The following review is written with the intention that its reader has seen the film The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo (2009); and discussion of the film under review, The Girl Who Played with Fire (2009), will entail plot revelations of the former but not of the latter.
When The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo (2009) premiered, I was eager to see it as the film seemed promising as one of the better films to appear in this millennium. While the novel(s) by Stieg Larsson were sold and consumed by readers as if they were bound-and-printed crack cocaine, I never read the source material. When I finished watching The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, I was completely disappointed: two characters appeared within who were obviously brilliantly conceived: the journalist, Mikael Blomkvist, portrayed by Michael Nyqvist, and the computer hacker, Lisbeth Salander, portrayed Noomi Rapace: a hero and heroine worth rooting for. The character of Blomkvist seemed like a journalist with integrity and also a man truly capable of sympathy and understanding. Lisbeth was highly capable, resourceful, intelligent, and was receiving, to put it very mildly, very poor treatment by the world. Her character appeared more misunderstood than mysterious, as there were obviously strong emotions stirring inside her. Blomkvist was a character capable of drawing those emotions out Lisbeth (she was also capable of helping him elicit his own). The seeds to a satisfying cinematic relationship were sown only to have a tired mystery plot keep these two from ever truly consummating. The real energy of The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo was with these two characters (and the actors giving the performances); and the film, for me, was ultimately unsatisfying. I was chided by the film's fans, however, who told me that the film was part of a trilogy and that I should reserve judgment until I had seen the other films. I believe this was a very fair proposition, and when I decided to give my Netflix Instant subscription some mileage with the best of an open mind that I could muster, I watched the second film in the trilogy, The Girl Who Played with Fire (2009).
One of my main grievances with The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo was the depiction of Lisbeth's rape in the first act of the film. It is a brutal depiction with attentive and meticulous detail to emphasize that it is an anal rape occurring on screen. When the aftermath scene of Lisbeth shuffling home appears, she is barely able to walk because of the trauma. By this scene, the energy of the sequence is overdone, and the whole inclusion of the rape scene in the movie appears sadistic. However, when Lisbeth exacts her revenge on her attacker, later on, this rape scene makes its sense: it's fuel for the viewer. The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo wants you to feel a satisfying emotion of revenge with Lisbeth. I didn't know how to feel after viewing Lisbeth's rape scene, and I didn't really know if I wanted the contrived revenge scenario, either.
Nonetheless, The Girl Who Played with Fire begins with events directly relating to that rape scene, as Lisbeth has come back to Sweden and has another encounter with her attacker. During this incident Lisbeth makes some threats towards her attacker but she commits no violence. Meanwhile, back at his magazine, Blomkvist is helping a young journalist and his girlfriend write a story, exposing a sex trade ring involving forced prostitutes of Eastern European immigrants and local johns of varying important political power. Blomkvist eventually finds the young journalist and his girlfriend shot dead. Lisbeth’s attacker is soon found dead by the police. Lisbeth is the prime suspect for all three murders, since her fingerprints are found on the murder weapon. She is in hiding, and Blomkvist wants to help her and find her. They both begin parallel investigations.
At the conclusion of The Girl Who Played with Fire, I cannot say that I was disappointed. The best and fairest way to describe my reaction to the film is to say that I am probably not the ideal audience for this film(s). During Lisbeth’s investigation, she learns the identity of man holding a potentially important lead. She breaks into his apartment and subdues him. As she questions him, I couldn’t get past her appearance. She is wearing ghoulish makeup, grey skin paint with black circles around her eyes and lips with a bright-red streak of paint across her face. Her image is arresting, but I cannot get past the fact that her whole appearance makes no sense. It just looks fucking cool, like she’s a true badass. At another location, Lisbeth gets caught stealing some documents by two bad-guy bikers, donning stereotypical biker garb. She makes quick work of the two chumps with a close-up shot of her stun gun to the crotch of one of her attackers. The following scene becomes a money shot: Lisbeth is seen riding on one of the motorcycles with her attacker’s helmet and sunglasses on: she is a warrior celebrating the victory of battle by stealing her slain opponent’s armor as a trophy. The funniest scene in the film is totally unintentional: Blomkvist tells his editor that he is worried about Lisbeth and needs to find her. Why? Um, she hasn’t been caught by anyone over an hour into the film, and the viewer has not been given any indication that she’ll be found anytime soon. Want to know how intelligent and resourceful Lisbeth gets caught and suffers a setback: by the very definition of a deux ex machina. Her stun gun crotch attack doesn’t work a second time.
Noomi Rapace is a beautiful and talented actress. Her performance as Lisbeth has been the shining moments of both Girl films that I’ve seen. She has the potential to be a true breakout performer with her natural charisma and her ability. Unfortunately, The Girl Who Played with Fire feels like a feature-length adaptation of Lisbeth’s original revenge scenario from The Girl with The Dragon Tattoo: too much time is devoted to watching little Lisbeth getting the upper hand on supposedly bigger and more powerful foes. The film wants its viewer to feel those revenge feelings, but I wanted something else that was hidden in that original film of the trilogy: some human feelings and some vulnerability. These aspects are pretty rare and are the bigger risk for the film makers. I’ve got the final film of the trilogy in my instant queue with my fingers crossed. We’ll see what happens.