Crusading journalist Mikael Blomkvist and hard as nails hacker Lisbeth Salander are back to expose yet more shadowy wrong doing in the third film based on Stieg Larsson's popular Millenium novels: The Girl Who Kicked The Hornet's Nest (TGWKTHN).
Picking up from where the second film left off, Lisbeth (Noomi Rapace) is laid up in hospital courtesy of a few bullets from her evil father. The incident is fast gaining a high profile thanks to the writings of her sometimes love Mikael (Michael Nyqvist), which draws the attentions of a cabal of rogue Security Service agents, the Section, for whom Lisbeth's father once worked. Fearful other of their shady deeds will be revealed the Section have him killed and plot to have Lisbeth committed as criminally insane. With help from Dr. Peter Teleborian, a perverted psychiatrist from her past. Mikael, aided by a handful of allies and his boundless liberal self righteousness, must brave intimidation, gunmen and frame ups to save the woman he loves from rotting in an asylum.
Seeing as it is the last of three films, TGWKTHN must wrap up several open plot threads left over from the second film. Which is rather unfortunate. The first film, Niels Arden Oplev's The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo, was a well shot mystery thriller that was both taught and frequently disturbing. The Girl That Played With Fire, directed by Daniel Alfredson who also directed this movie, was an inconsistent mess which introduced ridiculous spy movie gimmicks (a giant blond German boxer who can't feel pain? Come on!), muddled Lisbeth's backstory and relied heavily on tension dispelling handheld wide shots. Mercifully this movie ditches the Jason Bourne-ish nonsense and tries to get the series back to its roots. Focusing on corruption and perversion among the powerful and entrenched. The Section provides Mikael with a decent, if not by the numbers, conspiracy to unravel. The court room scenes are decently compelling, especially when Lisbeth faces down the sneering Teleborian. The penchant for hand-held wides remain but are more fitting this time around. Mikael and Lisbeth are fighting against big and powerful enemies. Making them small in the frame is a fine visual metaphor for how vulnerable they are.
The performances have always been the strong point of this series and even through the syrup thick dubbing of the copy I watched, they are very good. Michael Nyqvist, who was criminally underused in the previous film, wears the Mikael character like a comfie sweater. Every inch the wry intellectual do-gooder. Newcomer to the series Anders Ahlbom, is wonderfully villainous as the sneering Peter Teleborian. He's such a perverted bastard you can't help but hate him. Noomi Rapace is as usual the best part of this movie. The Lisbeth Salander character is a layered one. Though she is tough as hell, she has endured a traumatic childhood, multiple sexual assaults and a rape. Obviously such suffering would mark someone profoundly and Rapace incorporates that into her performance expertly. Lisbeth is a sullen and distant woman whose icy, hardened facade occasionally slips to reveal true vulnerability and a desperate desire to simply find peace.
So with all these things going for it, I was truly hopeful that a series I initially really enjoyed had been rescued from the abyss of The Girl That Played With Fire. Unfortunately Daniel Alfredson fumbled the ball at the goal line. Alfredson replaced the novel's simple but poignant conclusion of the Mikael/Lisbeth story arc, the relationship which essentially drives the whole series, with a laughable shoulder shrug of a scene that ruins all the progress he had made up to this point. Final verdict: Predictable but passable. If you're a fan, give it a watch. If not, do yourself a favour and just watch the first movie.