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‘Sin City’: Frank Miller’s vicious world

Josh Brolin in a scene from, "Sin City: A Dame to Kill For."
Josh Brolin in a scene from, "Sin City: A Dame to Kill For."

Last month, director James Gunn turned a comic book story into the movie hit of the summer. “Guardians of the Galaxy” has raked in hundreds of millions of dollars, making fans out of people who had never heard of the Marvel series.

“Sin City: A Dame to Kill For” is not that kind of comic book adaptation. Director Robert Rodriguez first brought “Sin City” to the screen nine years ago, and here, he has turned more of Frank Miller’s brutally violent stories into a stylishly constructed neo-noir nightmare. Both “Sin City” films are for a niche audience that can handle copious amounts of eye-gouging, dismemberment, finger-breaking, decapitation and self-inflicted slicing.

“Sin City: A Dame to Kill For” is as visually imaginative as its predecessor. It’s almost entirely in black and white, with the exception of periodic pops of color – a halo of orange curls, a blue coat, a river of blood – and most of the action was shot against a green screen, so the finished product is a slick hybrid of live action and animation.

Part sequel, part prequel, the movie doesn’t exactly pick up where the last one left off. The chronology is as hazy as the smoke-filled Kadie’s, a seedy strip club where the characters hang out. A man who died in the last movie reappears, very much alive, while others remain dead. One even shows up as a ghost.

Among the returning characters: Dwight (Josh Brolin, taking over for Clive Owen), a private investigator with a moral code; Marv (Mickey Rourke), a pill-popping bouncer with Hulk-like tendencies; the good-natured stripper Nancy (Jessica Alba); and the grotesquely villainous Sen. Roark (Powers Boothe, oozing evil).

Like the first movie, “Dame” is a series of vignettes, and the name of the game in these stories is revenge. Slick operator Johnny (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) has it out for Roark, as does Nancy, but for very different reasons. Dwight, meanwhile, has a score to settle with the one who got away, Ava (Eva Green). Marv doesn’t really have any revenge plots to speak of, though he’s always happy to lend a hand when violence is involved.

And there’s plenty of violence. It’s all very stylized, with a gunshot producing a waterfall of white spouting from a character’s back, or a samurai sword sending heads flying. But the audience still groaned during a recent screening when one character relieved another of an eyeball. The sound effects are sickeningly visceral and far more realistic.

Where “Sin City” was equally vicious, it also was quite funny at times. “A Dame to Kill For” feels less incisive and sillier. Maybe the novelty of hearing characters use 1940s-style verbiage has worn thin, or maybe the inner monologues, filled with some really lame lines, is to blame. (“An atom bomb goes off between my legs,” Dwight says after being kicked in the groin.) And the sequel isn’t nearly as exciting or visionary. The aesthetic quality is still there, even if there haven’t been too many great leaps since Rodriguez unveiled “Sin City” in 2005. But the stories aren’t nearly as engrossing.

Fans of Frank Miller’s work will, of course, see the movie, and they won’t care about curious leaps in time or dialogue that might look better on the page than it sounds out loud. This isn’t going to reach a “Guardians”-size audience. Then again, Rodriguez, who’s a huge fan of Miller’s work, probably didn’t intend for it to.

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