The schlubby European crime-solvers of The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo are back in part two of the trilogy, The Girl Who Played with Fire, a police procedural to the first movie’s drawing-room mystery.
Lisbeth Salander (Noomi Rapace), the tattooed punk-looking hacker of the first movie, is enjoying a Caribbean escape as the second movie opens. She returns to Sweden to remind her sadistic rapist of a legal guardian, Bjurman (Peter Andersson), not to try to remove the tattoo she gave him, driving the message home by waving his own gun in his face. Of course, as Nelson on The Simpsons said, it’s always good to have a second set of prints on a gun, and crime-story fans know as soon as she puts the gun down (without wiping it off) that it’s going to get her in trouble down the road.
And not very far down the road. Very soon she is suspected in the murder of not only Bjurman but also a young freelance reporter and his girlfriend. The man was just about to have an investigative story on sex trafficking published in, of all places, Millennium — the magazine run in part by Mikael Blomkvist (Michael Nyquist), the reporter Lisbeth helped to track down a serial killer in the first movie. When he finds out that Lisbeth is suspected of the murders, he begins his own investigation to find out who really did it — he’s certain it wasn’t her.
The trail leads to a shady criminal named Zala (Georgi Staykov) and soon grows to include Swedish government officials and a mysterious blond giant (Micke Spreitz) who roughs up Lisbeth’s friends and acquaintances.
The Girl Who Played with Fire runs into some of the standard part-two-in-a-trilogy problems. The first movie is the setup, usually with enough of a stand-alone story to pull an audience in. The third movie is the big finish. The second movie has to move things forward — but not too much. We know we can’t have too much resolution and that not every character or plot point that is introduced will be explained.
As I was summarizing the plot it occurred to me that what worked fine while I was watching it kind of falls apart on reflection. The story is a meatloaf of plot threads picked up from the first movie, backstory, new characters, conspiracy, investigators and old characters who I know I’m supposed to remember but don’t. I’ve read the first book and the sardine-can-full-of-characters feel is something that the movie has actually improved upon through adaptation. There are oodles of “vists” and “ssons” in each book and it can be hard to keep them straight. The movie does give us a modern crime — with a moving target instead of the static puzzle of the first movie — and some of that Lisbeth vengeance, but it also feels a bit weighed down by bits and pieces of plot that we feel like we need to pay attention to and remember for later even if we don’t get them now.
The movie also suffers a bit from the New Moon problem, which is that the central couple (here really mostly a crime-solving couple rather than a romantic couple — the distinctly European sex in this movie is only between Lisbeth and a girlfriend) is apart for most of the film. In the case of Fire, all of the film — we don’t even really get the bookends that New Moon gives Edward and Bella. This means that while Lisbeth and Blomkvist are solving the murders they are also following each other. This chase works, sort of, but it also gets in the way of some forward momentum.
The first movie had good villains — it’s always fun to hate on Nazis — and a nice, easy crime rendered in black and white photographs. In the second movie, the central mystery takes a back seat to the life story of Lisbeth and the Lisbeth/Blomkvist relationship. Maybe not quite as compelling, but still well worth two hours of Swedish and subtitles. B
Rated R for brutal violence including a rape, some strong sexual content, nudity and language. Directed by Daniel Alfredson and written by Jonas Frykberg (from the novel by Stieg Larsson), The Girl Who Played with Fire is two hours and nine minutes long and distributed in limited release by Zodiak Entertainment. It is currently playing in the Boston area and is slated to play at Wilton Town Hall Theatre in coming weeks.