If you're going to see Sin City, choose the theater carefully. Don't worry about the screen, the sound system, or the stadium seating. Go where you're least likely to be surrounded by howling savages.
The row behind me started cheering at the first murder and never let up. At first I was just annoyed, but I became increasingly horrified when I realized that they were cheering for whoever was inflicting the most carnage at any given moment. The vicious crimes got as much applause as the torture that was supposed to avenge them. The howlers obviously liked watching men kill women, but they were equally titillated when the scantily-clad prostitutes of Old Town started rampaging.
Evidently Matt Yglesias made a much wiser choice of venue.
I don't have much to say about the film itself. Sin City faithfully recreates the look and feel of Frank Miller's graphic novel. It's exciting to see a fully-realized alternative universe brought to the screen.
Unfortunately, all the nuances of plot and characterization get lost in translation. None of the three vignettes is strong enough to sustain a feature film and cramming them into one picture doesn't help. Successful action movies need a narrative to harness the emotional impact of the violence. Towards the end I got bored, despite the escalating brutality of the visuals.
I didn't find the movie hard to watch because of the violence, per se. What bothered me was the sheer emptiness of the brutality. I know, the central conceit of Sin City is that it takes place in a society so debased as to blur the distinction between good and evil. Okay. But if you're going to dispense with good and evil, you've got to invest in characterization and narrative structure. Either give us a good guy to cheer for and a bad guy to hate, or tell us what makes each morally ambiguous character interesting in his own right.
Notice that I'm not complaining about the amorality of the plot. I'm not one of those people who thinks that it's only okay to show violence to convey some important message. I'm arguing that Sin City fails as a movie because it provides insufficient dramatic context for its brutality.
Sin City is literally pornographic in the sense that the primary thrill is in seeing stuff done to bodies, not in watching those events befalling those characters. I have nothing against pornography. It's just that porn is an unsatisfying substitute for a sexy, action-packed feature film.
I was hoping that Sin City would be a flashy neo-noir thriller, but it turned out to be just an artfully-lit torture sequence.
[Edit: I deleted the last sentence after reading Kriston's reaction. What I meant to say was that the experience of watching Sin City in that theater was depressing because so many of the people around me were obviously savoring it as torture-porn. I didn't mean to imply that the directors intended to create a pornographic film, indeed quite the opposite. Nor do I think that everyone who enjoyed the picture was appreciating it on that level.]