22 August 2014

The Road to a Blockbuster: A Summer to Kill For

Well folks, it's getting to be about the end of August, and so our Blockbuster Season comes to a close. Now, this week we only have one really major Franchise-y type release, and it's the long-awaited Sin City: A Dame to Kill For (2014). Wait, is this movie actually long-awaited? Maybe a better description is the long-produced A Dame to Kill For. Because this was supposed to come out like seven years ago but never seemed to get off the ground. It's the kind of movie that I'll believe was actually made when I'm in the theater watching it. Until then (including right now), I tend to be skeptical that it actually exists.
Cobra Commander himself...

Now, looking back on it, Sin City (2005) was a tremendously formative film. It was one of the first flicks to be filmed entirely with green screens, but more than that it was one of the first of these kind of brutal, action-oriented comic adaptations, with nonsense like 300 (2007) and The Spirit (2008) to follow, with more or less success. Especially with the rise of Zack Snyder recently, this school of Rob Rodriguez and Frank Miller is still going strong. It was perhaps most notable for being incredibly stylized in its visual production, perhaps to the point of leaning too heavily on style and neglecting significant story elements beyond shock value tactics and clever integrated twists on its shared world (the eponymous city). At least it got a cool trailer song out of its release.

Now, don't get me wrong, I really liked Sin City. That love stems more from its collection of cool moments, almost hyper-cool to the point of subtle character self-realization that they're in this ridiculous movie with really crazy and literal mise-en-scène everywhere. It's kind of fascinating. It's also the weird kind of property that begets further adaptations because of its own nature. Sin City was made up of three (four actually - remember that Josh Hartnett wrap-around?) interlocking stories that sort of fed on each other really loosely, but all took place in the same city. So, it should have been natural to just make more stories set in the city. Really, the serialization should have been easy and based on the success of the film, should have come quickly, while people still cared.

Instead, we get this nine years later, and A Dame to Kill For does look cool, but in the sense of there just being more Sin City tales to tell. It's not really innovative or new anymore, rather just more of the same kind of noir genre stories with a stylized CGI veneer. It's actually damned impressive that Sin City works at all, considering it is more a mash-up of old pulp genres with really modern action styles and it still provides a satisfying experience.

So that's the big question for anyone interested in seeing this, right? Has it been long enough that that Sin City punch is still potent or new feeling? Or through a combination of this style being copied to death by its peers along with the fact that this was groundbreaking nine years ago working against it? A Dame to Kill For doesn't appear to be adding anything to push the concept further, and rather just seems like spinning plates from the first installment. Which, I'll reiterate, isn't a bad thing, it's just not that interesting of a thing. I really don't care about seeing A Dame to Kill For this weekend and I'm a fucking fan of this shit. Totes solid January Netflix pick, though...

To wrap up here, our Road to a Blockbuster is always looking for the critical, cultural, and commercial potential of any film, and I don't think A Dame to Kill For is going to rise very high with any of these. Audiences haven't really responded well to these kinds of grubby action flicks as of late - perhaps that stylized action was really just a fad or perhaps we're just more in tune to the pop palettes of Marvel flicks instead of the grimy broodiness on display here. It's also late August and I don't think anyone will see anything but Guardians of the Galaxy (2014) for the second or third time.
I'm getting kind of torn on Eva Green. She needs
to stop appearing in sequels no one cares about or
ever wanted to see made. Like 300: Rise of an Empire (2014).

Critically, this movie so far seems to be getting about what you'd expect - which again, isn't necessarily being raked through the mud but it's not going to offer some really deep artistic insight into the human condition, either. Films like this, or all films really, deserve to be judged on whether or not they fail at achieving what they set out to achieve, and A Dame to Kill For isn't really going to try to become the greatest film ever made. It will likely be a pretty competent genre film full of pulpy goodness, and while that can be difficult to put into a "see it" or "don't see it" category, I think that most people can make up their mind as to whether or not this will fit with their personal interests. I don't think that extends to most people on the fringe, which of course, means that it will not make much money.

As for a cultural influence, with a property like this it's going to have to boil down to one really cool scene or two, or some awesome character introduction, which films like this base their bread and butter on. Sin City already did the cultural work and changed the game for action flicks both in style and production, so A Dame to Kill For really has an uphill battle, because it really offers a plateau instead of an advancement. Nothing really culturally significant can come from that kind of lack of innovation which in itself fails to spur widespread interest.

That's it for me, folks. September tends to be a lonely time for big important flicks that I'm interested in discussing culturally, but here and there I'd like to bring this column back on a couple November and December Fridays. How else will you spend your weeks?

And what do you think of A Dame to Kill For? Leave a comment below!

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