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Sin City was a surprise back in 2005 in several ways, and the way director Robert Rodriguez stayed faithful to Frank Miller‘s comic was both ambitious and exciting. Its sequel, Sin City: A Dame to Kill For, brings audiences back to that world nine years later. Whether people actually want to revisit the world of Sin City after all these years remains a question mark, but if they do show up they’ll find that Rodriguez has not only made his most entertaining movie in years but also a worthy followup to the first film.

It certainly helps that co-directors Rodriguez and Miller have adapted the best book in the series. It’s a prequel to The Big Fat Kill from the first film. When Shellie (Brittany Murphy) mentions Dwight McCarthy’s (Clive Owen) “new face” in the first film she’s referring to the face replacement he had done because of the events in A Dame to Kill For. Dwight is now played by Josh Brolin, an actor whose hard jaw and presence is straight out of a comic book. This story shows his days as a private detective haunted by his past and “the monster” he can’t let out again. He’ll have to revisit some of those old violent tendencies, thanks to Ava Lord (Eva Green), an old flame and the goddess of Sin City. To survive the trouble she gets him in, Dwight enlists the help of Marv (Mickey Rourke), who has a much larger role this time around.

Meanwhile, a young hotshot gambler, Johnny (Joseph Gordon-Levitt), is having his life torn apart by Senator Roark (Powers Boothe). Johnny’s the heart of the film, playing the most likable hero in Sin City. Last but not least — and also going up against Roark — is Nancy Callahan (Jessica Alba), a young dancer driven mad by John Hartigan’s (Bruce Willis) death.

Each story brings something different to the table, while also tying together the common theme of underdogs going up against corrupt power. It’s tough to say which of the three is the most successful because each chapter has a sensibility of its own. The title segment (“A Dame to Kill For”) leans more on comedy while Johnny’s story is more solemn. All three mostly work for different reasons, even if they do lack the first film’s momentum. The movie’s only 102 minutes long, but it’s oddly flabby. A handful of scenes and comedic beats play more like deleted scenes. The most obvious example being a scene with Christopher Lloyd that, despite how funny it is, brings Johnny’s story to an absolute halt. There’s enough energy elsewhere, thanks to a compelling cast, to overshadow some pacing issues.

The cast is no less impressive than the original ensemble. Gordon-Levitt and Green, in particular, steal the show. Gordon-Levitt relishes every moment as a smooth fast talker, bringing a musical quality to Johnny’s speedball dialogue. Not all actors can handle this type of stylized acting, but Gordon-Levitt has the swagger down. As for Green, she should seriously consider acting in more comedies. Pair this with her equally bonkers performance in 300: Rise of an Empire and you see a fearlessness in her comedic work also found in her dramas. And it’s not just because she’s frequently nude as Ava Lord — a characteristic used for great comedic effect — but also because this is the textbook definition of going big. Her demeanor, poses and outfits are all larger than life. She embraces the ridiculousness of it all. The rest of the cast, including Lady Gaga, are all game, but it’s Green and Levitt who leave the biggest impressions.

It’s the city itself though where the sequel surpasses the first movie. When characters roam the streets or rooftops, we hear and see the lives of others in Sin City. There are more locations, more world-building and a better sense of what it means to live in this horrible place. The camera moves through more freely this time around, the scope has broadened and Rodriguez and his VFX team have done a fantastic job crafting these striking environments. The CG buildings, streets, locations and effects are more detailed making this is a far more tangible Sin City.

It’s a ball spending time in this world, even with the occasional pitstops. A 90 minute runtime would’ve done this film wonders. The novelty of seeing this aesthetic for the first time is absent, but Rodriguez and Miller make up for it with giddy action, some gorgeous eye candy and great casting. People who aren’t fans of the first movie won’t have their minds changed by Sin City: A Dame to Kill For, but for fans eager to see more of Frank Miller’s attitude, spirit and archetypes this sequel delivers in spades.

The Upside: Joseph Gordon-Levitt and Eva Green are the MVPs; the city is more palpable; some good laughs; engaging 3D; Jessica Alba is more compelling this time with more to do as Nancy; the production design, costumes, and props are top-notch

The Downside: A few lulls; Robert Rodriguez’s score leaves a lot to be desired; a director making two glaring cameos is just self-indulgence; an abrupt ending

On The Side: Angelina Jolie was once rumored to play Ava Lord.

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