“This rotten town soils everyone,” Jessica Alba gravely intones in one of Sin City 2‘s many overwrought, Vin-Diesel-Facebook-status-update-esque narrations. To its credit, the movie delivers. I do feel soiled. Not scandalized, just dirty, thoroughly scummed on, like I just spent an hour watching groupies f*ck a sand shark for Korn tickets. And I mean f*ck a sand shark for Korn tickets in 2014, not f*ck a sand shark for the 2014 equivalent of Korn tickets. I don’t think Robert Rodriguez and Frank Miller even know what the 2014 equivalent of Korn tickets is.
That’s the worst thing about Sin City 2, actually. Where I expect it to be morally bankrupt like it pretends to be, it’s also creatively bankrupt, with Robert Rodriguez and Frank Miller content to keep reliving their Outsiders rebel fantasies as if Harleys and switchblades were still subversive. It’s all posturing dressed up as nihilism, but so pathologically nostalgic for a “good ol’ days” (as experienced through Elvis songs and Brando movies) that it almost seems wistful. Tough guys and muscle cars and leather oh my! It’s fetish, it’s fantasy, which is fine, but also kind of a gross fantasy to have where all the female characters are whores and the only black guy is a valet. (Also, his name is “Manute”). And not just gross, but boringly so.
Sin City 2 has essentially four types of characters:
1. Good sluts (Jessica Alba, Rosario Dawson, who use their sex appeal for good)
2. Evil sluts (Eva Green, who uses her constant toplessness to lead good men astray)
3. Good tough guys (Josh Brolin, Bruce Willis)
4. Bad tough guys (Powers Boothe, Stacy Keach)
There’s no real nuance or innovation to their toughness or sluttiness either, just your standard genre totems – muscle cars, motorcycles, garter belts, fedoras, f*ck-me boots, and many, many elaborately bedazzled bras. There’s also a strangely ubiquitous crucifix motif, which I’m not sure is an attempt at symbolism or just in keeping with the Like A Prayer-era Madonna sartorial theme.
I suppose you could theoretically argue that the film is meant to be carried along by the flashy visuals and not the characters, but even if that’s the case, Sin City 2 burns through all of its aesthetic tricks in the first 90 seconds or so. Ooh, a colorized girl in a black-and-white world! Eyes that turn red when the character gets angry! It’s cool, at first, the high-contrast, blacklight glow they get out of it, but the effect is dulled by having seen it in the previous movie. And honestly, it isn’t that different from Pleasantville or those sorority girl posters where the little black-and-white boy holds a bouquet of red roses. The most visually compelling character is the evil senator’s son with the giant orange head, and Bruce Willis already killed him in the last movie. He shows up here only as a framed picture (my favorite part of the movie, but perhaps only because it reminds me of a famous anti-joke about a guy giant orange head).
As a result, the only real narrative questions are: will the good whore shoot the bad tough guy in the face or in the dick? Will the bad whore beg to be screwed by the good tough guy before he kills her? I’m not exaggerating at all here, by the way, the on-the-nose dialogue could not be more clear on these points. At one point, Powers Boothe growls “Hartigan blew my son’s pecker off. Where should I shoot you?”
Ooh, the tits? The vagina? The butt? The eye? Probably the eye. Everyone in Sin City dies via a wound to the dick, balls, tits, vagina, or eyes. The whole movie consists of shiny hot rods and dick wounds, like an 11-year-old and his grumpy grandpa playing GI Joes together.
It’s possible that the “how” of Sin City 2 could’ve transcended the rather prosaic “what,” but the action scenes are so overstylized as to be pointless. Whichever character acts the toughest is bulletproof, and everyone else in the scene will die. Someone’s glowing blood is invariably going to spatter the mise-en-scene like some Jackson Pollack-inspired Affliction shirt, and amazingly, this is not as interesting as it once was the three or fourth hundred time you’ve seen it.
And not to get political, but the way all the chicks are whores and all the guys are tough guys and there are crucifixes everywhere… yeah, it’s pretty weird. Not weird like it has an overt agenda, but weird like Boondock Saints, where no amount of trendy (or formerly trendy, as the case may be) stylization can distract from the fact that the whole thing feels like it sprung fully formed from some 1950s flattop dad’s id. You can only hear so many über hetero white dudes rant about scum and savages and cleaning up the filth of this town before you start to wonder if maaaybe those are just code words for something else they don’t like.
It was nice to see so much of Eva Green’s awesome breasts, but after getting the Sin City treatment, all her nude scenes are sort of like an old Playboy spread, so airbrushed and softened and stylized that you’re almost looking at an artist’s interpretation of tits instead of tits. Also, what am I to make of the fact that the evil slut is the only one who actually gets naked, while all the good sluts remain chastely covered by their ridiculously overworked bodices and bikini tops? I have to think this was more Freudian than accidental, in keeping with a movie that pretends to be sexy and dangerous, but the dangerousness is all of the kind that was deemed societally acceptable a long time ago and the supposed sexiness comes attached to this grandfatherish sense of morality. Be slutty, but not too slutty, like some kind of slut.
Sin City 2 is a movie that wants to be “naughty,” but only under a narrow set of controlled circumstances. Something about it is profoundly gross, like not only bad, but like you wouldn’t want to hang with anyone who really enjoyed it. Basically, this is a movie for guys in fedoras.
Vince Mancini is a writer and comedian living in San Francisco. You can find more of his work on FilmDrunk, the Uproxx network, the Portland Mercury, and all over his mom’s refrigerator. Fan FilmDrunk on Facebook, find the latest movie reviews here.