Thursday, August 28, 2014

Sin City: A Dame to Kill For, and the Failures of a Certain Kind of Sequel

This clip is the opening scene from the first Sin City film, and what happens at about the 1:50 mark is the entire reason for the movie to have existed. Visually, we'd never seen anything like it before. It wasn't just that it looked like a comic book (literally; the visuals are lifted directly from the comic's panels), but that it looked like a hyper-stylized noir fever dream drawn straight from the subconscious of anyone that believes violence is capable of being romanticized in interesting ways. That's what Sin City was--a genre reduced to nothing but a collection of tropes; a connect-the-dots with no space between the dots.

When Frank Miller first created the Sin City comics in the early 1990's, they were an immediate sensation, both critically and commercially. But over the course of the decade, when Miller produced seven Sin City graphic novels, they were the subject of diminishing returns even though the returns didn't really diminish. The first story, The Hard Goodbye, was an immediate classic. Comics are a visual medium and here was a type of visual storytelling we'd never seen. The sequel, A Dame to Kill For (which the new film is adapted from), was just as good. As a story it was better than the first one, but visually it was the same, so the impact was a wash. Then the next five just were what they were. Only the last one, Hell and Back, was bad. But the other four are forgettable, just like the new film is.

What made both the first Sin City graphic novel AND the first Sin City film so good were the visual uniqueness of it. The story was cool, and I don't just say that because I can't find a more apt adjective. It was the epitome of cool. But cool is fleeting, and it always changes in a millisecond. Miller never changed Sin City at all from that first story. The stories were incredibly nihilistic, which grows wearisome very quickly. The visuals, which were so dazzling initially, lost their power to impress simply because they never changed. The visuals were all atmosphere, and atmosphere can't sustain interest by itself.

There's nothing really wrong with the new Sin City film. It's story isn't particularly weaker than the original, nor it's acting, pacing, or any other aspect. But nine years after the first film, it's visuals have lost the power to impress us, and that was really the entire point of the first film. It's like giving someone their first iPod in 2005, and watching how amazed they are by it, then giving them the exact same iPod again in 2014. They won't be impressed anymore because they'll expect something new. That's why there's nothing impressive about the new Sin City film--it's still that same '05 model.

If you follow entertainment news, you've likely read by now that the new film bombed at the box office this weekend, finishing in 8th place, and earning barely over six million dollars. That isn't just bad, it's abysmal. So why didn't audiences go? Sure, the reviews were bad, but this is the kind of movie that's supposed to be review-proof. People didn't go because you can't see the previews without knowing you're in for the exact same thing you got nine years ago, and what's the point? Sequels are almost always a cash grab, but the ones that actually grab a lot of cash are, for the most part, the ones that figure out what audiences liked in the first movie and then giving them that again. But therein lies the problem with the very nature of a Sin City sequel. What audiences liked about the first film was seeing noir visualized in a way we'd never seen before. Trying to give people that again only ensures its own impossibility.

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