Sin City 2: A Dame to Kill For (18) ***

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Crime pays handsomely in this visually arresting sequel to the 2005 neo-noir anthology based on Frank Miller’s comic series.

Blessed with the same black-and-white aesthetic, Sin City 2: A Dame To Kill For is as twisted and depraved as its predecessor, festooning every frame with corrupt cops, gun-toting hoodlums and scantily clad molls.

Sin City 2: A Dame to Kill For. Photo: PA Photo/Fox UK

Sin City 2: A Dame to Kill For. Photo: PA Photo/Fox UK

Lurid splashes of colour, like a murderous vamp’s emerald eyes or a working girl’s tumbling copper curls, temporarily draw the eye away from the misery, degradation and mutilation including an eyeball being wrenched from its socket.

Directors Robert Rodriguez and Miller linger on the darker side of human nature – the film wears its 18 certificate as a badge of honour.

Once again, three stories entwine on the godforsaken streets of Sin City.

The ghost of police detective John Hartigan (Bruce Willis) haunts exotic dancer Nancy Callahan (Jessica Alba).

She descends into booze-fuelled hell, desperate to put a bullet between the eyes of scheming Senator Roark (Powers Boothe).

Nancy manipulates her protector Marv (Mickey Rourke) into taking down the politician and his goons, regardless of the consequences.

Meanwhile, cocksure gambler Johnny (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) and his lucky charm Marcie (Julia Garner) prepare to take on Roark at the poker table.

Johnny humiliates his powerful host and suffers horrific consequences.

‘I can’t protect you,’ the chief of police informs Johnny.

‘Then why you a cop?’ retorts the gambler.

Nearby, Dwight McCarthy (Josh Brolin) struggles to rein in his violent impulses following an encounter with old flame Ava Lord (Eva Green).

She begs Dwight to help her escape the clutches of her sadistic husband Damien (Marton Csokas) and his hulking bodyguard Manute (Dennis Haysbert).

The plan goes awry and Dwight turns to old flame Gail (Rosario Dawson) and avenging angel Miho (Jamie Chung) to help him evade the cops.

Arriving almost a decade after the first chapter, Sin City 2: A Dame To Kill For plunges us headfirst into a grimy universe where a bullet to the head settles most arguments.

Style pummels emotion into submission and snappy dialogue from the comics – ‘I was born at night, but it wasn’t last night’ – enhance the feeling that characters talk at, not to, each other.

Rodriguez and Miller direct set pieces including a car chase and sword fight at a breathless lick, melding heavily stylised live action and animation for each orgy of violence.

Green sheds her inhibitions to play an archetypal femme fatale with lip-smacking gusto, enforcing what we already knew from the first film: the female of the species is far deadlier than the male.