Marv, Sin City 2, and the end of a movie franchise?

Feature Robert Zak
1 Sep 2014 - 06:41

Did Sin City: A Dame To Kill For rely too much on Mickey Rourke's character, Marv? Robert offers his spoiler-filled view...

NB: This article contains spoilers for Sin City and Sin City: A Dame To Kill For

Many film sequels latch onto one character who captures audiences’ imaginations, then mould subsequent stories around that character. There’s no doubt that the Pirates Of The Caribbean series existed because of Captain Jack Sparrow’s popularity, and audience’s desires to see more of the kooky rogue. Gollum’s popularity following The Two Towers surely had an effect in the editing room on Return Of The King, where he cemented himself as one of the most quotable and imitable characters of the decade.  

When this happens, producers respond, and the character often becomes elevated to a mascot - or even a reason to make subsequent films. They can occasionally end up hogging the posters, getting more screen time, and becoming more exaggerated in the words and actions that made audiences love them in the first place.

Sometimes this strategy works. At other times, it gets exploited to the point where the character loses their charm and soul several sequels down the line. Regretably, there are also times when the character shouldn't be put in that position in the first place. Mickey Rourke's performance as the beastly yet confused and sympathetic Marv in Sin City revived Rourke's career, and helped to make the film a cult hit of the 2000s. The character was primitive, funny, and had the jawline of an Easter Island statue. We had never seen something quite like him before, and embraced him.

Nine years later, Marv returns as the ill-conceived poster boy for Sin City’s belated sequel, A Dame To Kill For, dominating the marketing, driving most of the story, and growling witticisms throughout. Based on the character's previous success, this probably seemed a logical move. His explosive turn in the original landed him in plenty of ‘Top 100 film character’ lists, so why not get some milk out of this monstrous cow? The plan failed, however, and its execution in A Dame To Kill For could mark the film franchise's downfall just as the character's debut nine years ago marked its rise. 

A Dame To Kill For opens with Marv chasing down and killing a trio of Ivy League students who were going to set a tramp on fire (Sin City even manages to turn arrogant, scrawny students into cold-blooded killers). The sequence is clumsy, and implies that Marv is motivated by little more than bloodlust.

Compare this to the original Sin City, where there was something tragic about Marv’s quest to avenge a hooker, Goldie, who gave him the night of his life. Sure, he relished every skull he got to break along the way, but you never got the sense that it was wanton. Dwight's statement in the film that “Marv had the rotten luck of being born in the wrong century” who'd be “right at home on some ancient battlefield swinging an axe into somebody's face” established him as a misfit. Beneath the dense, rocky exterior, the character had a soft core which made him relatable.

In A Dame To Kill For, Marv is more involved in the plot while never being a central character. He plays a pivotal role in two of the three stories, stepping up as a freebie mercenary for anyone who exploits the big lug's soft spot for pretty women. He's fuelled by alcoholic rage, and an oft-reiterated desire to crush skills and pop eyeballs. He's a deus ex machina, whose impossible strength and imperviousness to pain undermine the seemingly insurmountable odds stacked against the protagonists he assists. Set him loose, and he'll take care of everything. 

It doesn't help that Marv's role in A Dame To Kill For takes place before the events of the first film, in which Marv’s brutal revenge quest saw his soul leave for that big battlefield in the sky by means of an electric chair. Seeing as we know this doesn't happen in A Dame To Kill For, then all the suspense is lost. At least Marv’s heroic exit in the original film goes some way to preserving his image, which the sequel goes a long way towards shattering.

A Dame To Kill For is by no means a dull film. The high-contrast comic-book look is still surprisingly fresh, and there is more self-deprecating humour than in the original, as if it accepts its own silliness. It's nice to see a couple of strong villains foregrounded this time round too, with show-stealing performances by Eva Green and Powers Boothe. They overshadow their counterparts who - apart from an underused Joseph Gordon-Levitt - are so flat that they could have been replaced by paper cut-outs from the graphic novels.

At the time of writing, A Dame To Kill For is smarting from an opening weekend at the box office that’s a mere fraction of its predecessor’s, and considerably lower than its $70 million budget. Of course, Marv alone isn’t to be blamed for its failure, but his misuse in A Dame To Kill For encapsulates the film’s lack of ideas.

Both Sin City movies are timeless on a technical level, but it seems likely that only the first will stand the test of time. Hopefully that film - and its finest character - will continue to be watched and appreciated without being tainted by the disappointing sequel.

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