Black and White and Redone All Over – Sin City: A Dame to Kill For
It’s fitting that the coda to this improbable comic book movie summer, in which we’ve seen X-Men casts collide and talking trees and raccoons take the box office by storm, should be a trip back to a trailblazer of yesteryear. Because that’s what 2005’s Sin City was: a trailblazer. Yes, the ball was already rolling on the current comic book boom, with the X-Men and Spider-Man franchises up and running and the first installment of a hugely successful Batman trilogy coming later that year. But Robert Rodriguez’s Sin City was the first to unapologetically revel in its comic book origin. Indeed, it wasn’t so much an adaptation of Frank Miller’s hyper-noir series, as previous comic book movies were of our tights-wearing heroes filtered through script rewrites and producer notes. It was more a literal translation, one that stayed so close to its black and white roots one could hardly glimpse any light between them.
I recall an interview Benicio Del Toro did on Late Night with Conan O’Brien hawking that first movie. When Conan referred to Sin City as a “comic book,” Del Toro immediately and pedantically and pretentiously corrected him: “graphic novel.” As if starring in anything remotely to do with a comic book was beneath the dignity of this great baggy-eyed thespian. As if that term, made up so that people wouldn’t feel shame about reading comic books, was some fig leaf for him. (That he was a minor part of the aforementioned Guardians, the most out-there of screen comic-bookiness, was a wry irony that didn’t escape this viewer.) Well, it turned out that Sin City was a pure distillation of “comic book,” all pulp and over-the-top and larger-than-life. It was a new visual cinematic world, unlike anything a screen had seen, but so familiar to we dregs of the Earth who lower ourselves to read stapled newsprint. And its authenticity gave a green light for other faithful adaptations that followed (sometimes too faithful), the 300s and Watchmens of the world — and hence the advent of the Marvel Avengers-verse. That this bumper crop hasn’t fallen back towards the worst of the past is in part due to what Rodriguez and co. did that first time around. They paved the way for unabashed enjoyment of a medium’s fruits. They made it okay to go all out.
So now, almost a decade later, as we’re deep in this bullish cycle of comic book movies, they’ve all circled back around for another go at it, with Rodriguez and Miller once again co-directing (should Miller be anywhere near a director credit after The Spirit?) and much of the cast back (no Benicio, though). And?
And it’s not so great. While there’s still the same visual flair (with a tad more dimensionality to sate the 3D beast), the multiple storylines are flatter and less involving than they were previously. Most disappointing of all, some of the new cast members bring nothing to the table, while others seem born into the corrupt, crime-ridden alleys of Basin City. Click over to the next page for a few more in-depth thoughts, with maybe a few minor spoilers thrown in.
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