The first entry in Swedish author Steig Larsson’s best-selling Millennium trilogy became a surprise big-screen hit. The film, The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo, directed by Niels Arden Oplev, was a near-perfect adaptation of Larsson’s novel. Chilling, reckless and relentlessly compelling, it was a foreign-language film for a mainstream audience, earning a place in multiplexes that wouldn’t usually contemplate showing a gritty 18-rated Swedish crime drama that involves bisexual computer hackers and dildo rape. Well, I should say ‘a’ bisexual computer hacker, as there is only one – the seemingly fearless Lisbeth Salanda, played by the Oscar-worthy Noomi Rapace. In the first film, she was brutally raped by her legal guardian, leading her to rape him in return (yes, that’s where the dildo comes in), and tattoo on his torso the words “I am a sadist pig and a rapist”.
At the start of this sequel, Lisbeth discovers that the said rapist is planning to have his tattoo removed with laser treatment. She pays him a visit and, using his own gun to protect herself, tells him to cancel the operation and deal with the scars. He is discovered dead soon after, shot with his gun, and she of course is suspected of the crime. Two other people turn up dead, murdered with the same gun. According to the police, Lisbeth is now a multiple murderess.
This potentially exciting plotline is ruined by the other substantial part of the narrative — the troubled life of her journalist friend Mikael Blomkvist. He is, as in the first film, researching corrupt and scandalous goings-on in government/high business/big important organisations. This strand had the potential to be gripping but is filmed and acted in such a dull, lifeless way it could bore even the most forgiving fan of the series to tears.
The two leads, Blomkvist and Salanda, barely spend any time together, so the spiky chemistry between them seen in the first film is non-existent. The film’s main fault is its failure to make you care about any of the intricacies of the plot. Where the first movie made the rich detail satisfying and thrilling, this makes investigative journalism seem uneventful, hard, and soul-destroyingly frustrating. Maybe it is, but if a filmmaker endeavours to capture such work on camera, the audience deserves to get some entertainment from it. Kevin MacDonald managed to do this in State of Play, but here all attempts fail dismally.
The Girl Who Played With Fire is also puzzlingly uncinematic. There was an extended television cut made of the film, but many TV movies have the capacity to rejoice in the conventions of cinema. Look at Wallander, for instance (both the Swedish and BBC versions) — some of those episodes would look and feel at home on the big screen.
This poor effort from director Daniel Alfredson (taking over from Oplev) is a waste of potential and squanders the power of the first film. True hardcore fans of the books will be particularly disappointed about how some integral plot twists are half-heartedly revealed, but those who have only known Lisbeth Salanda on-screen will probably be counting down the minutes until the end so they can escape back to the far more interesting joys of real life.
The Girl Who Played With Fire (2010), directed by Daniel Alfredson, is available on DVD and Blu-ray from Zodiak Entertainment, certificate 15.