If you know Frank Miller's oeuvre, you know that headline isn't an insult. It is, however, a real departure from the tone of the last Sin City. How much you like the new movie will depend on what you actually want out of this story of vengeful hookers in murder town.
What's the Score?
You want my opinion about Sin City 2: A Dame To Kill For? My opinion is, it's not as good as the first Sin City. I can name a few definite points that make it slightly worse than the original. Both films are based on a series of interweaving vignettes, but the first had bookend stories that let you know when the movie began and when it ended. In this movie, just before the credits came up, you could actually feel the audience in the theater pause, wondering, "Is there more or was that the last one?"
Both films use tiny, bold color accents in an otherwise black and white universe, but the first one used them in a way that was significant. A character had golden hair, or red lips, or a blue car, so we would pay attention to them. This film does use colorization to highlight plot points or emotional moments, but it also deploys it so you'll notice minor characters, or even objects, from the first film, or because a bit of color looks kind of neat. It's beautiful, but it's not as powerful.
City of the Damned
Still, I wouldn't be surprised if some people liked this movie more than the original. From what I can tell, the central theme of this movie is that Sin City is literally hell - a hell from which there is no escape. While the last movie was undeniably dark, it has an energy and a goofiness that infused it with optimism. Sin City wasn't a good place, but if you went in with the right mood and some smarts, you could have fun there.
This city isn't fun. You won't find Marv escaping from the police by jumping onto piles of garbage and stiff-armed swimming up a sewer pipe this time. You won't find Jackie Boy trying to pry his gun from his own severed hand by biting his own former fingers. What you'll get is a lot of desperate, doomed people trying to go out to kill them someone what needs killing. The last film had it as well, but this film is a distillation of those parts of the last film. If that is primarily what you're watching the Sin City series for, you will be very well satisfied with this installment.
The men in this movie are not a varied bunch. They're craggy-faced, broad-shouldered, carrying a lot of muscle and a just a little extra mass on top of that, like ex-boxers who still fight but don't have to make weight anymore. They all talk in a growl. The exception is Joseph Gordon-Levitt's dapper, insouciant gambler, and it can't possibly be a spoiler that he gets some crags and a growl kicked into him before his time in Sin City is up.
The trouble is, the men generally have to carry the emotional weight of the stories in this film. In the first movie, most male characters started out their story already set on their paths to vengeance. This one asks us to see them hope, love, fear, and sometimes be destroyed. We do get a sense of their emotional arcs from the story and their monologues, but all we see when we look at them are hard men doing hard things. One character keeps repeating, "Never let the monster out." Exactly when he does let the monster out is a matter for debate.
After a pivotal scene for his character, he seems no more angry, and no more ready to fight, than he was before the scene happened. Another male character has to react to a tragic death. Afterwards, the audience wonders if it made him sad, or angry, or bitter, or what. He barely talks about it, and his facial expression doesn't really change. He's too tough a guy.
The women have a little more room to stretch. Fans of the comics and the last movie will be glad to see Rosario Dawson's hooker warlord, Gail, sporting a very Miller-ish mask, and the return of "deadly little Miho," though she's now played by actress Jamie Chung, instead of Devon Aoki.
Nancy is back as well, and has found a way to continue to have daddy issues despite the loss of her surrogate father. It's her story that really puts across the "Sin City as Hell" idea. Haunted, whether literally or not is anyone's guess, by the ghost of John Hartigan, she decides that revenge isn't just a man's game.
The real show-stopper in the movie is Ava. As the ex of one of the major characters in the film, she comes back into his life, first in satin and diamonds and later in nothing at all, and tips him into a whirlwind. Ava is played by Eva Green, who makes it clear even in the character's tragic moments that she's having one hell of a good time. She also provides the film's most visually arresting scene, in which she looks like she's jumping from an old art deco poster into the credits for a Bond movie.
There's one female character in the movie that might embody the line between those who like the film less than the original Sin City and those who like the film more. At one point during a story we meet a diner waitress whose job, attitude, and accent recall Brittany Murphy's character, Shellie, in the original movie. She's warm, and funny, and altruistic, and when the story moved on, I wanted to stay with her. She offered something more interesting and fun than many of the other characters. Other audience members will be ready to leave the diner and head for more decidedly fatalistic mayhem. They will probably like this movie more than the last one.