REVIEWED: THE GIRL WHO PLAYED WITH FIRE
August 30, 2010 Leave a comment
Among the few critics not to fall in love with The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo‘s unnecessarily distended runtime and sub-CSI storyline, I was nevertheless compelled by the performances of both Noomi Rapace as the titular femme and Michael Nyqvist as her journalist confidante. Although still compromised by many of the original film’s problems, this sequel is more level-headed and willing to admit that, in fact, Shakespeare it ain’t, and both Rapace and Nyqvist are still fabulous in their roles, even if their chemistry together is not exploited for the sake of accuracy to the source novel.
Reconvening roughly one year after the first film’s events, Lisbeth Salander (Rapace) is returning to Sweden and trying to maintain some semblance of a normal life. However, she has a few loose ends to tie off first, namely her continued blackmail of her guardian Bjurman, who wants revenge for her literally branding him as a sex pest. Millenium magazine journalist Mikael Blomkvist (Nyqvist) has since been exonerated and sees Lisbeth only very rarely, instead working on a story about sex trafficking with avid pHD student Dag Stevensson (Hans Christian Thulin). However, when Dag and his girlfriend wind up dead prior to publishing a list of known sex trade customers, Lisbeth’s prints are found on the gun, and suspecting a frame-up, Mikael must attempt to clear her name before it is too late.
As with the first film, the routine TV-type mystery plot thankfully takes a frequent back seat to the characters. This sequel explores more of Lisbeth’s compassionate side, as she visits her stroke-afflicted former guardian, and also keeps her visceral sexual energy in the picture, depicting a passionate lesbian encounter with an old acquaintance. These moments prime the later intensity of Salander’s character, yet you’ll still have to sit through some incredibly lazy plotting before the results emerge. One particular instance – as Blomkvist tries to ensnare a sex trafficker by sending him spam that claims he won a prize – relies on an incredible amount of convenience, and isn’t an especially smart, inventive or even very realistic way to entrap someone.
There are brief glimpses of ambivalence – such as when Blomkvist worries what publishing the list of sex customers might do for the women afflicted – yet the film’s dominant morality is generally black-and-white. In separate narrative strands, Lisbeth and Blomkvist endeavour to ensnare the leches in separate ways – Blomkvist as a driven journo, while Lisbeth goes theatrical and wears facepaint while pontificating like someone out of a Saw sequel – yet the film struggles to break out of a repetitive rut that piles bodies up and gets Salander in deeper and deeper trouble. Not to mention, the main anatagonist for the most part is a hulking blonde brute who is the sort of guy typically referred to in 80s action films as “The Russian”. He goes around beating all of the good guys up rather unimaginatively, but the fact that he suffers from an analgesic disorder – which cuts off his pain receptors and makes him seem superhuman – reminds us that unlike the first film, this is a lot more in touch with its own pulpy, gumshoe-inspired nature.
Still, The Girl Who Played with Fire improves upon the pacing issues of the first film by being a near half-hour shorter and also feeling more concise in the story arc that it tells. It still moves slowly and could easily have been a tight 100 minutes if they cut all of the dramatic pauses out, but it does well to foreground character over cookie-cutter mystery. However, given the talent in front of and behind the camera, these stories should be a lot more interesting than they really are. Once again, the whole phenomenon is fairly baffling; it is nothing that hasn’t been done better before, and the lack of interaction between the two protagonists is disappointing given their obvious chemistry from the first film.