The Girl Who Played With Fire

This review was originally written and published in the summer of 2010.

Stieg Larsson’s Millennium trilogy is a literary phenomenon. The rapid speed in which the books were released and diffused all throughout the world has been remarkable, and the great quality of the first Swedish film, “The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo,” only added to that excitement.

The Swedish filmmakers answered that demand even quicker than the publishers of Larsson’s books could. The Millennium trilogy was intended to be a Swedish TV miniseries following the first film, but instead was hustled out the door as two more films so they could be released within WEEKS of one another.

After seeing “The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo” and realizing that this trilogy would be completed within one calendar year, I speculated this had potential to be the greatest collection of three anyone had ever put out in one year since the Beatles put out three albums in 1964.

So my anticipation for “The Girl Who Played With Fire” was high, and for a while I ignored a lackluster story and poor writing that read like a TV movie for a chance to see Noomi Rapace take another stab at Lisbeth Salander.

But a TV movie is exactly what this sequel is. It’s a half-baked attempt to capitalize on a craze, and it misses the point of what made the original so compelling.

Director Daniel Alfredson replaces Niels Arden Oplev from the original for the final two films, this one and “The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet’s Nest,” and the filmmaker’s craft is gone along with the storytelling and pacing. Alfredson speeds through the first half of the novel in under a half hour, and the film as a whole is a good 30 minutes shorter than the original.

It picks up with Lisbeth in hiding in the Caribbean, and she’s forced to come back when her supervisor that raped her double-crosses her again. He’s involved in framing Lisbeth with the murder of a journalist working on a sex abuse article for Mikael Blomkvist’s (Michael Nykvist) magazine.

The interesting story is there, but the writing isn’t. It’s cheap and simplistic and not nearly as subtlety engaging. The most obvious victim of this is Lisbeth herself. Her ferocity is still there, but her ambiguity isn’t. If you had questions about her sexuality throughout the previous film, they’ll all be wiped away by a strongly eroticized lesbian sex scene. And if you questioned what Lisbeth was capable of because of her past, your doubts will be cleared up by a few heavy-handed flashbacks.

From there, the film even devolves into a sort of bland horror action film, with a behemoth of a man that can barely be harmed acting as a silent monster for Lisbeth to defeat. It also keeps Lisbeth and Mikael apart for the entirety of the movie, and I’m not the first to admit that the chemistry between those two performers did a lot for the original.

Rapace is still strong, and she’s given a few scenes to show off her torture skills and revenge tactics, but we definitely don’t get any of her proving her worth as an expert hacker.

Even the visual aesthetic is different. Alfredson’s cinematography makes use of a brighter color palette of reds and oranges to go along with the fire theme, but he ultimately supplants the bleak darkness of the original.

“The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet’s Nest” is out in theaters now, but this sophomore slump of the Millennium trilogy has made me less enthusiastic.

2 ½ stars

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