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Johnny (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) is a gamble trying his luck in “Sin City: A Dame to Die For.” Photo courtesy Weinstein Co./Dimension Films
Johnny (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) is a gamble trying his luck in “Sin City: A Dame to Die For.” Photo courtesy Weinstein Co./Dimension Films
ArtsRancho Santa Fe

Film Review: ‘Sin City’ a sequel worth heading for

With its ambitious visual style and impressive performances from Eva Green and Powers Boothe, “A Dame to Kill For” is certain to win over the same audiences who couldn’t take their eyes off “Sin City.”

Having taken its sweet time to finally reveal itself, “A Dame to Kill For” either had a lot to gain or to lose.

Even with that unforgettably stylized world of corruption and depravity, in the nine years since its predecessor left its mark on moviegoers, the sequel ran the risk of encountering uninterested crowds. In fact, one might say it waited too long.

But somehow, it didn’t.

That long wait seems to have proved beneficial, and now we’ve got a follow-up to “Sin City” that is just as bloody, sexy and dangerous.

At first, nothing appears too different from what we last saw in 2005: black-&-white color scheme, flawed antiheroes, cruel villains, forceful women, etc.

But whereas “Sin City” relied on its unique visual style to beguile audiences, here that same graphic novel aesthetic is utilized as a means of telling the story instead. In this manner, the style is no longer the film, but a method to propel it.

This turns out to be a wise choice on co-directors Frank Miller and Robert Rodriguez’s part. The actors manage to distinguish themselves from the exaggerated hardboiled scenery.

And when you have new faces meshing seamlessly with the old ones — creating no negative effect on the film’s flow — it is imperative that style doesn’t clobber their performances.

In addition to returning cast members Mickey Rourke, Jessica Alba, Rosario Dawson, and Powers Boothe, we are introduced to newcomers Eva Green, Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Josh Brolin, and Jamie Chung. Pretty much everyone does his or her part to the letter, but if anyone deserves to be recognized as standouts, it would have to be Green and Boothe.

It’s the villains — not the antiheroes — that rule “A Dame to Kill For” with their commanding presence. They have a visceral impact on the audience. I’m not kidding when I say the most prominent story arcs are the ones centered on Boothe and Green.

In the case of the latter, Green has this seductive air about her, rendering both the protagonists helpless and the audience transfixed.

Another update worth noting is how the scattered vignettes of “Sin City” have now evolved into a satisfying cohesive narrative. While the first film revolved around an anthology of short stories that, in my opinion, didn’t seem tied well together, the sequel weaves its arcs into a sequence of events that proceeds with a relatively smooth flow.

The tale in which Gordon-Levitt, who portrays a cocky gambler, pits himself against the villainous Boothe is my favorite one.

Watching that young man’s desire to beat his opponent at poker take a turn for the worse, especially when a doll-faced woman he met earlier gets involved, was wickedly enjoyable. After all, darkness and Texas hold ‘em always go hand-in-hand.

If “A Dame to Kill For” has any apparent weaknesses that must be noted, it is the one where you’d really have to watch “Sin City” beforehand in order to understand what’s happening here. Not what I’d call a big surprise, given some of these tales actually take place before or after the events of the first film… and this is especially true of Rourke and Alba storylines.

Whoever relished the rewards “Sin City” brought and wanted more afterwards will get what they want in “A Dame to Kill For,” the long-awaited sequel to the end result of Miller and Rodriguez’s collaboration.

And that’s a guarantee, not a reassurance.

MPAA rating: R for strong brutal stylized violence throughout, sexual content, nudity and brief drug use.

Run time: 1 hour 42 minutes

Playing: In general release