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Back to Section One | Back to Arts & Entertainment
posted Friday, July 9, 2010 - Volume 38 Issue 28
Lisbeth Salander's return a fiery disappointment
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Lisbeth Salander's return a fiery disappointment

by Sara Michelle Fetters - SGN Contributing Writer

The Girl Who Played with Fire Opening July 9

Lisbeth Salander (Noomi Rapace) has returned to Stockholm. Still haunted by the dirty deeds handed down by her court appointed guardian Nils Bjurman (Peter Andersson), she wants to make sure he understands the score, that the video of their little unreciprocated sexual romp still exists. Besides, she has friends in Sweden, people dear to her heart, and while they can't know her exact whereabouts, that doesn't mean she still can't drop by for a visit.

Fresh off his short incarceration, Mikael Blomkvist (Michael Nyqvist) is busy back at work editing Millennium, the noted Swedish political magazine known for breaking stories most news organizations are afraid to touch. One of his reporters is on the verge of breaking a major story involving Eastern European sex trafficking, but when he and his girlfriend are brutally murdered, things take a sudden and unforeseen turn.

Making matters even more perplexing is the fact that Lisbeth is the chief suspect, her fingerprints all over the murder weapon. Mikael doesn't believe his former ally is to blame for this crime and is sure someone is setting her up as the fall guy in order to keep the sex trade story from coming to light. Soon the investigative journalist is using all of his tricks to uncover the truth, digging towards conclusions so preposterous they cannot help but be genuine. But Lisbeth is also on the case, her reasons for proving her innocence having more to do with familial revenge than they do the pursuit of justice.

The second installment in the late Swedish author Stieg Larsson's Millennium trilogy, The Girl Who Played with Fire picks up a few months after the labyrinthine events of The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo. But where that cinematic adaptation of the popular crime potboiler was an absorbing mystery filled with twists and turns and featured two unique characters easy to root for, this sequel is a rather slapdash effort that's sadly nowhere near as effective.

While Lisbeth and Mikael continue to fascinate, the mystery they're drowning in isn't very interesting, and the surprises feel more coincidental and haphazard than organic and natural. Jonas Frykberg's screenplay isn't nearly as sharp or as pointed as the one for the first film, while new director Daniel Alfredson can't build tension or create atmosphere as effortlessly as Niels Arden Oplev did in the original. This middle chapter is a seriously bumpy ride, and by the time it was all over my enthusiasm for this series had taken a swift jolt that I'm not sure it's going to be able to recover from in time for the October release of the final epic, The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet's Nest.

I'm making this sound worse than it actually is. There are some admittedly sensational moments, and the opening confrontation between Lisbeth and Bjurman bristles with tension. There's an awesome scene at a secluded countryside home between the diminutive computer hacker and a couple of burly bikers, while the hugely creepy penultimate standoff had my palms sweating and my arms covered in goose pimples.

Additionally, while the mystery itself does tend to strain credulity, I did like the way the filmmakers balanced Lisbeth and Mikael's parallel storylines. One definitely eases right into the other, both working fairly seamlessly with the other making the point where they ultimately join feel reasonably natural. I also felt both actors were, once again, sensational, Rapace proving to be so magnetic I weep for the poor actress who has to step into her shoes for director David Fincher's rumored American remake.

But I do have serious reservations about the narrative itself. There are times where it almost felt like Frykberg and Alfredson were making things up as they went along, and what worked extremely well in Larsson's prose doesn't translate nearly as beautifully when streamlined for the cinema. The coincidences are almost laughable; a second-act car chase leading to a brutally violent yet weirdly dull boxing match borders on the absurd. The film often loses focus, going off on tangents involving characters nowhere near as interesting or as compelling as Lisbeth and Mikael continue to be.

It does not help that the whole thing climaxes in a cliffhanger that will likely infuriate those who have not had the chance to read the original novels. While the main storyline does wrap up the majority of its tangents, that doesn't make the ones left hanging any less galling. The whole thing reminds me of how I felt as a kid watching the finale of Back to the Future Part II, and like Doc Brown being zapped away into nothingness, bearing witness to this yarn's final minutes kind of made me want to scream in aghast fury.

If it sounds like I'm being harsh it is only because The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo set such a gloriously high bar, while The Girl Who Played with Fire floats along aimlessly well below it. When the film works, much like its predecessor, it is an enjoyable thrill ride. Unfortunately, even with its two stars delivering crackerjack performances, this sequel just doesn't work enough to warrant the ticket price, making the much-hyped return of Lisbeth Salander a maddening disappointment.

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