Speculative Fiction Saturday: The Sin City Series

Sin CityThis is one of those times where I am cheating and writing about something that isn’t really speculative fiction per se, but I have some good reasons. 1) Sin City is based in a graphic novel, which are prime speculative fiction inspiration. 2) Most Speculative Fiction words should be as creative as this film. 3) Sin City is hopefully not a realistic depiction of any real world, anywhere.

The issue with Sin City is that it takes place in a a film noir world where everyone is some kind of criminal or has a serious dark side. Sadly, it is not a world where women are treated well, as much of the ladies in the film are prostitutes. The thing is that most of us believe that the world of Sin City exists in some form in the deep inner city, in neighborhoods that none of us would visit, even in the daytime.

Yes, this is the crime-ridden underworld that only comes out at night, but I would honestly hope that this doesn’t exist. The film and its graphic novel source material seem to be self-aware of the prejudices that this invokes, but it runs with them to a good end (for the most part). It seems natural to depict this world in black and white, because Sin City is a tribute to film noir, and I won’t go into detail as to what that is.

The film is directed by Robert Rodriguez and Frank Miller is given a director’s credit as well. Miller is a comic book artist and writer who is best known for his work with Daredevil and Batman: The Dark Knight Returns, and I have been told that his comic panels were essentially used as the storyboards for this first film. There is also a credit for a “guest director” by Quentin Tarantino. I have no idea what that means, but the film certainly follows Tarantino’s weird method of chronology as exhibited in his magnum opus, Pulp Fiction.

The original Sin City film opens with Bruce Willis playing Hartigan, a detective who is on a kidnapping case. He gets shot while saving a little girl, and it takes a while for the story goes back to them. Actually, I just remembered that it actually starts out with Josh Hartnett (who was a rising star at the time) killing some girl, just so we get what kind of world we are in: black and white and red all over. Yes, the film is in black and white, but there are occasional shots of color.

The film also has three main stories, the first deals with Marv, played awesomely by Mickey Rourke. Marv has some kind of odd condition where his mind is very prone to anger, and his body is like a brick shipyard. When a prostitute that he sleeps with ends up dead, and he is framed for the murder, Marv goes full out for blood.

Yes, the story is a straight-up revenge story, and it gets very violent as Marv deals with a cannibal, a corrupt priest, and the politician who can sit on his ivory tower over it all.

Then the story turns to Dwight, who is played by Clive Owen, who has kind of become a discount Nicholas Cage. Dwight is involved in an altercation with someone who is a cop, and that cop ends up dead. In Sin City, the law is all corrupt, so if you kill a cop, they won’t just arrest you, they will kill you.

That is a strange brand of injustice, and here is another weird thing: the prostitutes in Sin City “Old-town” are the law there. The cops don’t go there because of that. I don’t know what kind of arrangement was made to facilitate that, and maybe I don’t want to know.

The Dwight storyline is pretty good, and then it goes back to Hartigan again. This time, the girl he has saved is all grown up, and she is being hunted down again by someone in yellow skin. It’s probably the best in the series, and it is a good one to end the film on.

The issue is that Sin City has a lot of violence and nudity, but this is one of those films that seems to know that the audience knows it isn’t real and plays on their romanticizing of the underworld. Think of it like you would feel about films about real terrorism versus a film like Die Hard. In other words, we all know that this gritty world of crime is just all smoke and mirrors, not to be taken too seriously. Sin City is one of those films that I believe that actually has a good message, that in spite of all these characters having questionable morality, they still have values that they are willing to die for, or kill for.

Sin-City-A-Dame-to-Kill-For-teaser-posterThis would be a good time to talk about Sin City: A Dame to Kill For. As much as I liked the original Sin City and was glad to revisit it, this was not a good trip. One of the things about Sin City that made it good was that all the stories were only somewhat connected, but I got the feeling that each one took place on the same night. The exception would be Hartigan, who has a time-jump of about 8 years.

Sin City: A Dame to Kill For starts with Marv in an action scene, and I think that the reason why this scene is here it to undo certain plot elements of the original Sin City film. There is an issue of Marv and how reliable of a narrator is, and I don’t want to spoil it. This brings up the issue of whether or not a sequel for Sin City is needed.

I have heard from some critics that the sequel to Sin City only contains one adaptation of one of the comic book stories, and that is…bad. This isn’t saying that something like this couldn’t work, but it just isn’t a good sign.

One of the stories stars Joseph Gordon-Levitt as the son of Roark, who is a villainous politician in the Sin City universe. Gordon-Levitt’s character is a gambler who is way too lucky. Seriously, he puts one coin in a slot machine and wins, like every time. I understand that characters in Sin City often bend the rules of reality such as doing superhuman feats, but this is too much.

Then Gordon-Levitt goes up against his father on the card table, and there is this one shot. This shot has a miniature Gordon-Levitt on the card table as a giant Roark throw cards at him and slices him up. This shot is stylized, but it feels opposite of the style of Sin City. It comes off as just being silly, and never should have got past the first draft.

Then there is a story with Dwight, but they changed the actor to Josh Brolin. The story seems to take place before the events of the original Sin City movie, and they also had to change the actor who plays the villainous Manute, as the actor who originally played him, Michael Clarke-Duncan, passed away recently.

In this storyline, there is a woman in it who constantly appears nude. This feels…unneeded. Even with the style of Sin City, it just feels like too much.

The last story is with Jessica Alba, who takes her revenge after what happened to Hartigan. It also feels like too much.

This probably is a good description for the film in general: Too much. I found that the shots in the film looked really CG with swooping pans of the city, but they seem unnecessary.

The biggest disappointment of Sin City: A Dame to Kill For is that I have no idea which story was adapted from the comic book source material, which shows how much of a departure and not an addition to the original that it is. It feels like this is a sequel made too late, and yet felt rushed.

I will have to say that you should watch the first Sin City and skip its sequel. Granted, the first film isn’t for everyone, but it is a terrfic homage to the noir fiction in general.

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