Sin City 2: Inside 2014’s most notorious sequel from misogyny and violence to poster bans

James Mottram meets Sin City 2's makers ahead of the film's release

Last month at San Diego’s Comic- Con, director Robert Rodriguez and graphic novelist Frank Miller finally unveiled footage from Sin City: A Dame To Kill For.

The original Sin City film in 2005 offered a vivid anthology of stories from Miller’s hard-boiled crime series about the fictional, rain-drenched dystopia Basin City, and this one, on first look, appeared just as visceral. With amped-up scenes including Mickey Rourke’s fan-favourite bruiser Marv diving through a windscreen going down a storm, it seemed to prove that old showbiz adage: give the people what they want.

“Neither one of us could go anywhere without somebody saying, ‘When’s Sin City 2 coming out?’” Rodriguez tells me. “It really shows how special the first film was.” At 46, the Texas-born director has long resided at the crossroads between commercial and cult, making big-budget B-movies about gunslingers (Desperado), vampires (From Dusk Till Dawn), renegades (Machete) and aliens (Planet Terror) outside Hollywood, at his Troublemaker Studios in Austin. But Sin City was the one that really captured the populist imagination, with its interlocking tales of girls, gangs, cops and killers. “It was like nothing anyone had seen in cinema,” Rodriguez grins; that’s to say, it offered a pioneering cinematic translation of the comic-book aesthetic, lavishly replicating Miller’s almost wholly black-and-white panels using CGI.

It did well at the international box office – grossing $158m from a $40m budget – so why did the sequel take so long? Rumours circulated that backer Harvey Weinstein baulked after the failure of Rodriguez and Quentin Tarantino’s similarly pulpy Grindhouse double-feature. “There’s all kinds of legal stuff that I won’t try to get into,” interrupts Miller, “because I’m really stupid about legal stuff.” The truth may never be known. But in yet another summer of anodyne superhero blockbusters, Sin City: A Dame To Kill For is – no pun intended – the dark horse, a salacious slice of pulp fiction whose four interlocking storylines should satisfy those looking for X-rated kicks.

 

Miller, a wheezy-sounding 57-year-old from Maryland, is a comic-book legend – working for both the Marvel and DC powerhouses, re-tooling some of their most potent characters, notably Daredevil and Batman, and in doing so, turning comics into an accepted adult art form. But Sin City was always his most personal project. Inspired by the morally murky world of 1940s film noir, he was, for a long time, reluctant to bring it to the screen. “Sin City is my baby. It’s my daughter. I wasn’t going to do a Moses and send it down the river to Hollywood. But Robert convinced me that there was a vast gap between Hollywood, California and Austin, Texas.”

It’s hard to imagine Miller consorting with Tinseltown; he is notorious for hard-right, pro-military viewpoints that wouldn’t sit well with LA liberals. This is the man whose 2011 work, Holy Terror, was widely castigated as anti-Islamic for its warmongering tale of a superhero taking on Muslim terrorists. He also famously lambasted the Occupy Wall Street movement on his blog as “nothing but a pack of louts, thieves and rapists”. The latter outburst saw his reputation take a battering and prompted a war of words with fellow comic icon Alan Moore (Watchmen) who condemned Miller, saying: “I think there has probably been a rather unpleasant sensibility apparent in Frank Miller’s work for quite a long time.”

Moore singled out Sin City. “I thought the Sin City stuff was unreconstructed misogyny,” he said, zoning in on the main sticking point with this Miller series. The original came in for some heavy criticism for its depiction of women – as vixens, vamps, prostitutes and, more broadly, male fantasy objects – idealised, lusted after but in no way respected.

Even before the Comic-Con footage, the sequel has come under fire – albeit for slightly more absurd reasons. The US censors, the Motion Picture Association of America, banned a poster featuring Eva Green’s scantily clad “dame”, Ava Lord, holding a gun next to the words, “I’ve been especially bad”. Believe it or not, though, the ban wasn’t for brandishing a firearm but for the revealing attire – or, more specifically, for “curve of under breast and dark nipple/areola circle visible through sheer gown”.

Rodriguez, who created the poster himself, shrugs. “If you tell people, ‘You can’t look at this, it’s not for you, it’s too much’, that’s the first thing they want to look at.” He doubtless knew what he was doing. Miller cackles. “Anybody who doesn’t want to look at Eva Green’s breasts or in any way finds them offensive belongs in a nut-house!” And Green? She simply yawns. “It’s boring,” she says. “I don’t understand where it comes from really. Just wait for the film!”

As all sequels should, Sin City: A Dame To Kill For promises more: more violence, more sex, more action. And more misogyny? Green’s character clearly isn’t going to do much for Miller’s reputation as a portrayer of women. The protagonist from the 1993 book from which this sequel takes its name, her character Ava Lord is also one of the central figures in the new film, as she entrances and entraps the luckless PI-cum-vigilante Dwight (Josh Brolin, who replaces Clive Owen). “She’s quite nasty,” says Green. “She’s very evil. She has no sense of morality. There’s nothing holding her back. She’s a real bitch!”

While there are new characters – notably Joseph Gordon-Levitt’s gambler in “The Long Bad Night”, a fresh Miller-penned vignette – most will be familiar. Returnees include Rosario Dawson as Gail, the ringleader for a band of prostitutes, and Jaime King as twin hookers Wendy and Goldie. Then there’s Nancy, Jessica Alba’s naïve pole-dancer, back in another section newly written for the screen, “The Fat Loss”, and eaten up by the intervening years in Basin City. “You don’t usually see in a lot of films so many strong characters that are women,” argues Alba. It’s what Frank is so great at doing.”

As for Miller, he is unapologetic about his portrayal of the fairer sex. “When you have a brush in your hand, inking a beautiful woman is a lot like running your hands over her,” he once said. “It turns me on, OK?” And the older he gets, the less likely he is to change. Still, you have to wonder if his increasingly out-there opinions, and the growing issue of miso-gyny in comic-book culture, will affect the box office this time. Rodriguez thinks otherwise, of course, pointing to that wildly enthused Comic-Con crowd. “Now we get the question, ‘When’s Sin City 3!’.”

‘Sin City: A Dame To Kill For’ is released on 22 Aug

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