The Girl Who Played with Fire has a different director (Daniel Alfredson) and script writer from the first Stieg Larrson outing, The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, so you could assume there would be differences between the two films besides the obvious one of a different story. Truth is, the films look remarkably similar: same compelling main characters, similar white-knuckle suspense pace, the intriguing spiraling between the past and the present, and variations on the theme of the seamy Swedish underbelly. We see a little more of the famous dragon tattoo, and learn a lot more about Salander’s horrendous past. We also get glimpses into Blomkvist’s personal life. Mercifully, there’s not as much gut-wrenching violence, though the film could never be called peaceful.
But two things make this second outing less satisfactory than the first. The story is mostly about Salander, troubled computer geek/Goth girl, and her trials, while crusading journalist Blomkvist is off screen most of the time trying to help her via computer. There’s not much face-to-face contact between them. That’s a shame because much of the appeal of the first movie was their odd-couple pairing. Secondly, while there’s a suitable list of high-placed bad guys, the story revolves around identifying them, not tracking down the creeps and punishing them. So a major element of the satisfaction of crime movies is missing.
The first question is -do you need to have seen The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo to understand The Girl Who Played with Fire? Some critics are saying, “no,” claiming Fire stands on its own merits. I disagree. While Fire is a fine and complete film, and you could understand it on its own, you’ll appreciate it much more if you’ve seen the first film. (In the meantime, you might want to check out my review of The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo: www.boldlife.com.)
Fire opens in a villa on some unknown warm, sunny seacoast. Lisbeth Salander (Noomi Rapace) lives alone in the spacious architectural wonder. In a meeting with her business adviser, we figure out that she is enormously wealthy (from the money she walked off with in the previous movie) and has been away from Sweden for at least a year or more with no contact with anyone. For the briefest moment, as she gets up from bed to start packing, we see the tattoo on her back, not up close, but near enough to see that it does indeed cover her entire back in finely detailed swirls of ink.
Back in Sweden, she tracks down one of previous lovers, Miriam Wu (Jasmine Garbi). They have a marvelous go at it in Salander’s old apartment and then Salander gives the apartment to Miriam, rent-free for a year, in exchange for the seemingly simple task of collecting her mail. Salander has bought a fancy new apartment where she lives incognito.
Salander tracks down her legal guardian, whom she had taken revenge on in the last movie, and demands, as only she can, that he say nice things about her in his official reports. Her goal is to get her record cleared so she can have legal independence from the arcane Swedish mental health system that both institutionalized and abused her in her younger days.
Meanwhile Michael Blomkvist (Michael Nyqvist) is carrying on his life without Salander and continues his prickly affair with his married colleague A young muckraker has come into the Millennium newspaper offices with amazingly detailed information about a sex-trafficking ring involving men in high places in Swedish society. The journalists know that printing this information will ruin the lives of each man they uncover, but for the sake of the women victims of the lurid trafficking they agree to publish the research. But the young journalist and his girlfriend are assassinated before publication. In an irony that will only be explained later, the person blamed for the murders is none other than Lisbeth Salander. Now Salander must go on the run not only to stay away from the clutches of the police but find out who’s trying to blame her for the crimes.
In her compulsive, computer-hacking way, Salander starts tracking down the truth. Fire unrolls in one intriguing story detour after another, more violence, several fascinating minor characters two of whom are great kick-boxers, another motorcycle ride, another murder she gets blamed for, brief communication with Blomvkist and lots of horrible nightmare memories. It all leads, inevitably, it seems, to the identification of the man Salander hurled gasoline on and torched when she was a child. Who was that guy and why did she throw the match on him? And if she reveals the identity of this man, will the sex-trafficking ring be stopped and will Salander’s nightmares go away as well?
The same director/writer team that made this movie, Fire, also partnered for the last film in the trilogy, The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet’s Nest, to be released in the next few months. So if nothing else, we can be assured that the series will end on the same high standards it’s attained in the first two outings.
Meanwhile the Americans are gaining fast on the Swedes. David Fincher (The Curious Case of Benjamin Button) is directing the American version of The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo, despite the question many people are asking — why do we need an American version? Nevertheless, the casting of the two main characters has met with hyperactive buzz. Britain’s Daniel Craig will play the journalist Michael Blomkvist and a relatively unknown American actress, Rooney Mara, captured the most coveted part of the decade, that of Lisbeth Salander. For those who are curious about her, you can catch her in David Fincher’s upcoming movie about Facebook’s convoluted history, The Social Network, which opens soon.