In Defense of Sequels
By now I’m sure you’ve heard the news: SIN CITY: A DAME TO KILL FOR, the much-hyped nine-years-after-the-fact sequel to 2005’s SIN CITY, opened last Friday…and tanked big time. As often happens with mega-bombs, the movie’s reputation appears to be irretrievably tarnished, yet having seen it myself (in a near-empty auditorium) I was surprised to find that it wasn’t that bad.
Of course I’m biased here, being a fan of the original SIN CITY and among the (very) few viewers who were actually looking forward to the sequel. And outside some misguided elements (such as the presence of Jessica Alba, who’s far from the hot young starlet she was back in ‘05, and so somewhat less than convincing as a teen stripper) it didn’t disappoint. As with the first SIN CITY, A DAME TO KILL FOR is unerringly colorful and entertaining in its ultra-stylized, cheerfully excessive manner, and doesn’t skimp on the R-rated violence and perversion so integral to the SIN CITY universe. The standout element is the startlingly overt sexuality of Eva Green as the titular dame, who provides an explosively erotic component unique in today’s Hollywood.
That, at least, is my opinion, which seems to differ mightily from most everyone else’s. Indeed, from what I’ve read about it on the internet, many commentators seem downright giddy about A DAME TO KILL FOR’s box office failure (even though few bothered to actually see it). The thinking, it seems, is the film is inherently worthless because, among other things, it’s a sequel.
Here’s a shocking admission: I like sequels. That may sound schizophrenic coming from me, who’s roundly criticized Hollywood’s over-reliance on such fare. In truth my problem is with poorly conceived or unnecessary follow-ups, as well as the negativity that appears to have become ingrained when it comes to movie sequels--as one blogger unkindly opined on the subject, “You either have to suffocate the audiences with non-stop sequels and reboots before they know what’s hitting them, or they’ll forget you.” No wonder Hollywood’s attitude towards part 2’s, 3’s and 4’s is so cynical.
Let’s not forget, however, that quite a few classic films are in fact sequels: THE GODFATHER PART II comes to mind, as do QUATERMASS AND THE PIT, ALIENS, THE SILENCE OF THE LAMBS and THE EMPIRE STRIKES BACK. True, those are exceptions rather than the rule, as it’s a rare occasion when a sequel outdoes its predecessor, or even becomes a vital entity in its own right.
A central reason for that is, again, the all-pervading cynicism that so often accompanies the conception and production of sequels, and gave us THE FLY 2, GHOSTBUSTERS 2, THE LOST WORLD, BLAIR WITCH 2, THE LOST BOYS 2 (and 3), BATMAN AND ROBIN, THE HILLS HAVE EYES 2 and the entire FRIDAY THE 13th series. These represent the type of sequels that give the format a bad name, existing only to pad their studios’ bottom line, and fully living up to Roger Ebert’s wise-assed “definition” of a sequel: “A filmed deal.”
Another problem is directorial self-indulgence, which often runs rampant in sequels. Examples of this trend abounded in the early 1990s: see GREMLINS 2 and BATMAN RETURNS, whose respective directors Joe Dante and Tim Burton were granted a much greater amount of creative freedom than they had on the original films, and went wild. That same dynamic is evident in more recent follow-ups like HELLBOY 2, ONCE UPON A TIME IN MEXICO and MACHETE KILLS (the latter two films, ironically enough, were perpetrated by SIN CITY’S own Robert Rodriguez).
The reverse of that can be found in EVIL DEAD 2, TERMINATOR 2: JUDGMENT DAY and THE PURGE: ANARCHY, whose makers all used the sequel format to improve upon their original films, adroitly amplifying what worked and jettisoning what didn’t. Sequels can also serve the simple act of extending the storyline of an apparently standalone film in new and unexpected directions. Such was the case with the original PLANET OF THE APES franchise (a most interesting and underrated bunch of films in my view), as well as Christopher Nolan’s BATMAN trilogy and George Romero’s DEAD saga (whose total is admittedly far greater than the sum of its parts).
Then, of course, there’s the example of SIN CITY: A DAME TO KILL FOR, which doesn’t add a whole lot to the first SIN CITY (Eva Green’s hotness aside) but does make for a solid and diverting companion-piece. There’s certainly nothing wrong with that.
Overshadowing all those attributes are SIN CITY: A DAME TO KILL FOR’S ultimate importance, both as a pivotal entry in a (now dead) movie franchise and a rare example of adult-oriented R-rated moviemaking. I’ve made this point before, but it’s worth repeating: if you care about a certain type of film you simply must vote with your wallet. This means those of you with an interest in neo-pulp/noir cinema need to kick yourselves for not turning out for A DAME TO KILL FOR--although if you’re not interested you should be pleased, as I guarantee we won’t be seeing its likes again any time soon!