The cornerstone of the appeal in both films to me has been Michael Nyqvist and Noomi Repace. Their performances are as compelling as any you’ll see in a thriller. Specifically, Repace’s portrait of Lisbeth is nothing short of astonishing. This is a hell of an interesting woman with a hell of elusive past. The series also effectively tackles everything from familial corruption and political espionage to misogynistic men in power all set to the tune of a macabre mystery. This is the kind of stuff I love-- with this installment, we even have a giant blonde henchman who can’t feel pain, how cool is that? The achievement is in its ability to never lose track of the threat while indulging in its pulp sensibilities. That isn't exactly an easy feat.
The sequel does fall a bit behind of its predecessor though and there are a number of reasons. One of the most intriguing aspects of THE GIRL WITH THE GRAGON TATTOO was the layered development of the characters in what is essentially a procedural investigation mystery. For the first installment, the bits and pieces we find out about Lisbeth’s history are there to satisfy our curiosity in this enigma of a woman and to paint a darker portrait of the gothic setting as well as the misogynist themes inherent in the plot itself. They also serve Lisbeth’s personal interest in the crime. It was a delicate balance that interweaved beautifully.
For the sequel, the enigma of the woman is the plot. Her past is no longer the compelling icing on a cake but instead becomes the ingredient to the cake itself, which to me kind of spoils what made the first story so unique. Comparably, it is like a sequel to SILENCE OF THE LAMBS where the investigation is the murder of the lamb Clarice tried to save as a child… It rings out all the subtlety left in the sponge. Having not read any of the books, I may be entirely alone in this assessment and I probably am- I mean the first book was called The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo, not “The Fascist with a Hatred for Women”- what can I say? Every serialized mystery series has the protagonist wrongfully accused at one point or another, and those have never been my favorite stories.
Another hiccup for the sequel is its photography and overall pallet. We lose both the director and cinematographer of the first film and the change didn’t translate as gracefully as I would have liked. The first film was a far more beautiful and sensibly composed picture. The wonderful chemistry between Mikael and Lisbeth in the first film is also sorely missed, as they have only a moment or two of screen time together in THE GIRL WHO PLAYED WITH FIRE. They are both central to the story and both carry the film as well as anyone could, their investigations just happens to take them on lone paths this time. All of these nags aside, it's a much better movie than most thrillers the past few years.
I can only assume they are waiting for THE GIRL WHO KICKED THE HORNETS NEST or the David Fincher remake to get the most out of a possible better edition.
Extra Tidbit: The trilogy was also put together as a six part TV series in Sweden, two for each movie, and it is about an hour and a half longer than the three movies combined. I smell a future box set.