As far as nine-years-later sequels go, Sin City: A Dame to Kill For... well, actually it's pretty fucking awful, since the only other nine-years-later sequels I can think of right off star Ethan Hawke and Julie Delpy instead of Mickey Rourke and Jessica Alba, and take as their explicit theme the evolution of culture and individual personality against the background of nostalgia. Whereas A Dame to Kill For is powerfully eager to act like not a minute has gone by since Sin City opened, exactly copying the original film's distinctive aesthetic and using extensive make-up to erase the passage of nearly a decade from every returning star's face.

What I started off to say is that, as far as nine-years-later sequels go, A Dame to Kill For could have been infinitely worse. Because, when all is said and done, exactly copying the original film's distinctive aesthetic - that is to say, the aesthetic the original film exactly copied from the Sin City comics of writer/artist Frank Miller, whose visual concepts were translated so precisely that director Robert Rodriguez extended him a directing credit, exactly the situation that attains in the sequel - isn't such a terrible thing as all that, when even after most of a decade, you can still count on one hand all the films that have recalled into Sin City's extremely unique style of harsh monochrome and all-CGI sets designed with the thinness of angry line drawings. And you can count on no hands the number of good films to have done so. Unhappily, A Dame to Kill For doesn't buck that trend; we'll get there in a moment. First I want to finish saying nice things about the way the movie looks, because it's just about the last nice thing I'll have to say. The one big change the new film makes is that, coming in 2014 instead of 2005, it gets to take advantage of 3-D: and for all that I'd have predicted that a 3-D rendering of such a vigorously 2-D art style would look be hideous on a pre-verbal level, actually, A Dame to Kill For turns that to its advantage, pitching itself somewhere between a shadowbox of paper cut-outs and an exploration of the possibilities of pure visual geometry, shapes and dots suddenly gaining some kind of unexpected texture from their planar relationships. It is surely the first and so-far only essential work of 3-D I've seen in 2014; or maybe it would be better to say that it's the only film for which it is distinctly better in three dimensions than in two. I mean, we're lifetimes away from Gravity here.

That nicety aside, the film is not very good, occasionally drifting into outright putrescence. And this was predictable as far back as 2006, when a Sin City sequel first started to form in Rodriguez's hopelessly optimistic eyes. Of the six books and one short story collection that make up the published entirety of Sin City, there's really only one great story and two pretty solid ones, by my reckoning, and the two best were already used in the first movie. Now, A Dame to Kill For is the other pretty solid one. So that's a leg up. And the filmmakers have the basic good sense to avoid the other full-length stories, Family Values (which is impenetrably awful) and Hell and Back (which is better on the merits, but only just, and it's dismally fucking long). Instead, the film rounds out its content with two new stories: "The Long Bad Night" (which, if I understand it correctly, is fleshed out from an unfinished story Miller has had around for a while), and "Nancy's Last Dance" (entirely new), and one of the better pre-existing short stories, "Just Another Saturday Night".

The last of these opens the movie as a prologue, and it's easily the peak of the film: a nice way to warm back up to the style, the moral corrosion, the dementedly hard-boiled dialogue, and the warped physicality of the characters in the form of Rourke's probably schizophrenic thug Marv. The other two are, I want to reiterate, new Frank Miller. "The Long Bad Night" much less so, but "Nancy's Last Dance" is a kind of no-holds-barred tour of all the incomprehensibly dark things that have happened inside Miller's head in the 21st Century, with its rageholic violence and disregard for any kind of logic or linearity (it is, I think, completely impossible to square with the existing Sin City chronology) and even the most modest coverlet ripped off of Miller's deeply unpleasant thoughts about women. Which seems even worse here since it seems evident from the focus on tragic stripper Nancy (Alba) and the voiceover she speaks - I believe, the first ever written for a Sin City woman - that this is trying to redress the baked-in sexism.

