Sin City: A Dame to Kill For commits a crime even more egregious than ending its title with a preposition, and that is to sacrifice any notion of consistent character or plot for the sake of visual spectacle. It's complete title, Frank Miller's Sin City: A Dame to Kill For, makes this film sound like an event, but it is in fact the complete opposite.
The meandering, and mercilessly short film is a visual feast, just like its predecessor was, and indeed it is sometimes fun to watch the many different ways co-directors Robert Rodriguez and Frank Miller find to show a man being punched in the face, or to listen to the hardboiled pastiche of Miller's heavy-handed dialogue, but A Dame to Kill For is so directionless and so distinctly unsatisfying, that it's hard to look closely at it without seeing it as a total failure.
The second Sin City film is perfect for 3D. The first film already looked like a comic book brought to life, and the 3D increases this effect even further, dividing the black and white visuals into layers, but emphasising the flatness of each layer to create a sort of pop-up book effect. The visuals are generally quite playful and inventive; seemingly at random, characters and objects turn into silhouettes, and every so often, a splash of colour appears.
The visual effects in the film are not subtle, but they were never going to be. This is a film where every punch lands with the same sickening crunch; even the completely anti-climactic break-in that ends the film is conducted with guns (or bizarrely, crossbows) blazing. The disconnect though, is that the overblown nature of the visuals work because the heavy stylisation is the only thing to hold onto when watching the film, whereas the extremely obvious, often ridiculous, plot is predictable, ham-fisted and tiring.
The film's plot lets the film down as a whole, because it is so thin that it even undercuts the visual trickery, making it often feel like pointless bluster in service of nothing. The plot and the script are so weak that even talented actors like Mickey Rourke and Josh Brolin appear completely wooden and unlikeable. The film's two main female characters are even worse, with two very talented actresses being utilised in a way that is completely dull and even a little offensive.
Jessica Alba, reprising her role from the first film as the depressive, alcoholic stripper Nancy does little more in the film than dance in various costumes such as a skimpy cowgirl outfit. When her character finally does something, it is the aforementioned anti-climax. We have nothing invested in this character, because for the majority of the film she did little more than dance provocatively, revealing nothing particularly likeable or sympathetic.
In a similar vein, Eva Green plays the requisite femme fatale in service of the film's noir pretensions, but comes across as little more than a one-dimensional cipher. Green is a talented actress, and at certain moments there is something compelling in her stony chilliness, but it seems that the main reason she was cast in the film was to be naked. Green appears in various states of undress so much through the movie, and not for any real reason, that it is fairly clear that she is little more than eye candy.
"Little more than eye candy" is a phrase that describes the whole film. Whether or not that makes it worth watching is entirely dependent on how much patience you have. Sin City: A Dame to Kill For has three separate (but very, very vaguely connected) stories, including one with an underutilised Joseph Gordon -Levitt, but each one is direly unsatisfying. When watching the film, there is an inevitable craving to find the point where these shards of narrative converge, but anyone holding out hopes for that will be left cold.
It's very easy to see what Miller and Rodriguez were aiming for with this film - the visuals and the atmosphere are there and for the most part they work - but without a strong story it all basically amounts to nothing. Sin City: A Dame to Kill For is sporadically entertaining, and as far as genre tourism goes, its commitment is worthy of applause, but the lack of any insight, interesting characters or actual surprises makes this an extremely dull and unmemorable experience.