Filled as they are with cold-blooded killers, femmes fatales, unlucky gamblers and crooked politicians, the mean streets of "Sin City: A Dame to Kill For" are no place to get caught unawares. With the Frank Miller-Robert Rodriguez neo-noir sequel opening Friday, here's a cheat sheet on all the hardboiled inhabitants of this stylized world — so you can keep up with all the hard-core fans in yours.
A long time coming: Although the original "Sin City" earned favorable reviews and grossed more than $158 million at the worldwide box office, it's taken more than nine years for "A Dame to Kill For" to follow. Rodriguez and Miller began brainstorming a sequel shortly after the first film opened, but the project got derailed when backers Harvey and Bob Weinstein left Miramax Films to found Weinstein Co., which is releasing "Dame."
"The Weinsteins told us, 'We're not ready — go make a couple more movies and then come back,'" Rodriguez told the Times' Hero Complex. "Then we got distracted with other stuff. It was just a matter of finding the right time for everything to jell."
The masterminds: If there's a mayor of the "Sin City" franchise, it's Miller, the prickly comic book legend who first created the stark black-and-white serials in 1991 and would translate them to the big screen years later with the help of "Desperado" and "Spy Kids" filmmaker Rodriguez.
Aside from codirecting the original "Sin City" and "A Dame to Kill For" with Rodriguez, Miller has only helmed one other film, "The Spirit," which was a critical and box-office bomb. That said, his gritty comics — including the "The Dark Knight Returns" and "300" — have directly and indirectly influenced countless Hollywood movies.
Rodriguez, meanwhile, has proved himself to be an imaginative auteur in the past, although his recent films have stumbled. His last two efforts were both sequels that grossed considerably less than their predecessors: "Spy Kids: All the Time in the World" grossed $38 million domestically, down from "Spy Kids 3D: Game Over's" $111 million, and "Machete Kills" grossed $8 million, down from "Machete's" $26 million. So far, the reviews and tracking for "Sin City: A Dame To Kill For" (dismal and a sub-$20-million opening, respectively) suggest it could follow in that similar unfortunate pattern.
Going by — and beyond — the book: Taking the form of anthology of four linked tales, "A Dame to Kill For" serves as both a sequel and a prequel to "Sin City," which was largely based on material from the first, third and fourth books in Miller's comic series. "Dame" draws on Miller's second book and also features new material written specifically for the film. Thanks to the franchise's nonlinear structure, "Dame" is free to include, for example, a character who died in the first movie (Mickey Rourke's hulking antihero Marv).
Familiar faces, and some new ones (literally): Marv isn't the only character making the return trip to Sin City. Also back for more are Jessica Alba as the exotic dancer Nancy, Rosario Dawson as the pistol-packing prostitute Gail and Powers Booth as the corrupt Sen. Roark.
New characters include Eva Green's Ava Lord (the titular dame), Joseph Gordon Levitt's cocky gambler Johnny, Ray Liotta's unfaithful businessman Joey and Christopher Lloyd's drug-addicted back-alley doctor Kroenig.
Still other characters are returning, but played by new actors. In the case of Josh Brolin's Dwight, there's a narrative explanation (it involves facial reconstructive surgery). Other replacements were made for practical reasons: Jamie Chung stepped in for Devon Aoki as Miho because Aoki was pregnant at the time of shooting, and Dennis Haysbert took over for the late Michael Clarke Duncan to play Manute.
Black and white, but mostly green: Like its forebear, "A Dame to Kill For" is rendered in hyper-stylized black-and-white with occasional splashes of color. To create the ripped-from-the-page look, Rodriguez and Miller once again shot almost entirely against green screens and filled in the props and sets digitally.
But while the process was revolutionary back in 2005, that's no longer the case today. Films such as "Avatar," the "300" movies (also based on Miller's work) and "Gravity" have also placed actors in striking digitally created environments.