment of the film.
Though certain images stick – a naked Eva Green swimming in oily blackness, a miniature Gordon-Levitt sliced in half by playing cards – this is an empty, nihilistic affair that only remains worth seeing thanks to moments of sublime visual invention.
Sin City: A Dame to Kill For
Dir: Robert Rodriguez & Frank Miller; US action/thriller, 2014, 102 mins; Mickey Rourke, Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Josh Brolin, Eva Green, Jessica Alba
Premiered 28 August