The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet’s Nest
Directed by Daniel Alfredson
Screenplay by Ulf Rydberg
Starring Noomi Rapace, Michael Nyqvist, Erika Berger

This is the end, my friends.  Barring the recovery and publication of that much-rumored fourth manuscript by deceased author Stieg Larsson, Lisbeth Salander a.k.a. The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo and her partner-in-crime-solving Mikael Blomkvist a.k.a. The Journalist with the Prominent Beer Gut have righted their last wrong, exposed their last conspiracy and caught their last bad guy.

As this strange duo heads off into the chilly Swedish sunset, they leave behind them a trio of international best-sellers, three successful (financially, if not artistically) Swedish-language films and a soon-to-come Hollywood franchise starring Daniel Craig and Rooney Mara.  In other words, they’ve more than left their mark on contemporary pop culture, even if I still don’t quite understand why.

To be fair, I have yet to crack the cover of any of Larsson’s three novels and I don’t plan to anytime soon.  Instead, I’ve followed the franchise via the movie adaptations and unless the books are substantially different in terms of their content, I feel as though I’ve got a good sense of what they have to offer—routine potboiler plotting (with healthy doses of rough sex and violence) enlivened primarily by an admittedly striking central character in Lisbeth.  Perhaps if I were a bigger fan of crime fiction, the franchise’s proficient ordinariness would be enough to hook me, but as it is, I just don’t find Larsson’s mysteries to be especially compelling.  Even the first (and best) of the lot, The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, is only halfway successful, opening with a promising set-up, but building to a resolution that that hinges too heavily on a series of unlikely contrivances.  As I’ve stated in past reviews, the crime thrillers that resonate with me are those that use the crime as a vehicle to explore something larger—be it an emotion like obsession (as in David Fincher’s Zodiac), a location like the wilds of Yorkshire (as in The Red Riding Trilogy) or the life story of an immigrant family struggling to make good in America (as in Francis Ford Coppola’s towering Godfather cycle).  At least in their film versions, Larsson’s tales of mystery and murder are entirely surface-level; the only thing that lends them any dramatic weight are the charismatic performances of Noomi Rapace and Michael Nyqvist as Lisbeth and Mikael respectively.  The Hollywood remakes will undoubtedly sport better production values, but Mara and Craig face a significant challenge stepping into roles originated by these two actors.

Interestingly, the film franchise these movies most resemble is the Bourne series, not in terms of plot, but more in their structure.  Like The Bourne Identity, The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo works as a stand-alone adventure, introducing the characters, putting them through their paces and then bringing the tale to a natural conclusion.  But much like The Bourne Supremacy and The Bourne Ultimatum, the sequels—The Girl Who Played with Fire and now The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet’s Nest—tell a larger story across two movies.  Hornet’s Nest begins literally moments after the conclusion of its predecessor, with a badly beaten Lisbeth on a helicopter bound for the nearest hospital.  Her injuries were sustained during an unpleasant family reunion with her father—a former Russian spy whose identity has long been protected by the Swedish government—and stepbrother, a brutal blonde giant who can’t feel pain.  Both men also survived the encounter; daddy dearest is en route to the hospital with Lisbeth, while her bro evades the cops and holes up in a safe location, biding his time to strike again.  When certain members of the government learn that Lisbeth has tracked down the man they’ve kept a secret from the public, they instantly start conspiring against her, manufacturing a legal case that will result in a lengthy stint in a mental hospital.  Fortunately for Lisbeth, Mikael isn’t about to let that happen.  While she heals in the hospital, he pounds the pavement looking for any evidence that will clear her name.

The movie’s centerpiece is the trial of Lisbeth Salander and this extended set-piece does carry some charge thanks largely to Rapace’s ferocious presence.  (Watching her tear the corrupt prosecutor a new one before the judges is great fun.)  It’s also the sequence that most clearly links Hornet’s Nest to Dragon Tattoo, thus giving the entire series a sense of closure.  Unfortunately almost everything surrounding the courtroom drama falls flat, from Mikael’s investigation into the conspiracy against Lisbeth to her climactic encounter with her step-brother.  The film’s narrative is packed with incident, but there’s simply no urgency to the proceedings; everything seems to be happening in slow-motion as the mystery winds down to its overdue conclusion.  Obviously millions of readers (to say nothing of publishers and book store owners) will miss following the adventures of Lisbeth and Mikael, but I’m more than ready to close the book on these two.

The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet’s Nest opens in limited release today.  Revisit my reviews of the previous two films here and here.