I like comic book movies, even when I don’t particularly care for the comic books they are based on. Hellboy, Blade, The Crow — even The X-Men is an example of a film I enjoyed way more than the source material.
I’ve read a couple of the Sin City trade paperbacks, and found them largely uninteresting. The characters, action, and dialogue all seemed lifted from Mickey Spillane novels and back issues of The Punisher. Plus, I’m no fan of Miller’s art — where others see a distinctive style, I see a guy who can’t draw a straight line. And if I wanted my story in black & white, I’d just read a novel.
But black & white motion pictures I like. And as I said, I’ll go see pretty much any comic book movie, regardless of my opinion of the book. So I caught of late show of Sin City last Friday. Based on the trailer my expectations for the film were moderately high, and they were exceeded by a considerable amount.
Sin City contains three stories which, while distinct, share a few overlapping characters, settings, and elements. They are told in a noir style that’s so hyperbolic as to border on parody: all the women are buxom, all the men can take a bullet and shrug it off as a flesh wound, all the villains have a distinct look and a distinct method for dispatching their victims. Bruce Willis stars in the first chapter, and essentially reprises his world-weary tough-guy role from Pulp Fiction and Unbreakable. (That’s a good thing — he’s really good at that role*.) His portrayal of a good cop beaten down by the unrelenting corruption of his force sets the stage for all the subsequent tales, each of which features a few of Basin City’s rare noble citizens struggling for justice in a town where everyday life is akin to that of a maximum security prison.
Frank Miller is cited as the film’s co-director (he’s even given top billing over Robert Rodriguez) and his presence is noticeable. The movie has just the right amount of “comic book physics” — cars go over hills and catch 10 seconds of air, strongmen shatter wooden doors with a single punch — but still feels tethered, if just barely, to the real world. That the scenes look just like something out of a graphic novel is not my subjective opinion — check out these side-by-side comparisons of panels from the books and stills from the movie and marvel at the exactitude. It’s as if the Sin City graphic novels were the storyboards for the film.
And, in fact, I think that’s why I didn’t like them. I went back and reread The Big Fat Kill after seeing the movie, and it doesn’t seem like a finished product; it seemed like the rough draft for something great. And that something great is now showing at a theater near you.