When it comes to writer-director Robert Rodriguez, 2005, the year he delivered the first Sin City, feels like a million years ago.
Rodriguez was reaching the apex of his creative strengths, making good movies for relatively small budgets and doing much of the work himself. Sin City was a true groundbreaker, preceded by films like Once Upon a Time in Mexico, the first three Spy Kids movies, of which two were really good, and my personal favorite, From Dusk Till Dawn.
Since Sin City, a whole lot of people have been making good-looking, technological breakthrough films on reasonable budgets. Rodriguez, in the meantime, has been losing steam, with misfires like The Adventures of Shark Boy and Lava Girl 3-D, Shorts, the fourth and truly awful Spy Kids film and Machete Kills. He did good work with his Grindhouse segment, Planet Terror, and the first Machete, but the bad has far outweighed the good.
Now comes the long-in-development Sin City: A Dame to Kill For, with Rodriguez returning to the well of his biggest movie and coming up with something that represents nothing in the way of advancement. It’s a batch of shorts based on the musings of Frank Miller, and not one of them offers anything better than what the original film provided. It’s a mostly tedious, worthless film from a director who seems to be running out of original ideas.
Much of the cast returns, including Mickey Rourke and Bruce Willis, even though their characters died in the first movie. In the case of Rourke, his Marv segments are prequels, based on graphic novels that took place before his character got the electric chair. As for Willis … think The Sixth Sense.
Jessica Alba returns to dance provocatively but keep her clothes on as stripper Nancy, and Powers Boothe is back as the evil Senator Roark. Dennis Haysbert replaces the late Michael Clarke Duncan, and Josh Brolin steps in for Clive Owen as Dwight. Also new to the cast are Joseph Gordon-Levitt as Johnny and Eva Green as Ava.
It’s a whole lot of people driving around a lot in a black and white film doing those deliberately paced, film noir voiceovers. What was once visually breathtaking has become visually blah—sort of like Mel Gibson—and none of the stories that comprise A Dame to Kill For merit interest. The film plays like a batch of outtakes from the first movie slapped together and put on display nearly a decade later.
It’s also the second time this year that Eva Green has given a spectacular, villainous performance in a film adapted from a Miller graphic novel that totally sucks around her (the first one being 300: Rise of an Empire). Green is the only reason to see this movie, her Ava being far more terrifying than Boothe’s deranged senator.
Gordon-Levitt seems out of place in this film, like he’s way too cool and popular to be hanging around the set of such a sub-par undertaking. It’s sort of like when Bill Murray lent his voice to the Garfield movies, or Tom Hanks took a paycheck for The Da Vinci Code. It just feels wrong. Gordon-Levitt was in the running for Guardians of the Galaxy and Godzilla, and he winds up in this? The Gordon-Levitt agent firings must commence.
For the first time in a long time, Rodriguez doesn’t have any films in major states of development for the future. Perhaps this is a good thing. He’s better than the majority of the last decade has shown, and he’s certainly better than Sin City: A Dame to Kill For. Hell, The Expendables 3 is better than Sin City: A Dame to Kill For. That’s a bad state of affairs for any filmmaker.