PLOT: One year after his adventure with the Vanger family, journalist Michael Blomkvist (Michael Nykvist) is one again at the helm of his magazine ‘Millenium’. His old partner and lover Lisbeth Salander (Noomi Rapace) is now living abroad after embezzling millions of dollars from a crooked businessman. However, her predatory guardian, Nils Bjurman (Peter Andersson) is obsessed with avenging his attack at the hands of Salander, and he hires a blonde muscleman named Ronald Niedermann (Micke Spreitz) to eliminate her. However, Niedermann has other ideas, and he frames Salander for the murder of a journalist on Blomkvist’s payroll. Not believing his former lover and savior to be capable of murder, Blomkvist sets out to prove her innocence. Meanwhile, Salander; now a fugitive, does a little digging of her own, leading to a confrontation with a vengeful figure from her past.
REVIEW: THE GIRL WHO PLAYED WITH FIRE is the second in a series of Swedish film adaptations of Stieg Larsson’s famous ‘MILLENIUM’ trilogy. In the last year, these books have caught on like wildfire in North America, with David Fincher set to film his own adaptation starring Daniel Craig, and Rooney Mara as Blomkvist, and Salander respectively. However, the Swedish films have also caught on, with THE GIRL WITH THE DRAGON TATTOO being an art house hit earlier this year.
The sequel is nearly as good as the first film. The perfectly cast Nykvist, and Rapace both return, and once again brilliantly capture the essence of their characters. Rapace in particular is a revelation as Salander, and Rooney Mara’s going to have some mighty big shoes to fill. Like the book, THE GIRL WHO PLAYED WITH FIRE is all about Salander, which means a lot more screen time for Rapace- which is a good thing. While her initial adventures in Grenada are cut (perhaps wisely) for time, most of her best scenes from the novel are intact, and her climatic confrontation with the evil Zala is perfectly realized.
As for Nykvist, truth be told- Blomkvist doesn’t have a heck of a lot to do in this installment. He’s mostly just around for exposition, but Nykvist is good as always. His relationship with his editor, Erica Berger, only hinted at in the last film, is restored here- giving Blomkvist a little depth he was missing in the first installment. I also thought his final, climactic scene with Rapace was beautifully acted on both their parts, which makes me wish Larsson hadn't separated the two characters for so much of the second and third books. Their chemistry is perfect, and once again, I have a hard time believing that Craig & Mara will be able to match up. I hope I'm wrong.
One of the things I didn’t know about the MILLENIUM trilogy is that the boxer Paolo Roberto, who figures prominently in the second book, is actually a real, famous boxer in Sweden. Here he plays himself, and yes- his brutal fight with Nidermann is here, and it perfectly portrays the brutal, desperate battle it came across as in the book.
However, THE GIRL WHO PLAYED WITH FIRE isn’t quite as good a film as the first installment. Sadly, director Niels Arden Oplev does not return for the second (or third) movie, with Daniel Alfredson taking over the reins. Alfredson does a fine job, but FIRE isn’t quite as cinematic as the first film. Arden’s beautiful, 2:35:1 scope lensing is gone, and replaced by more workman-like 1:78:1 photography that makes the film seem more like good TV than a full fledged film. I also miss the dynamic wintery Swedish setting from the first film, but as the book always took place in spring, I guess this is more Larsson’s fault than Alfredson’s.
One thing Alfredson did manage to do, that Oplev didn’t, was have FIRE run a more reasonable length than the first film- which was almost three hours, and still was missing huge chunks of plot from the book. FIRE only runs about 130 minutes, and is actually closer to the second book than the original was to the first, which will no doubt please fans (of which I am certainly one).
While I prefer the Oplev’s original mostly due to the fact that I preferred the first book of the series, THE GIRL WHO PLAYED WITH FIRE is nonetheless a remarkably faithful film version of Larsson’s book. I look forward to seeing the third film, THE GIRL WHO KICKED THE HORNET’S NEST, as well as the eventual films by Fincher. Will Craig, ad Mara be as good in the leading roles as Nykvist, and Rapace are in these? We’ll see.