“Sin City: A Dame To Kill For”

      "Sin City: A Dame To Kill For" plays as if the original 2005 film simply continues on instead of rolling the end credits.  Had that film, which was a classic example of both novel and original filmmaking, went to black after it's final scene and instead opened with Marv (Mickey Rourke) and his initial confrontation in the new film with a group of bullying college kids, what we would've had is a free flowing four hour "Sin City" film.  The vignettes presented in "A Dame To Kill For" share some characters with one another, but there isn't any plot interconnection between them.  The three stories take place within the same familiar "Sin City" realm, but really don't lead to an ultimate conclusion or end game.  Some people live, some die, and by the end the feeling remains that life in this parallel universe will go on unchanged with a different cast of characters next time.  Based again on Frank Miller’s (“Sin City”, “300”) graphic novels, Miller and director Robert Rodriguez (“Desperado”, “From Dusk Till Dawn”, “Sin City”, “Spy Kids”) have created the look of this world by composing each shot as if it were literally torn from the pages of Miller's novels and transposed to the screen, utilizing the same monochrome look with splashes of color on certain characters and objects. Perhaps this may be the film's ultimate undoing since the novelty of the first film is now lost, leaving the sequel without anything new visually to offer.

     The new stories presented are nonetheless entertaining and explode with a number of unique and creative elements.  Each represents the kind of pulpy film noir that owes a lot to Quentin Tarantino's early 1990s films and yet Miller and Rodriguez achieve a look that is clearly their own.  The film is brimming with standout performances and is stocked with a number of memorable characters.  Anchored by Rourke's Marv, the 300 pound brute who makes his living raising hell with anyone who crosses his path, the film again takes us to seedy bars, dark alley ways, back room deals, and of course, Old Town, the prostitution haven the cops don't dare enter.  There's plenty to like for fans of the books, as well as the original film, as Rodriguez again infuses the film with his unique brand of hyper violent action and cut throat characterization.  On the outside, the "Sin City" films have the look of a male dominated world, but nothing could be further from the truth, especially in the sequel.

     The females who populate this world are cold and calculated, but also enjoy supreme confidence in themselves.  For all of the male ego driven violence on display, it's actually the female characters who dominate the proceedings throughout, leaving the males to live a generally tortured life at the bottom of the food chain.  Granted, these aren't role model female characters, but they clearly know how to play the game and get what they want in the "Sin City" world.  While the men, rely on brutal force, the women use their appeal and lull men into comportment.  No one does this better than the women who gives the film its namesake, Ava, played by Eva Green.  You may recall Dwight from the first film, played then by Clive Owen, and now played by Josh Brolin.  Dwight knows better than to get mixed up with Ava based on past circumstances, and yet he's drawn to her.  His narration gives us every reason why he should turn her away and yet he can't resist.  Ava, who spends nearly every bit of screen time completely naked or wearing something you can see right through, has a nefarious plan behind her sudden appearance into Dwight's life.  Unfortunately for Dwight, he's too stupid to see it, which is understandable given the instincts of most men.  Yes, the women are charge.

     As evil as Ava is, she doesn't seem to hold a candle to the film's primary antagonist, Senator Roark, played with a chillingly arrogant disposition by Powers Boothe.  As the most powerful man in the state, Roark is untouchable by anyone in "Sin City" and no one dares to cross him.  He is knowingly the target of several characters, most notably Jessica Alba's gyrating strip club dancer, Nancy, who wants revenge for his killing of her beloved Hartigan (Bruce Willis), but carries himself as if he's invincible.  That is until a stranger walks through the door of his back room poker game with the intent of winning it all.

     Joseph Gordon-Levitt's Johnny is a smooth card playing lady's man with luck on his side, or so he thinks.  He goes at Roark head on at his nightly poker game and wins big, though the consequence of his victory is more than he bargained for.  He leaves the game with his life, but the terror he is about to endure has just begun.  The film's final story ties directly into this one, as Nancy enlists the help of Marv in a showdown with Roark.  Roark knows of Nancy's past relationship with Hartigan, the cop responsible for both mutilating and then later killing his son in the first film, and seemingly welcomes the assassination attempt.  The lust for violence by these male characters in Miller's world nearly always becomes their undoing, as the females in the film  use fire to fight fire and end up with the upper hand in nearly every situation.  They'll use violence themselves, but you always believe their actions are just, unlike the men for which you can't say the same.

     As a sequel, "A Dame To Kill For" isn't necessarily bigger or anymore over done than the original film.  Miller and Rodriguez instead have chosen to stay faithful with the source material and thus the signature look of the original remains intact.  More than the stories themselves, the characters and the performances behind them are what really stand out.  As Old Town leader, Gail, Rosario Dawson is her usual fiery self and is more than willing to help Dwight in his battle against Ava.  As a doctor for hire in one of the worst areas of town, Christopher Lloyd's character shows resourcefulness in the use of Popsicle sticks to set the gruesomely broken fingers of one unlucky character.  Dennis Haysbert, Ray Liotta, and Christopher Meloni are all given moments to shine in their respective roles.  There are plenty of scenery chewers competing for the limelight and Rodriguez has effectively created a compelling fictional world for each of them to thrive in.  GRADE: B-