Lisbeth Salander (Rapace) returns to Sweden, becomes a suspect in three murders and goes on the run. Journalist Mikael Blomkvist (Nyqvist) is sure Lisbeth is innocent, but realises she is being pursued by dangerous criminals who have a connection to her troubled past.
This follow-up to the Girl With the Dragon Tattoo (the second of Stieg Larsson’s novels about Lisbeth Salander and Mikael Blomkvist) suffers from middle-chunk-of-the-trilogy woes as it runs from the ending of the last story to the set-up for the next without quite telling this one properly. Niels Arden Oplev’s …Dragon Tattoo was confidently cinematic, taking its time over a complex plot; here, Daniel Alfredson — brother of Tomas, director of Let The Right One In – seems in a hurry. The Girl Who Played With Fire was made as a cinema release, but also as a longer TV serial: sub-plots, supporting characters and incidents are present but abbreviated. For the low-down on key chunks of story, you’ll need to watch Swedish TV or hope for an expanded DVD.
The first film was a mystery with editorial content; this is an action film with footnotes. Lisbeth, the breakout character, is now at the heart of the story, with the present-day plot about sex trafficking and political corruption turning out to be a way into Lisbeth’s hitherto-mysterious past. The abused, paranoid girl whose traumas turn her into a heroine (she even has a super-power: photographic memory) gets a Luke-and-Darth face-off with an all-purpose monster who is responsible for all that’s happened to her (and everything bad in Sweden, if not Europe). The Social Network’s Rooney Mara will replace her for David Fincher’s in-progress remake, but it’s likely Rapace will be the definitive Lisbeth: if this is a choppy vehicle, she’s still uniquely fascinating, admirable and tough. Unlike most Hollywood actresses, she goes up against enemies twice her size and is as likely to take a brutal beating as prevail — and the film really grips in the climax, when she’s in the sort of dire peril which would seem terminal if Part Three weren’t on the way.
Blomkvist, the moral centre, is removed from the action: emails and mobile phone pings cover the fact that the leads are separated for most of the movie. Larsson strays slyly into Ian Fleming territory, which gives a pulpy verve to characters like the kickboxing lesbian (give her a spin-off) and the blond hulk born without a capacity to feel pain (cue a great uh-oh moment with a stun-gun).
Entertaining and powerful, if hurried. It needs a killer Part Three to make it a trilogy, not a hit with sequels.