And A Dame to Kill For has the intense misfortune to end with "Nancy's Last Dance", which means that for the last 20-odd minutes of the 102-minute feature (more than 20 minutes shorter than Sin City), we are pummeled over and over with a nonsensical, needless story that can't put a single foot right (career-worst acting from Alba! Bruce Willis as a sad ghost!) and is almost too ugly for words, so whatever kindly feelings one can generate towards the film are bashed into pieces by the structure that insists on leaving us wanting so much less.

Not that kindly feelings are in strong supply. It's not a long movie, really, but the pacing is all whacked to hell, making it feel positively endless for stretches, and the insertion of "A Dame to Kill For" right in the middle of "The Long Bad Night" does neither any favors - particularly since "A Dame to Kill For" lacks the tendons connecting the two new stories, so instead of feeling like a collection of vignettes, like the first movie, A Dame to Kill For feels almost like one story that has a completely irreconcilable other story twisting around in its middle. "The Long Bad Night" is, itself, a pretty drowsy affair: Johnny (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) is a shockingly lucky gambler who picks up the sweet-natured bar waitress Marcie (Julia Garner) to watch him humiliate the most powerful man in the hopelessly corrupt Basin City - Senator Roark (Powers Boothe) - at poker. He has his own reasons, embarrassingly easy to predict, for wanting to needle Roark, and this perhaps overshadows his judgement about not fucking with psychopaths who have the police and the gangs at their disposal. Meanwhile, in "A Dame to Kill For", gloomy private eye Dwight (Josh Brolin) is approached by his former flame Ava (Eva Green) to help free him from her abusive husband (Marton Csokas) and his thuggish chauffeur Manute (Dennis Haysbert, replacing the late Michael Clarke Duncan, whom he resembles only in that he is an African-American man). But this is noir, and Ava is much too fatale a femme to possibly mean good news. Which Dwight knows and goes in after her anyway, because when somebody is played by Eva Green in full-on "I will play my flawless naked body like a Stradivarius" mode, it's easy to buy her as the kind of sexual enchantress that no male with even the ghost of heterosexuality inside of him could possibly resist. And there are, of course, only heterosexual males in Sin City. And pedophiles, but not in this movie.

The entirely subjective problem with this isn't that any of it is "bad" bad, but that virtually all of it is dull: as written, "A Dame to Kill For" is light-years better than the almost plotless "The Long Bad Night", but both coalesce into a sort of indistinguishable mushiness in Rodriguez and Miller's flabby directorial hands. The titular story is simply not paced well at all, lurching to life in fits and starts, but never maintaining itself - scenes drag on and dither and collapse.Worse yet, especially compared to the original movie, the acting is at an almost uniformly low ebb: Rourke is basically as good as he was last time, but with less interesting material to play, which is enough to make him the stand-out. Brolin and Gordon-Levitt give almost the exact same bad performance of a cold-blooded hard-ass, with Brolin courting goofy excess a bit more freely (especially in the final act of his sequence, when he really should have been replaced by the unavailable Clive Owen). Horrifyingly, even Green can't do all that much: she plays an almost mythically cruel woman well enough, I suppose, and it's easy to take for granted any performer who can be that at ease with her nude body and draw it up into her performance. But she already did both of these things earlier in 2014 in 300: Rise of an Empire, where she managed to, if certainly not "redeem" the character's grossly sexist clichés, at least play them up with a lifesaving amount of broad wit and tactically deployed campiness that recalls Vincent Price, if Vincent Price was an unbelievably hot woman prone to nude scenes. In that film, Green ripped herself out of the movie, off the screen, and into some totally other universe where she could just be jaw-droppingly magnetic. Here, she successfully embodies a straightforward, long-established stock character that, if she hadn't already existed on the page since 1993, could have easily been introduced in a pitch meeting as "we need to put an Eva Green type in this movie". Which is nowhere near as impressive, nor as film-rescuing.

Green's limitation is the film's as well: it's just not interesting in any way. It looks nice: shiny and stylised and glittering with its hard whites and jet blacks moving along the Z-axis. But it doesn't look any nicer than the 21-year-old comic book that it's re-staging, and sucking all of the life from in the process.